Georgiadis’s studies have shown how the brain converts sexual stimuli into bodily effects, and vice versa. “We wish to contemplate how brain/body interactions work during sex. I believe that will teach us much about sex, without limiting us to the prejudices we currently have with regard to the subject.”
First, Georgiadis showed why it is important that the brain be involved during sex. “Whenever someone receives stimuli, a connection is being established between the emotional and physiological centres of the brain, and that connection dissolves when there are no longer any stimuli.”
Having sex in a scanner
But how does he know this? Well, it took some special experiments. The audience, which mostly consisted of medical students, listened admiringly when Georgiadis explained how he conducted the tests. “We put men in a scanner with a small device around their penis. Their partners then stimulated their penises with their hands in the scanner and stopped whenever we asked them to. At the same time we were scanning the men’s brains to check where circulation increased or decreased. After a while we would allow them to come,” the neuroscientist explained.
In a later study, Georgiadis discovered that sexual arousal can be measured in people’s breath even without physical stimulation. “This showed us that body and mind are one. Sex does not take place in one particular part of the body. The whole body is involved.”
Georgiadis said that studies demonstrate that our brains respond to sexual stimuli, even when we are not aware of them. “We are extremely sensitive to sexual stimuli, particularly when they’re physical. This sensitivity can be modulated by making more or less dopamine available in the brain. In other words, sex uses our brain’s reward system.” In some animals, the purpose of sex appears to be reproduction rather than pleasure. “Cats are driven to have sex at certain times by pheromones, but the female does not ovulate until the male has ejaculated inside her several times,” Georgiadis said.
Reproduction is a side-effect of sex
However, in many animals, and in humans as well, there is a different relationship between sex and reproduction. The experience of sex and the context in which it happens are important to the development of sexual behaviour. “Many of our sexual acts and preferences are not geared towards reproduction and may even play a more significant role than the need to procreate. So reproduction is a side-effect of sex.”
Georgiadis believes it is not a good idea to view sex as something that serves merely to reproduce. “Of course, the ultimate effect of sex may be procreation, but if you disconnect the signals in your brain from reproduction, you may find that you have more sexual preferences than just the one act that results in procreation.”
Georgiadis said that sex should be viewed as behaviour that is driven by pleasure. In that way, it’s comparable to a nice meal, he explained, drawing a parallel with the buns with which the lunch-time lecture attendees were presented free of charge. “You see a cheese bun, and if you don’t feel like it, you won’t take one. If you do feel like it, you’ll take a bite. At some point you’ll have had your fill of it. And if you didn’t really like the cheese bun all that much, you may opt for a different type of bun the next time round.”
In other words, our preferences may evolve, and we can learn from every experience. Moreover, we can distinguish between the yearning for sex and the experience of sex. “Just like waiting in line for a bun is different from actually eating the bun.”