The Sexy Science of Orgastronomy
In my first blog entry, I discussed how food and sex access the same parts of the brain which is linked to memory and instinct, and how it stands to reason certain foods carry associations that have been categorized and passed down through our genetic luggage.
But what about the actual science behind how food gives us the same skin tingling excitement that we experience through sexual gratification?
At the heart of it all are neurotransmitters, such as endorphins: chemicals released by the body that have an impact on the emotions we feel. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers and can improve our state of mind, and they are released during both experiences that enhance pleasure or pain (which can factor into enjoyment of BDSM). Endorphins are meant to help us manage stress and help elevate our moods. They are there as guides to let us know what we can expect to derive pleasure from, and to assist when we feel paralyzed by pain.
One neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggers emotions like love and lust: the anticipation alone can trigger your brain to respond by releasing dopamine when it expects to be ‘rewarded’ via an activity that brings gratification, be it sex, food, exercise, or anything else associated. Another is serotonin, which helps with regulating mood, blood flow, temperature, and digestion, and is released during sex with dopamine as a chemical balancer. It also plays a role in regulating appetite. Certain foods can increase serotonin levels, such as nuts and seeds, some of which are associated aphrodisiacs.
Like anything else, if we continuously flood our sensory systems or experience a deficit, we can experience withdrawal, which is why dopamine has been linked to food, sex, drug, and exercise addictions created by developing a ‘tolerance’. Low levels of serotonin can inhibit sexual libido while high levels can exaggerate it, and people often crave carbohydrates when experiencing a deficit as they seek to illicit a serotonin response. Neurotransmitters are powerful tools that enable us to understand how our interactions in culture and society impact our physical health and well-being.
Another hormone that assists in creating feelings of attachment and love is oxytocin. Known for ages to interplay in bonding between partners and relationships with our children, oxytocin is released in various ways: via touch, eye contact, and through the art and act of sharing. Something as simple as skin to skin contact, a communal meal, or feeding another in a loving way, can create associations of affection and pleasure toward that person AND what you are eating. This can create hormonal nostalgia for foods experienced with lovers that later induce the same reactions when presented for consumption. Our bodies have incredible capacities for cellular memory, and like anything else, these can change or morph over time depending on the circumstances.
Food, like anything else biological, is comprise of various compounds and chemicals, some of which can create the same physical triggers we experience in sexual gratification. For example, nitric oxide is released when we feel physically turned on, assisting with dilation and blood flow to our genitalia, and foods such as dark chocolate, watermelon, and pomegranates, all considered aphrodisiacs, contain this molecule.
It brings a whole new dimension of understanding how the biological influence of food and eating elicits emotional and physical responses to create a dynamic synergy that impacts how we engage in attachment, pleasure, and gratification. Even more fascinating is how we have the ability to choose what we put into our bodies to enhance and influence what we hope to experience. If we are influenced by the food we eat on a biological and emotional level, then the adage ‘We are What We Eat’ holds true. By that logic, I tender that we also 'Fuck Like We Eat’ too.
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-by Holly Beck