How the brain/mind works is complicated
At the most basic level, our brain can be divided between the bottom/"old brain", designed to automatically and without conscious thought defend us, protect us, and support our survival; the midlevel, where we store core emotional memories and conditioned responses that form basic learning and adaptations; and the top of the brain, with the prefrontal cortex at its center, which is in charge of directing awareness, conscious thoughts and actions, and higher-order decision making around our behaviors.
The evolutionarily older “bottom brain" has 7 wired-in basic core emotions we share with other animals
These core emotions are registered as visceral sensations in our bodies and have been mapped out by experimentation, but largely ignored by psychology. If we don't attend to these visceral, embodied emotions, they can easily derail us. I explore this in my book, Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier and More Purpose-Filled Life
The 7 emotional systems are wired-in to help us meet survival/thrival needs
The defensive systems, FEAR, RAGE, and PANIC/GRIEF are designed to protect us against threats to us and our relationships. CARE, LUST, and PLAY are affiliative systems. They keep us connected to others. The SEEKING system, powered by dopamine, interacts with the defensive and affiliative emotions to provide motivation/enthusiasm to go out into the world to meet our basic needs. These neural systems forge the basis for our emotional minds.
We always know what's one our minds, but we don't always know which mind we are in
The way the brain/mind works, nearly everything goes on under the hood of conscious awareness. For example, when the RAGE system is out of balance, it infuses our minds such that what we think about, what we remember, what we look at, and how we feel are all infused with RAGE. Often these defensive systems are hot-wired such that they fire inappropriately, resulting in an emotional hijacking that can sabotage our wellbeing and our relationships.
Our brain/minds are in trouble; We are experiencing a plague of mental health/brain disorders including anxiety, stress, and depression
Depression is now the number 1 cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Anhedonia, or inability to feel satisfying pleasure, is a symptom of these disorders and also contributes to the debilitating effects of them.
Pleasure is not a luxury; it is a necessity
The balance of the emotional brain depends on it. We need to focus on healthy hedonism--pleasure that feels good and is good for us. Sex is one of the most potent and powerful of all pleasures.
Sex not only feels good, but it's also good for the brain and body
My study showed that orgasm is a big brain event, providing many brain regions with increased blood flow and cascade of delicious and nutritious neuropeptides helpful in increasing wellbeing, relieving pain, and fostering bonds
The brain is the most powerful sex organ of all
I also did a study demonstrating that just thinking about pleasurable sexual stimulation activated many of the same brain areas as did orgasm. What the mind imagines, the brain registers. We can use our imaginations more consciously and intentionally to create better results in and out of the bedroom.
Love is the drug, and we need to score
The CARE system, our most important affiliative system, runs on our internally produced opioids. These are the feel-good and good-for-you peptides. They soothe mind and body and forge the basis of our life-sustaining relationships.
Face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh connection is critical to our physical, emotional, and relational wellbeing. We can't get that from social media or the internet!
Worldwide we are having less sex than ever-likely because we are too attached to our devices
On average, Americans get it on about 50 times a year, down 20% from previous decades. It's the same story in the UK, Australia, Germany, Finland, and Japan. When we are busy checking our phones, we are not attending to each other. Our smartphones might be making us too stressed out for sex. The phenomenon of continuous partial attention in which we keep our phones on and close by seems largely responsible for the increased anxiety reported in a large survey of Americans.
Bottom line: The body doesn't lie! Listening to our core wired in emotions is key to wellbeing.
I am an AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) certified sex therapist, (with over 3 decades of clinical experience), APA certified relationship expert, and cognitive neuroscientist who studies how the brain responds to sexual stimulation, sexual imagery, and orgasm.
I have authored 3 peer-reviewed research papers, which fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the sexual brain.
My research has garnered significant media attention:
Donating Orgasms to Science: A day in the life of a sex researcher
My upcoming book: Why Good Sex Matters; Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 1/2020) integrates my experience as a clinician and a neuroscientist to help people learn how to better operate their core emotional systems which, when out of balance, can get in the way of our emotional, physical, and sexual wellbeing.