Northwestern University neuroscience professor Adam Safron has made the first comprehensive model of what orgasms do to brain activity. Sexual stimulation literally re-routes brain activity, creating a trance.
In a nutshell, sexual stimulation focuses our neurons in such a way that we are sent into a trance, blocking out everything else and concentrating solely, intensely on the sensation alone.
We lose our usual self-awareness and consciousness of other noises, feelings, and smells around us.
No other natural stimulation could recreate this level of concentration.
'Sex is a source of pleasurable sensations and emotional connection, but beyond that, it's actually an altered state of consciousness,' Dr Safron explains.
To examine this unique trance, Dr Safron reviewed related studies and literature over many years to come up with a model in which rhythmic sexual activity likely influences brain rhythms.
His model showed stimulating particular nerves in a particular way at a particular speed over and over again focuses our neurons.
They begin to synchronize their activity. This focusing process is called neural entrainment.
Eventually, if stimulation continues long enough, this synchronization can spread throughout the brain making us more focused than ever.
This may be crucial for allowing for a sufficient intensity of experience to trigger the mechanisms of climax.
Dr Safron's previous research has focused on the neural bases of sexual preferences.
He said orgasm is related to this work because it is one of the most powerful rewards available, and therefore, may have an important role in shaping preferences.
'Before this paper, we knew what lit up in the brain when people had orgasms, and we knew a lot about the hormonal and neurochemical factors in non-human animals, but we didn't really know why sex and orgasm feel the way they do,' Dr Safron said.
'This paper provides a level of mechanistic detail that was previously lacking.'
WHY RHYTHM IS SO IMPORTANT
To Dr Safron's surprise, he found parallels between sexual climax, seizures, music and dance.
All four flood the brain's sensory channels with rhythmic inputs.
'Synchronization is important for signal propagation in the brain, because neurons are more likely to fire if they are stimulated multiple times within a narrow window of time,' Dr Safron said.
'Otherwise, the signals decay as part of a general resetting mechanism, rather than sum together.
'This then caused me to hypothesize that rhythmic entrainment is the primary mechanism by which orgasmic thresholds are surpassed.'
'The idea that sexual experiences can be like trance states is in some ways ancient. Turns out this idea is supported by modern understandings of neuroscience,' Dr Safron said.
'In theory, this could change the way people view their sexuality.