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An Excerpt From "Train Your Brain To Get Happy"

Chapter 7: Play Your Way to Happiness

by Dr. Teresa Aubele & Susan Reynolds

Have More Sex

One of the best parts about being married or in a long-term relationship is that you get to have sex on a regular basis. Why? Because sex creates a host of feel-good hormonal and chemical reactions that tend to strengthen the emotional bonds of matrimony . . . or lustful long-term relationships. You might think of sex as being something that primarily makes your body feel good, but it’s oh-so-good for your brain, too!

Your Brain During Sex

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to figure out that sex makes us happy. For most of us, having sex creates pleasurable feelings that (we hope) lead to orgasm. Many areas of your brain are involved in creating and processing the pleasure from sex, but there are three big ones:

1. When engaging in flirting, foreplay, and the ultimate act itself, your ventral tegmental area (VTA) is spilling out dopamine at a mile a minute, most of which makes its way to the limbic area called the nucleus accumbens. This nucleus is at the seat of both seeking and enjoying pleasure; it’s active when you’re pursuing the act of sex and also enjoying the fruits of your labor.

2. That big boost of dopamine in the accumbens is what makes you feel great, and it makes you crave more and more sensation.

3. The dopamine from your VTA also causes signals to go to your PFC so that you understand why and how you’re getting to have all this great fun!

An orgasm provides the biggest blast of legal, naturally occurring dopamine available to your brain. Dutch researchers, after scanning the brains of lucky volunteers experiencing orgasm, likened their brain scans to scans of people experiencing heroin rushes! Not only do you get that huge rush of stimulating neurotransmitters, but orgasm may also release a rush of oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone”), especially in women. Oxytocin cements a strong social connection bond with the person closest to you when orgasm was achieved. Dopamine provides the rush of attraction, but it is oxytocin that will make you associate that pleasure with a particular someone. It also brings that sense of euphoric calm after orgasm and is key in relieving stress, which, as you now know, is a brain killer.

How Sex Benefits Your Brain

In case you’ve been going through a long, dry spell, here are five great reasons to keep sex on your brain:

1. The more sex you have, the more vasopressin and especially oxytocin you produce. Both of these neurotransmitters strengthen a long-term relationship by linking the physical closeness of your partner to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity. It’s why sex is so important in marriage and why sexless marriages tend to fall apart at some point.

2. Oxytocin also works as a neuromodulator, which means it sensitizes your body’s response to endomorphins, which often act as natural painkillers, particularly for headaches. Yes, that’s right, having sex can cure headaches, not cause them.

3. Sex increases blood circulation, which pumps oxygen to your brain—and to your skin— creating the highly desirable postcoital glow.

4. The more sex you have on a regular basis, the more your blood circulation improves, which helps keep your body healthy and functioning overall, and keeps you—and your brain—youthful. Sex is great exercise! If you’re not in the mood, take a minute to envision how good it will feel to have oxytocin and dopamine lubricating, nourishing, and regenerating your neurons. That should get you going.

5. In addition, having sex boosts your natural collagen production, which minimizes age spots and sagging. We don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t be happier if his or her natural collagen kept pumping up his muscles or keeping her skin youthful.

About the Authors

Teresa Aubele received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stony Brook University, where she studied the influence of steroid hormones on the anatomy and physiology and of the prefrontal cortex. She is currently a postdoctoral associate in the Psychology Department of Florida State University. Recently, she co-authored Train Your Brain to Get Happy (June, 2011) and Train Your Brain to Get Rich (September, 2011). Her current research focuses on the neuroendocrine control of behavior in males and the interplay between steroid hormones and neurotransmitter systems. She has gone from a focus on marine science in her undergraduate years towards psychology and eventually neuroscience, and she has always maintained a broad interest many scientific arenas both within and beyond her current research, not to mention writing as well as writing and teaching – combining the three has proven to provide a lot of bliss.

Susan Reynolds has been a journalist, writer, and editor for more than twenty-five years. Recently, she co-authored Train Your Brain to Get Happy (June, 2011) and Train Your Brain to Get Rich (September, 2011). She has also authored Everything Enneagram, Change Your Shoes, Change Your Life, and co-authored Everything Personal Finance for Single Mothers, and One-Income Household. She has also edited numerous nonfiction and fiction books. Ms. Reynolds is the creator and editor of Adams Media¹s My Hero series, which includes My Teacher Is My Hero (2008), My Mom Is My Hero (2009), My Dad Is My Hero (2009), and My Dog Is My Hero (2010). She also edited Woodstock Revisited, 50 far out, groovy, peace-inducing, flashback-inducing stories from those who were there (2009). Ms. Reynolds has a B.A. in Psychology and has often written about psychological concepts. In pursuit of her own happiness, Ms. Reynolds uprooted her life and spent a year in Paris, reinventing herself and her career trajectory. Upon return, she created Literary Cottage, a literary consulting firm based in Boston, through which she coaches other writers in pursuit of happiness through publishing.

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