The role of orgasm in the development and shaping of partner preferences

Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016 Oct 25;6:31815. doi: 10.3402/snp.v6.31815. eCollection 2016.


Background: The effect of orgasm on the development and shaping of partner preferences may involve a catalysis of the neurochemical mechanisms of bonding. Therefore, understanding such process is relevant for neuroscience and psychology.

Methods: A systematic review was carried out using the terms Orgasm, Sexual Reward, Partner Preference, Pair Bonding, Brain, Learning, Sex, Copulation.

Results: In humans, concentrations of arousing neurotransmitters and potential bonding neurotransmitters increase during orgasm in the cerebrospinal fluid and the bloodstream. Similarly, studies in animals indicate that those neurotransmitters (noradrenaline, oxytocin, prolactin) and others (e.g. dopamine, opioids, serotonin) modulate the appetitive and consummatory phases of sexual behavior and reward. This suggests a link between the experience of orgasm/sexual reward and the neurochemical mechanisms of pair bonding. Orgasm/reward functions as an unconditioned stimulus (UCS). Some areas in the nervous system function as UCS-detection centers, which become activated during orgasm. Partner-related cues function as conditioned stimuli (CS) and are processed in CS-detector centers.

Conclusions: Throughout the article, we discuss how UCS- and CS-detection centers must interact to facilitate memory consolidation and produce recognition and motivation during future social encounters.

Keywords: dopamine; ejaculation; opioids; orgasm; pair bonding; partner preference; sexual reward.