The modern world tells us sex is nothing more than a meeting of mutually aroused bodies. Many of us view it that way, especially in casual dating scenarios. However, the art and science of arousal make it far more complicated.
But if you think about it, you don’t want to have sex with just anyone, because not everybody can arouse you. They have the tools to do it, but for some reason, those tools don’t work on you. Along the same vein, sex – even casual sex often makes us feel emotionally closer to the person we had it with. The effect is noticeable in both men and women and is even stronger in committed relationships. Why?
Oxytocin reduces stress and increases trust, but in an interesting twist, it’s been scientifically linked with love, desire, and bonding. People who’ve been in a committed relationship for six months or more have higher levels of oxytocin than the general population. And men in relationships – when spritzed with intranasal oxytocin – were less likely to flirt or even stand near attractive colleagues. And sex releases a lot of oxytocin.
Pillow talk is always a tricky subject. When women achieve orgasm, they want to talk, because they feel intimate. When men orgasm, they want to blackout because they’re exhausted. Still, if you can stay awake long enough, your partner is more likely to say positive things and open herself up, telling you her secrets and showing herself to you.
That self-disclosure brings you closer and strengthens your trust in each other. Studies by Birnbaum et al in 2017 and Aron et al in 1997 show that subliminal sex signals make people more prone to self-disclosure, which leads to more sexual desire, even between strangers. And Denes’s study from 2012 shows the more she can share with you after sex, the more satisfied she is with the relationship, so try to stay up.
The longer-lasting sex is the best your afterglow (some couples glow for days after a satisfying session). And the more you ‘glow’, the more satisfied and happier you are with your relationship. Prolonged afterglow – the lingering sensual satisfaction from sexually connecting with someone – is thought to reduce incidences of infidelity. This matters because we’ve been told over and over that our brains are our biggest sex organs. It all starts there, even clearly ‘physical’ problems like premature ejaculation.
Sex stimulates oxytocin but when you feel both love and desire, it triggers your hippocampus, thalamus, and anterior cingulate cortex, according to Cacioppo et al in 2012. Meanwhile, Stoessel et al in 2011 showed participants photos of their loved ones and erotic photos of strangers. Both sets of photos triggered the same brain regions: anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and the insula. So if you want to get closer to the one you love, have some good sex, then wait at least half an hour before you fall asleep.