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A lot of times, we think of sex as a purely physical act. However, sex goes far beneath our physical exterior and impacts our brains on a major level.

When we think of attraction, we often think of the way we react to someone’s demeanor, appearance, or personality, but in reality, chemicals in our brains and hormones play a major role. According to studies and MRIs, long before we begin having sex, there are areas in the brain that become active, showing us that there is more to it than just ‘attraction.’

One of the first areas to activate during sex are the limbic system, which is the region in the brain responsible for emotional processing, and reward. Because of this, many researchers compare the ‘high’ we nearly instantly get from sex to drugs and alcohol, because much like drugs and alcohol, our brain reacts very similarly during sex.

“As a consequence, the sexual act itself is driven more by instinct and emotion than rational thought,” explains Jason Krellman, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Another strange thing that happens is that our region in the brain that governs social judgments and awareness shut down, which is likely why ‘love is blind.’ Thanks to this neural disinhibition, we can open ourselves to our partner, making it easier to orgasm.

Sex can also cause our brain to release high levels of dopamine, which causes us to feel satisfaction, reward, and euphoria. Dopamine is also tied to our reward system, which pushes our survival. Dopamine is also released when we eat high-calorie foods and also when we consume drugs.

Perhaps the most complex part of this process is when the bonding hormone is released, which is known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is what makes us fall in love and is released when we orgasm. Neuropsychologists have explained that this is why sex can serve as a pain reliever, but also why some people tend to fall in love with their partners immediately upon having sexual relations.

While sex is pleasurable and bonding activity, it also serves us in other ways. For example, people who have sex regularly experience less stress, improved mood, and less physical pain. Some have even reported in research that headaches can rid you of a headache, which is kind of interesting when you think that we often avoid having sex when we aren’t feeling that great.

But, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sex can be a downer too. According to a study carried out in 2010, 222 university students reported feeling down after sex. This is thought to be tied to trauma, especially sexual trauma.

One thing is for sure though, if you are needing some good rest, sex may be just as good if not better than a sleeping pill. After orgasm, our bodies release prolactin, which plays a key role in helping us sleep. Men even get more sleep effects than women, because it reduces the activity in their prefrontal cortex, which leads to deeper sleep.

I don’t know about you, but the next time I engage in sex, it’s going to be hard for me to not think of the science behind sex. What about you?