The Big O: What You Need To Know About Sexual Frustration and Overall Happiness

Monday, March 24, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Sexuality/Relationships

The functioning of our bodies, especially our sexual responsiveness, is tied directly to our autonomic nervous system. The hormones produced in response to this system can trigger panic or orgasmic bliss. But which one you get may depend on your past experiences and how much satisfaction you've been enjoying.

"But you said size doesn't matter!"

So, here's the quick and dirty (heh): hormones like oxytocin are necessary for sexual functioning, from progression of labor to the Big O. Oxytocin is responsible for bonding, both with children and with partners, which may be one reason that having a lot of sex tends to restore connections between partners, increase attachment and decrease insecurities1. Enough oxytocin pushes us over the edge into orgasm.

Think of oxytocin like a series of keys that produce orgasm when they slide into the right locks (or receptors) in the brain. 

"Best locksmithing convention EVER." 

The bad news is that cortisol, a chemical released during stress responses, has a master key, and can bind to those same receptors in the brain. And if that lock already has a cortisol key in it, you don't get to...uh...finish. Instead you might just get nervous. 

Or frustrated. Really, really frustrated. 

That frustration can lead to a series of more negative experiences because we come to expect that outcome. Once you start to equate sex with frustration, all bets are off. Cortisol can sneak into that lock before you even get your pants off. 

Luckily, if you manage to get that oxytocin fast-tracked into the lock, you can create a cycle of awesomeness too. And being happy with your sex life may mean you're happier overall. 

"All the ladies in the house say....'Duh.'"

But, why would this be?

Orgasm and Happiness

In her book simply entitled Vagina, Naomi Wolf explores overall happiness and creativity in relation to sexual experience2. She found that there appears to be a link between the nerves in the pelvis and emotional responses, particularly one called the pundendal nerve.

And how do you activate those nerves?

A little bit of hide the sausage and slap and tickle, providing you're tickling exactly the right spot. Because if you're not fellas, we're not likely to come back for more until we absolutely have to. 

According to Wolf, negative feedback cycles, like scary thought patterns, create a type of downward sexual cycle where women get less satisfaction, leading them to desire less and less sex until they feel little sexual stirring at all. 

"Sorry, baby, I have a headache...yeah, it might last awhile....maybe three years?"

According to Wolf, it may be this lack of sexual expression that leads to decreases in overall happiness and life satisfaction. This is likely due to the decreases in dopamine, oxytocin and other feel-good chemicals that aren't floating around in the system when you're missing out on volcanic love eruptions.  
"Who knew orgasm could make you happy?"(...said no woman ever.)


According to Wolf, those with sexual trauma issues may wind up with a negative feedback loop that creates a type of sexual freeze response, primarily because base anxiety levels are higher after such experiences. This freeze response may be confined to the pelvic region, and is an adaptive measure to decrease sensation and shut out past experience. If history teaches that sex is not a safe endeavor, we do best to avoid it, ignore it, or at least not surrender to it.      

And if we're busy not surrendering, guess which asshole locksmith is already all up in our brain?

Cortisol, you sneaky bastard.  

Birth trauma can also trigger this type of shut down, and many women experience repulsion at the mere idea of sex for many months following childbirth. For some it is the exhaustion of a new child, the healing process or the hormonal shifts postpartum, all of which are adaptive and normal responses after childbirth. But, for others, there is an anxiety inherent that they have trouble explaining, one which often stretches beyond normal sexual aversion following birth. This seems more prominent in cases where the birth experience was less than ideal or fear-inducing. Just as rape can alter our responsiveness indefinitely until we deal with it, birth trauma carries this same ability. 

Trauma usually has a more involved set of treatments in tackling sexual dysfunction, and most benefit from professional assistance to cope. For those struggling with the fact that things between the sheets aren't fun or satisfying, at least understanding the issue at hand can help to improve the situation through communication or self-exploration. 

The gist is that more satisfying sexual experiences lead to more desire due to the reward system in our brain. If you ate chocolate and it tasted like raw turnips, you might avoid it. But, if it was delicious, you might seek it out a little more often. 

Bad sex = turnips that you have to stay awake to eat.

Men may try a little harder to find the holy grail if they understand they may get more nookie. At the very least, they may be more patient if they understand our frustration, and the fact that the more frustrated we are the less ideal the situation for them.

For the record, you don't have to be taking the old one eye to the optometrist to find satisfaction. If you're not great at playing pocket pinball, you may need to practice. At least doing yourself is sex with someone you love...just without the pressure. The more ways you can find to orgasm, the more likely you can find ways to do it with others around.

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Everything you ever wanted to know about the connections between your vagina and your brain. It's worth the read.

Sex At Dawn
Exploration of modern relationships from the evolutionary perspective. Everything you ever wanted to know about male penis size.

The Evolution of Desire
Evolutionary psychology and the history of human mating

The Anatomy of Love
An in depth look at a history of human mating. Sex, anthropology and more sex. What more could you want?