I have been doing some reading lately about the science of sex and more particularly, the science of orgasm. I have been looking to answer a number of questions I’ve had about my own reaction to chastity, such as:
1. Why am I in such a good mood during my periods of chastity?
2. Why are my orgasms, when I do have them, so intense and long-lasting; utterly unlike any orgasms I have experienced before?
3. Why do I have these intense feelings of devotion to my wife, of wanting to help and serve her during my periods of chastity?
4. Why do I lose those intense feelings of devotion after I have orgasmed and do not feel them return until days, sometimes a week or more, afterwards?
5. Why is my wife so much more enthusiastic when we have sex than she was before this chastity experiment?
6. Why does my wife seem to be in a better mood than she had been before, more willing to experiment a little sexually and generally warmer and more playful during our non-sexual time together?
I have had these questions, and others, swirling around in my mind for some time but didn’t feel the need to think and research them more deeply until a couple of things happened. First, in trying to explain to my wife what that powerful feeling of devotion was, I compared it to that post-orgasmic feeling of closeness we always have as we lie entwined with each other after sex, telling each other how lucky we are to have found each other. She remarked, “yes, but that feeling doesn’t last long, does it?” That made me curious as to why it doesn’t last.
Second, I had been following probably the premier blog on male chastity, written by Sarah Jameson. It has been an incredible font of wisdom, reason and good advice and followed closely the developments of her relationship with her husband, John, and her thoughts about it. In that blog, she described the increasing period of time between orgasms for her husband, from monthly, to every three or four months, to at least seven months (the minimum date for his next orgasm is Christmas, dating from his last one in May), to serious consideration of stretching that to a year or more, and even discussion and consideration of permanent orgasm denial (gulp!).
Sarah has also recently written a book on male chastity called “Be Careful What You Wish For,” a superb collection of her thoughts, wisdom and advice on whether male chastity is right for you; if it is, how to go about adopting that lifestyle and how to make it work for you as a couple. One thing she discusses in that book is her thinking on extending the period between orgasms for her husband. Her reasoning is logical, in fact mathematical in nature. First, she states that she and her husbands’s experience with male chastity so far has established a clear pattern that whenever John orgasmed, he lost that feeling of devotion, that powerful feeling of wanting to help and serve his wife for 7-10 days. Then she projected that pattern and its results on letting John orgasm every month and found that for every year, they (and especially she) would lose that special devotion generated by male chastity for three to four months. She considered that loss much to high to permit if she didn’t have to, and she didn’t have to. John seemed perfectly content with the less frequent orgasms as long as there were frequent periods of sexual play, touching and teasing – even if it was just for Sarah’s benefit.
That description of John’s lost devotion after orgasm and his general state of happiness while he was chaste closely matched my own experience and made me wonder just what was the best duration of chastity for me. During my own experiment in male chastity, the longest period I had gone without orgasm was 18 days and I recalled feeling as though I was jumping out of my skin I was so excited by the prospect of sexual release. Should I go longer, and if so, how? Can I be trained over time to extend the duration?
I began researching my questions by trying to understand the mood change that occurs after orgasm, particularly after a lengthy period of chastity. From previous experience, I knew moods are often dependent on the presence, concentration or absence of certain neurotransmitters. So I began my internet search with “sex and neurotransmitters,” and “orgasm and neurotransmitters.” What I found is that the relationship of sex and orgasm to our mood is not a mystery; the biochemical mechanisms are well understood. And, I discovered that those mechanisms provide the answers to not only all of the questions I had about mood change and male chastity but many questions I hadn’t even thought of yet. At the end of this article, I will list some web sites that would be of interest in understanding these mechanisms. Each of those sites, in turn, provide links for further research and investigation.
There are a number of different neurotransmitters involved in shaping our moods throughout our life but the three dominant, key ones where sex and orgasm are concerned are dopamine, prolactin and oxytocin. A fourth factor is the concentration of receptors for these neurotransmitters, in particular those for dopamine. Sexual activity and orgasm generate predictable patterns in the levels of each of the three transmitters as well as receptors. Men and women have distinctly different patterns which have evolved over time to deal with the imperatives of species survival – i.e successfully passing on one’s own genes. In particular, gene pool mixing and the care of off-spring so they survive long enough to pass their genes on.
This is not an article about evolution, but suffice to say that the feelings and behaviors those neurotransmitters generate that are related to survival (that is, gene survival) exist in us today because they were the most successful in allowing our ancestors to survive and procreate, and for allow their progeny to survive and have a chance to also procreate. The neurotransmitters dopamine, prolactin and oxytocin exist and work the way they do because in the world of long ago, when our ancestors evolved, they provided an advantage in procreation and in survival of the progeny.
Okay, so let’s introduce the “stage” and the three main actors in this ongoing play:
First, the stage for all of this is our brain; in particular the part of our brain in the limbic system called the “reward center.” All of our physical senses like taste, smell and touch only provide signals to the brain which the brain receives, processes and in turn generates neurotransmitters. Our genitals are just one of many such signal senders.
The three “actors” are:
Dopamine – the neurotransmitter that causes the feeling of pleasure we receive from engaging in certain activities. Sexual arousal, the eating of calorie rich foods, and for some, certain other behaviors like gambling or shopping, and the ingestion of certain drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and heroin all raise the level of dopamine in our reward center. This rising level is experienced as pleasure and the higher the level, the more intense the pleasure provided there are sufficient receptors to accommodate the rising level. The intense pleasure of orgasm that we experience results from the sudden flood of dopamine that is released in the reward center of our brain.
