What happens to your body and brain when you orgasm

A very cute monster sits in a dreamscape with her tongue out a little in ecstasy.

While orgasms are not the sole purveyor of pleasure in sexual experiences, they undeniably add an pleasurable edge.

To decode the cerebral dynamics at play during your peak moments, scientists harness the power of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans.

These sophisticated tools illuminate the neural choreography occurring within the brain, revealing intricate details about our responses to sexual stimuli.

Temporary shutdown of the rational mind

During the throes of passion, the brain’s lateral orbitofrontal cortex, the bastion of logic and reasoning, takes a brief hiatus.

This pause allows for a release from the usual constraints of judgment and critical thinking, fostering a space where pleasure can take the forefront, unfettered by everyday anxieties and fears.

Neural network collaboration

The orgasmic experience is not a solo act but a result of an intricate interplay among various brain regions.

During orgasm, areas such as the genital sensory cortex, motor regions, hypothalamus, thalamus, and substantia nigra all spring into action, creating a complex network of activity that underpins the physical and emotional aspects of the sexual climax.

Dopamine: the pleasure emissary

At the peak of sexual pleasure, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria, reward, and motivation.

This chemical cascade is not just about enjoyment; it plays a pivotal role in learning and behavior, encouraging the repetition of pleasurable activities.

Oxytocin and prolactin: hormones of bonding and satisfaction

Alongside dopamine, the brain releases oxytocin, a hormone that fosters connection and affection, reinforcing the social bonds that are so crucial to our species.

Prolactin also joins this hormonal ensemble post-orgasm, contributing to feelings of deep satisfaction and relaxation.​1​

A cacophony of pleasure

The brain’s reward pathways, active during moments of joy from music to gastronomic delights, are similarly engaged during sexual climax.

This neural response underscores the fundamental role of pleasure in our lives, equating the satisfaction derived from sex with other core human experiences.

An analgesic effect

Amidst the sexual experience, the brain’s pain thresholds are altered. The release of endorphins and other hormones not only heightens pleasure but also diminishes sensitivity to pain, providing a natural analgesic effect.

The intersection of pain and pleasure

Intriguingly, the brain regions activated by pain and orgasm overlap, offering a neural basis for the complex relationship between these seemingly disparate sensations.

This overlap may explain why certain forms of stimulation can be pleasurable in a sexual context while being uncomfortable or painful in other scenarios.

Post-orgasmic serenity

Following an orgasm, the brain doesn’t immediately power down. Instead, it shifts into a state of relaxation and contentment, with neurotransmitters like serotonin promoting a sense of well-being and often, a desire to rest.

Gender-specific responses

While oxytocin release is common to all during sexual activity, its continued release post-orgasm in women potentially illuminates the proclivity for post-coital closeness and bonding.

Neural plasticity and orgasm

The brain’s remarkable ability to adapt is evident in individuals who experience pleasure and orgasm through non-genital stimuli following significant physical changes or injuries, showcasing the brain’s capacity to reroute pathways to pleasure.

Evolutionary perspectives on orgasm

From an evolutionary standpoint, the intense pleasure of orgasm could be seen as nature’s way of encouraging reproductive behaviors, ensuring the continuation of the species through a reward mechanism that is as pleasurable as it is crucial.

Cerebral and systemic health

Beyond the immediate pleasure, orgasms might offer broader benefits, such as increased brain health through enhanced blood flow, and potentially playing a role in the female reproductive cycle by influencing ovulation patterns in historical contexts.

By exploring these dimensions, we gain not only a deeper understanding of the biological underpinnings of sexual pleasure but also an appreciation for the intricate ways in which our brains navigate, process, and enhance our experiences of intimacy and connection.


  1. 1.
    Exton MS, Bindert A, Kruger T, Scheller F, Hartmann U, Schedlowski M. Cardiovascular and Endocrine Alterations After Masturbation-Induced Orgasm in Women. Psychosomatic Medicine. Published online 1999:280-289. doi:10.1097/00006842-199905000-00005
  2. 2.
    Markus van N. (154) A CROSS-SECTIONAL STUDY OF FEMALE MASTURBATION PRACTICES AMONGST DIFFERENT POPULATIONS, AGE GROUPS AND THE INFLUENCING FACTORS. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Published online July 2023. doi:10.1093/jsxmed/qdad062.051
  3. 3.
    Burri A, Carvalheira A. Masturbatory Behavior in a Population Sample of German Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Published online May 30, 2019:963-974. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.04.015
  4. 4.
    Robbins CL. Prevalence, Frequency, and Associations of Masturbation With Partnered Sexual Behaviors Among US Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published online December 1, 2011:1087. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.142
  5. 5.
    Woodard TL, Diamond MP. Physiologic measures of sexual function in women: a review. Fertility and Sterility. Published online July 2009:19-34. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.04.041

Veronica Danger, BHSc(N) Naturopathic Practitioner

Veronica Danger, BHSc(N) Naturopathic Practitioner

Veronica Danger is a qualified naturopath specialising in vulvovaginal health. Veronica earned her Bachelor of Health Sciences (Naturopathy) at Endeavour College of Natural Medicine in Melbourne, Australia. Veronica is a proud member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS).