A new study conducted by a sociologist at Penn State Abington has found that heterosexual women report that commitment and love improves sexual satisfaction in a relationship. This is because many women connect sex with love and the emotional experience can enhance the physical experience of sex. According to the author of the study, love makes sex better because women feel less inhibited with a partner they love and they are more willing to explore their sexuality with someone they trust.
How Love Makes Sex Better for Women
Researchers know very little about female orgasms. Most research has looked at animals, not humans, and focused on sensory information flowing to and from sex organs. However, a growing body of research indicates that for women, love and sexual pleasure are often connected.
According to a recent survey by Penn State Abington sociologist Beth Montemurro, most heterosexual women between the ages of 20 and 68 said that they believed love was essential for maximum sexual pleasure in a relationship. Most women in the study reported being in love increased pleasure. According to Montemurro, this is likely due to the fact that women who feel they are in love feel less inhibited and more trusting of their partners.
She believes this connection also indicates how women are encouraged by society to view sex as an expression of love. There is often a strong cultural message that women should not have sex outside of a committed and loving relationship. Even today, women face strong messages in media that portray women negatively for having sex outside of a relationship. Modern media also tends to portray marriage as sexless, although Beth found in the interviews that sex was an essential component of the women’s marriages and committed relationships. Most women in the study said that love was needed or at least beneficial in sex and sex was essential in marriage.
Another study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Geneva University in Switzerland, suggests that female orgasms have more to do with the brain than the body. Neural networks seem to play a much larger role in sexual satisfaction in women than in men and how a woman feels about her partner are tied to how good orgasms feel.
In this study, researchers asked heterosexual women in love to rate the intensity of their love and the frequency, ease and quality of their orgasms with their partner. Researchers also used MRI scans to map the participants’ brain activity while they focused on a cognitive task. While working on the task, the name of the woman’s lover would flash on the screen too quickly for the woman to notice consciously but slowly enough to elicit a response from the brain. This technique has been found in the past to show neural networks involved in the recognition of a partner and emotions attached to the person.
Researchers found that the more in love a participant reported being with their partner, the greater the activity that was triggered in the left angular gyrus, a region of the brain associated with emotions and event memories. These subjects were also more likely to report easier, higher-quality orgasms. The more a woman reported being satisfied with their orgasms, the greater the activity in the left insula region of the brain, which is associated with addiction and reward. The study did not find a link between being in love and how often a woman orgasms, however.
Regions of the Brain Activated During Sex
Another factor that can link sex and love in the minds of women is the areas of the brain that are activated during sex. Researchers from Rutgers University, New Jersey recently used brain scans to monitor women’s brains during orgasm. The study found that different parts of the brain are activated depending on the area of the body that is aroused.
The scientists identified about 30 areas of the brain that are activated during sex, including areas responsible for memory, satisfaction, joy, touch and emotion. Two minutes before orgasm, the reward centers of the brain become active. These areas are typically activated while drinking and eating. Just before orgasm, the sensory cortex that receives touch messages becomes activated. The hypothalamus is the final region of the brain to be activated. This control center of the brain regulates hunger, thirst, tiredness and temperature.
During sex, an important hormone called oxytocin is also released. Often coined the “cuddle hormone,” this hormone helps women trust others and lower defenses. It also increases empathy to assist with bonding. Women naturally produce more oxytocin, although it’s not known why. Some researchers believe this hormone is why women are more likely to fall in love with someone after sex. Conversely, when a man has sex, the primary hormone that is released is dopamine, which is a pleasure hormone.