Many factors contribute to your overall sexual health. STD testing, giving and receiving consent, pregnancy options, and general reproductive health exams are a few contributors. But something that’s not commonly talked about is how your sex life itself can impact your future sex life in both positive and negative ways.
You can reap the positive impacts of sex by first understanding how sex can play a huge part in the rewiring of your brain. This can impact your ability to bond to a lifelong partner, your body’s physical reaction to a break-up, or even your ability to have sex with a real partner if pornography is a part of your sex life.
Sex and the rewiring of your brain
Any time we do something, a connection called a neural pathway is created or an existing one is strengthened. These neural pathways are connected by neurotransmitters. A common neurotransmitter is dopamine, or “the happy hormone”, which is released when we do something exciting, pleasurable, risky, or a combination of the three. The more dopamine that’s produced in the brain during an activity, the more you want to repeat that activity. Our brain is a “use it or lose it” brain, which means these neural pathways grow stronger as we use them or die out if we don’t use them. Basically, we reinforce routine through repetition. The more we repeat a behavior where dopamine is released, the more easily our body remembers to do it and the more we desire to repeat that behavior.
Remember when you learned how to type on a computer keyboard? It likely took a lot of practice until you mastered it. As you repeatedly practiced typing, small successes within your attempts released dopamine. As you kept practicing, a neural pathway was being strengthened through repetition as well as the release of dopamine. Eventually, you became a proficient typist.
The same thing happens with our sexual habits. But the interesting thing about sex is that sexual stimulation and orgasm provide the biggest natural blast of dopamine that your brain can get. Given the fact that more dopamine means more desire to repeat an activity, it’s no wonder sex is something people do more than once.
Along with dopamine, two main hormones are released during sex. Oxytocin is primarily released in women and vasopressin is primarily released in men. These hormones increase feelings of trust and a desire for more touch with that person. So, while dopamine is making you want to have sex again, oxytocin and vasopressin are making you want to have sex again with a specific person, even if this person is not someone you would typically want to have sex with again.
How can all this impact your sex life as a whole?
Hook-ups with multiple partners over extended periods of time can create a habit in your brain to crave short term and non-committal sexual encounters. This can ultimately make it harder to bond later with “the one.” Think of the keyboard example. What if, suddenly, someone mixed up all the letters? We would be so used to the old way that it would take a conscious effort and repeated practice with the new keyboard to get our fingers to type what we wanted to say. It’s the same with sexual behaviors.
Have you ever felt physical pain after a breakup even if no physical harm was done? You can blame your brain. When you repeatedly had sex with the same person, you exercised a neural pathway which created a bond between you and that one person. Feelings of trust and a desire to commit to this person were promoted through the release of oxytocin and vasopressin during sex. When you broke up, that neural pathway was literally severed, leaving scar tissue on the broken ends of the neural pathway. It’s no wonder they call it heartbreak.
Researchers have seen a sharp increase in impotence (erectile dysfunction or ED) in men under the age of 30 since the beginning of internet streaming. Before, ED rarely showed up before age 40. Why? Well, pornography is designed to deliver more frequent hits of dopamine throughout the experience. Furthermore, pornography is often more easily and frequently accessible than a human partner might be. Remember how we have a “use it or lose it” brain? The more often you get aroused and experience orgasm from porn, the more you exercise that neural pathway and the less you exercise the neural pathway of being stimulated by an actual human. This can result in not being aroused by a real partner whether you’re male or female, and can cause ED in men at the times they don’t use porn.
The Benefits of a Rewiring Brain
There is good news when it comes to sex rewiring your brain. When you have sex with someone you’re committed to, such as a spouse, oxytocin and vasopressin promote bonding with the person you have committed to spend the rest of your life with. Dopamine also makes you want to repeat having sex with them, therefore continuously bonding the two of you more deeply over time.
Also, the brain is constantly change-able. If you have created neural pathways that have negatively affected your sex life, there is hope. You can start now to create and exercise new neural pathways by letting current harmful neural pathways die. Like re-learning letters on a keyboard, it would take time and repetition but it is certainly possible.
What you desire and hope for your future is possible. You deserve to have a healthy and happy relationship and you can do something to foster that type of relationship. The choices you make now can give you leverage to achieve your dreams.
Do you want to make positive changes in your sex life? Get support in Moscow, Idaho and near Pullman, Washington. To schedule an appointment with us, click HERE.
- Doidge, N., MD. (2017). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ReadHowYouWant.
- Johnson, J. (2018, August 22). Hypothalamus: Function, hormones, and disorders. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312628.php
- McIlhaney, J. S., MD, & Bush, F. M., MD. (2008). Hooked: New science on how casual sex is affecting our children. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
- Nation, T. R. (2013, November 28). The Science Of Porn Addiction – Gabes Story. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGGxXHBVDYU
- Research confirms sharp rise in youthful sexual dysfunctions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/rebooting-porn-use-faqs/research-confirms-sharp-rise-in-youthful-sexual-dysfunctions/
- Sexual Problems. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/sexual-problems/
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