Prolactin – the neurotransmitter of satiation; it applies the brakes, so to speak, on the level and duration of dopamine and oxytocin ( it affects oxytocin indirectly by its effect on dopamine). Prolactin levels generally remain stable in the reward center of the brain except during orgasm when they are substantially increased to deal with (i.e counteract or reduce the level of) the sudden flood of dopamine and oxytocin. The elevated levels of prolactin after orgasm persist for a minimum of one week and as long as two weeks
Oxytocin – often called the “cuddle hormone,” when the level is elevated, it produces the pleasurable feeling of bonding or “connectedness,” as well as feelings of closeness, devotion and protection. It is the primary factor in establishing the basis for pair bonding. A burst of oxytocin is produced during orgasm and is responsible for the post orgasm afterglow of love and connectedness we feel. After orgasm, in men, the level or oxytocin quickly drops – in less than an hour it is well below the level it was at before sexual arousal began. In women, the post orgasmic level of oxytocin decreases more slowly reaching normal levels in several hours and remaining there. In addition to orgasm, the other mechanism for raising the level of oxytocin is touching and caressing, not necessarily in a sexual manner; even the simple act of holding hands will raise oxytocin levels. Even when the level of oxytocin is reduced to normal levels, although the powerful bonding feeling is lost, the memory of that feeling remains. It is that memory that provides the basis for long term relationships to survive the dopamine/prolactin roller coaster.
As discussed in the section on oxytocin, the manner in which dopamine and prolactin rises and falls during and after orgasm is quite different in men than in women. In men the curve tracing the increase and decrease of dopamine through sexual arousal, orgasm and aftermath is saw-tooth shaped. There is a gradual rise during sexual arousal with the gradient or slope increasing as he approaches orgasm. At orgasm, the slope is nearly vertical as it is the sudden burst of dopamine that is experienced as intense pleasure by men. The feeling of intense pleasure lasts only 5-10 seconds in most men (4-12 muscular contractions about 0.8 seconds apart according to Masters and Johnson). This burst of dopamine also triggers a nearly concurrent burst of prolactin causing the level of dopamine to “fall off a cliff” in a nearly vertical descent after orgasm. The result of the dueling neurotransmitters just minutes after orgasm is a dopamine level that is well below the level it was before the sexual arousal leading to orgasm started and a high level of prolactin that persists above the normal level for up to two weeks.
For women, the picture is quite different. Perhaps because of different survival and procreation imperatives, or because women’s dopamine levels are largely driven by their menstrual cycles (high levels at fertility, highest at ovulation, lowest at the end of the cycle when not fertile – this low dopamine level is often experienced as PMS irritability and also often an insatiable appetite for calorie rich foods which is a way of raising dopamine levels back to normal), a women’s dopamine curve is smoother, shaped more like a flattened sine wave which, if looked at in detail, is a series of pyramid like steps with small rises and drops followed by a period of leveling or a plateau. So, during sexual arousal, her dopamine level rises in a series of steps (the plateaus accounting for the generally longer foreplay period required by women before orgasm). At orgasm, the dopamine level peaks but does not drop off drastically, descending instead in a series of steps because unlike men, her prolactin levels rise only a little above normal and continue at that level only long enough to return her dopamine level to the level which is normal for where she is in her menstrual cycle.
Now that we understand the dopamine/prolactin cyle and the oxytocin cycle, lets look at the moods and feelings that are associated with normal or somewhat elevated levels and low levels of dopamine, excess levels of prolactin, and normal or higher levels of oxytocin vs. below normal levels of oxytocin (which is usually accompanied by higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone).
Normal/Somewhat Elevated: Motivated, Feelings of well-being, pleasure in accomplishing tasks, healthy libido, optimistic about life, good feelings towards others, a desire to bond with others, sound choices.
Low Level: depression, Anhedonia (no pleasure, the world looks colorless), lack of ambition and drive, inability to feel love, low libido, no remorse about personal behavior, social anxiety, impaired judgment.
The symptoms associated with excess levels of prolactin are:
lethargy, loss of libido, depression, irritability, infertility, decreased testosterone levels, weight gain, little interest in bonding with others, pessimistic about life.
Normal/Elevated: strong feelings of attachment, devotion and connection; increased sexual receptivity, positive feelings, health benefits (lowers blood pressure, faster wound healing) fewer cravings and addictions, feelings of protection and responsibility.
Low Levels: little or no feelings of attachment, devotion or connection, little or no feelings of protection and responsibility for another, low libido, depression and weakened immune system.
Now let’s walk an average, middle-aged, married couple who have sex to the man’s orgasm about twice per week (with the woman reaching orgasm about half the time):
For the man, it’s a dopamine/prolactin roller coaster of pleasure and depression with him experiencing the pleasure of elevated dopamine and oxytocin for relatively brief periods of sexual arousal and orgasm while spending most of his time experiencing the lethargy, depression and loss of connectedness of low levels of dopamine and oxytocin with high levels of prolactin. To compensate for this, the man will attempt to raise his dopamine levels, to feel good again, (in the same way a cocaine addict would, who also experiences a very similar saw-toothed curve in dopamine levels when using the drug, seek drugs to boost dopamine) by doing things in which his brain has already developed known pathways for responding with dopamine surges. This includes over-eating, use of dopamine raising drugs – legal and illegal (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates), looking at porn, masturbation, sexual liaisons with others, particularly those involving risk (New York Governor Spitzer and President Clinton come to mind – both of whom paid a high price for living with a dysfunctional dopamine/prolactin cycle), etc..