Sensual Circuitry

Those of us who have or have had teen-age children have undoubtedly heard them, when they came home from a day of classes, describe an opposite-sex student in class as “hot!”  Of course, we certainly did not question the meaning of that colloquialism – it meant the student in question was good-looking, well-built, and most likely the subject of some vivid sexual fantasies.  And there is no shortage of sexual desire and sexual fantasizing going on in teen-age brains, which are essentially “hot-wired” for the procreation of the human race!

The reason is that from puberty on, sex hormones in a man or woman are in full swing.  They facilitate sexual desire and sexual functioning, but not on their own.  Their function is aided and enhanced by some chemical messenger substances known as neurotransmitters.

All human beings have nerve cells or neurons all throughout their bodies.  Many of these neurons have long thin projections known as axons which extend far out from the nucleus, connecting to other axons to conduct the electrical impulses which govern sensation and movement.  And those substances called neurotransmitters facilitate the conduction of the electrical impulses along one axon to meet the next.  At the end of each long thin axon there are some branch-like fingers called dendrites which reach out towards the dendrites of the adjacent neuron.  Furthermore, many neurons have “hot spots” or specific areas which are specialized receptors for a particular neurotransmitter, and when the neurotransmitter crosses over from one dendrite to the next and reaches these receptors, an intense pleasurable reaction is experienced.  Does that sound hot to you?  Well, it is, because our bodies are in essence “hot-wired” to desire and enjoy s e x.  Our brains are wired to respond to sensory stimuli by sending electrical impulses to the right body parts, and neurotransmitters greatly facilitate the process.  Hence the neurotransmitters themselves first reach the appropriate receptors in the brain. Then they often travel back down the nerve pathways to reach our s-e-x organs and are actually released into nerve receptors there and aid with physiological responses such as penile or clitoral erection and vaginal lubrication.  Some of the neurotransmitters are directly linked to sexual organ function, and some more directly linked to psychological factors like libido and mood.  Here are some of the most common neurotransmitters that are related to sexual function:

Acetylcholine helps facilitate erections.  Dopamine is primarily responsible for enhancing s e x drive, mood, alertness, and movement.  Norepinephrine and epinephrine influence alertness, arousal, and mood (these neurotransmitters increase libido, but may make it more difficult to have an erection).  Serotonin usually has an inhibitory effect, that is, too much serotonin decreases sexual drive and interest (note that it is “too much” serotonin which is inhibitory; a certain amount of it is necessary to maintain normal libido). Melanocortin increases s-e-x drive and sexual organ performance (blood flow and nerve sensitivity). 

“Well,” you may be thinking.  “If I already have all these neurotransmitters naturally, what, if anything, do I have to do to enhance their effectiveness?”  The answer is that, as with any component of human metabolism, your neurotransmitters can get out of balance as a result of factors like aging, weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, or diabetes.  The reasons for this are complex, but suffice it to say that since several of the neurotransmitters are synthesized or manufactured deep in the brain neurons themselves from regular amino acids (building blocks of protein) or omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats), a normal and balanced diet plays a huge role in maintaining the right amounts of each neurotransmitter.  And, since epinephrine and norepinephrine are closely associated to your adrenal glands, maintaining an ideal weight helps normalize their production, since being overweight significantly compromises adrenal function.  Suboptimal adrenal function also decreases the production of DHEA, a precursor hormone made in the adrenal gland which is a building block for s e x hormones. 

On that note, we should remember the close relationship between neurotransmitters and hormones.  If our hormones are out of balance, then the function of our neurotransmitters, especially the ones associated with s e x, may not be optimal.  Again, a healthy diet helps balance our hormones naturally.  There are some foods like soy and maca which contain phytocompounds that help to restore good hormonal balance.   “Maca,” you say.  “What’s that?”  Well, maca is a rooted plant that has been grown in Peru for centuries by the Incas, who touted its energy and libido-supporting properties.  And, maca consumers report that these claims are actually true.  Scientists don’t seem to know exactly why except to say that maca contains concentrations of ‘macamides’ and ‘macaenes.’  Duh, well, that doesn’t surprise me, but exactly what these compounds are and why they help to balance hormones should probably be covered in another article. 

Anyway, remember that a healthy balanced diet and an appropriate weight and body mass index helps to support both your hormones and your neurotransmitters, and that your neurotransmitters are the agents by which your sexual connection actually occurs.  So, it makes sense to do everything you can to keep the circuits hot!


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Dr. Anna Cabeca

Dr. Anna Cabeca

Certified OB/GYN, Anti-Aging and Integrative Medicine expert and founder of The Girlfriend Doctor. During Dr. Anna’s health journey, she turned to research to create products to help thousands of women through menopause, hormones, and sexual health. She is the author of best-selling The Hormone Fix, and Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause.

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