Researchers from Turku PET Center and Åbo Akademi have conducted a groundbreaking study that uncovers the release of opioids in the brain during orgasms.
Opioids are known to regulate pain and pleasure, but their role in sexuality has been poorly understood. Using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Finnish scientists demonstrated how opioids are released in the male brain during orgasm. Sexual pleasure was also found to activate various brain regions.
"Post-orgasm, opioid activity intensified in the hippocampus, a region that plays a crucial role in regulating emotions and memory functions. Penile stimulation before orgasm also accelerated activity in the hippocampus, as well as areas of the brain involved in processing emotions and touch information. These findings could prove beneficial in developing new treatments for orgasmic difficulties," explained Professor Patrick Jern, the lead researcher of the study.
The study found that orgasms triggered the release of opioids in the brain, similar to other pleasurable activities such as eating or being in the company of others. Thus, the brain's endogenous opioids appear to regulate a wide range of pleasures. However, based on the PET results, it remains uncertain whether the release of opioids was directly tied to orgasm or solely to the enjoyment induced by sexual stimulation, according to Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Turku PET Center.
Given the intimate and sensitive nature of sexuality, conducting such research in laboratory settings posed challenges. Participants were asked to refrain from self-stimulation, and instead, their partners were tasked with stimulating them during the imaging sessions. Nonetheless, staying still during the scans proved difficult, as orgasms naturally induced pleasurable sensations throughout their bodies.
The intimate nature of the study made it challenging to recruit participants. However, the researchers took every precaution to protect participants' privacy during the study. They were unable to see or hear the participants during the experiment, but the participants could reach out to the researchers at any time if needed.
"Prior to the study, the entire process was discussed in detail with the participants. They were informed step by step about what would happen during the research. We also played the sound of the imaging device to prepare them for the experience. While PET and MRI scanners are not the most romantic settings for sexual activity, all participants experienced orgasms during the study," shared Professor Jern.
The study involved six male volunteers with their female partners. Their brains were scanned using PET after experiencing orgasm and during a neutral resting state. The researchers also measured brain activity using the MRI while their partners stimulated their penises.
This groundbreaking research sheds new light on the neuroscience of pleasure and could potentially lead to advancements in understanding and addressing sexual health issues. However, further research is required to fully comprehend the relationship between opioids, pleasure, and sexual experiences in both men and women.