Updated: 2022, May 18

How Can Sex Feel Even Better: The Science of Pleasure

Many men assume that an athletic, wild session of lovemaking will get a woman to fall in love with them and want them forever. But the truth is that most women don’t approach sex in exactly the same way that men do. And this especially shows up in what happens after sexual intercourse.

How Can Sex Feel Even Better: The Science of Pleasure

Many couples have different reactions after orgasm. Often the woman wants to cuddle. But many times the man just lies back with a smile on his face and seems to be in his own world or he simply falls asleep. One couple I saw, let’s call them Ron and Peggy, talked about this as one of their problems.

The Afterglow

Peggy said, “Right after sex I feel so close to Ron, but he seems to be in his own world. If I snuggle up to him, he doesn’t exactly pull away, but he isn’t there for me either. I feel like I’m reaching out to him and it feels like he is abandoning me.” This is pretty strong language. Peggy agreed that he wasn’t really abandoning her, but it seemed like he was very distant when she felt so close to him.

Ron said, “I really love Peggy, but I feel so wiped out after sex. I guess it takes a lot of energy and after sex I feel good and I mean it when I tell her that I love her, but I’m exhausted and I just want to collapse.”

This doesn’t happen to every couple, but it happens often enough that it’s an important difference between men and women that we need to understand and know how to handle.

The Dance of the Hormones

The Dance of the Hormones

The first thing we have to know is the major players in the dance of hormones that happens during sex.

Dopamine is the reward hormone. That’s the hormone that gives you a tremendous rush during orgasm and gives you great feelings at moments of success.


Oxytocin is the cuddle hormone and it’s also called the love hormone. It creates warm, loving feelings toward your partner and this is a major player when a woman bonds with her baby after birth.

Serotonin is the satisfaction hormone. It is related to feelings of serenity and even ecstasy. It is responsible for that glowing feeling after orgasm.

Each of these hormones has very strong effects on our feelings and behavior. Let’s take a deeper look at each one.


Dopamine is the source of emotional fireworks. When you’re having great feelings of happiness and pleasure in both mind and body, you can be sure that there is a lot of dopamine flowing through your nervous system. Men tend to produce more of this hormone at the moment of orgasm and then experience a sharp drop.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Women produce plenty of dopamine during orgasm, but its effects linger for a while. That quick drop in dopamine levels that men experience is part of the reason why a lot of men feel tired or even fall asleep soon after orgasm.

This explains what Ron was feeling. The high levels of dopamine released during orgasm gave him a fantastic high. Then the drop left him feeling wiped out and it was easy for him to fall asleep after sex.

The dopamine high followed by a quick drop is a definite part of the cycle of addiction. It can leave a man feeling sad or empty. Then he starts looking for the next high, the next dopamine rush. This is part of the reason why men can be addicted to porn, but women don’t find it as interesting.

Another element in the dopamine high is that it requires some variety to remain intense each time. That’s why guys who get addicted to Internet porn often keep looking for more intense or kinkier kinds of sex. With repetition the high diminishes and he starts looking for something that will give him the same kind of intense feelings he had early on. (1)



This hormone really deserves its reputation as being the cuddle hormone or the love hormone. Oxytocin is one of the major hormones that binds people together. When you see two young lovers deeply entranced with each other you can be sure that there is a lot of oxytocin flowing between their nerve cells. That’s not a very romantic image but it has a lot of scientific accuracy to it.

When it comes to sex the interesting thing is that women release about twice as much oxytocin during orgasm as men do. Add to that the fact that women are more strongly influenced by oxytocin because estrogen binds it more strongly to the nerves. And women have a lot more estrogen than men do.

This explains what was happening to Peggy. She was having the same great experience during orgasm that Ron was. When women and men experience orgasm, their feelings are so similar that their descriptions sound the same. (2) Its what happens afterwards that makes a difference.

The dopamine levels drop more slowly for women so they don’t have the same crash as men do. At the same time they are under the spell of extra oxytocin and they very much want to cuddle and share loving feelings.

So now you have a situation after orgasm where the man is coming down from a real high and is starting to pull into himself while the woman is filled with feelings of love and is reaching out for a warm connection. This is the major source of a lot of the confusion and tension that men and women experience around sex. (3)


Serotonin plays a very interesting part in the dance of love. It tends to be released along with oxytocin and it produces feelings of satisfaction and deep comfort. This contrasts with the intensity of the feelings that dopamine produces. It’s like a very mellow high.

After orgasm serotonin and oxytocin combine to give deep, loving feelings. Of course, since they produce more of these hormones, women are experiencing this effect much more intensely than men.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

The problem is that high levels of serotonin tend to reduce sexual desire. It has a similar effect on appetite. People with higher levels of serotonin in their systems tend to eat less. What’s more, high levels of serotonin can reduce sexual feelings and even block orgasm or make it more difficult to have one. But lower serotonin levels are associated with having more desire for sex.


On the other hand, when serotonin levels are too low that’s when people can get depressed. One major class of medicine prescribed for depression is the SSRIs. These drugs keep serotonin from being put back into storage after it’s released.

That makes the positive effects of serotonin stronger and last longer, which can have a very beneficial effect on reducing depression. But it’s no surprise that one of the side effects of the SSRI drugs is that they reduce sexual desire and take the pleasure out of sex. (4)

The Latest Sex Pill

The latest, greatest sex pill is designed to increase women’s desire for sex. It’s made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals and is called Addyi. Its generic name is flibanserin. By partially blocking serotonin this new drug seems to increase desire in women.

The increase isn’t really dramatic for most women who take this pill. They had on the average an increase of one more satisfying sexual encounter a month. However, if you aren’t having any good sex, that’s quite an increase.

There are also some significant side effects. The one that really stands out is that drinking alcohol while taking the pill can bring on a rapid drop in blood pressure and cause fainting.

So women need to agree not to drink alcohol at all while taking the pill. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out in the marketplace, especially the part about not being able to take a drink.

Putting your Knowledge to Work

In working with Ron and Peggy, just understanding what was happening in their bodies during sex made a big difference. Peggy said, “I thought he was just being insensitive and that once he was taken care of the game was over.

Now I realize that a lot of those feelings are out of his control.” For his part, Ron was more willing to make an effort to snuggle after sex even though he felt wiped out.

One thing I knew from interviewing them was that they engaged in pretty athletic sex. They were both in good health and Ron made a special effort to get Peggy as turned on as possible.

Nearly always he made sure she had an orgasm before he did and for both of them it was pretty intense. But that was actually part of the problem because it increased Ron’s feelings of exhaustion after sex.

The Kissing Exercise

The Kissing Exercise

That’s why I wanted them to slow things down and I started by having them do the Kissing Exercise. This is an exercise I do in my office. I instruct the partners then I leave the room for the 5 to 10 minutes while they carry out the exercise.

I begin by telling them:

You are going to explore each other’s style of kissing. You’re going to take the whole process apart and then put it back together. You begin by deciding who gets to be the active partner first and who gets to be the receptive one.

First, the active partner is to kiss the receptive partner like the active partner likes to kiss. The receptive partner is to be receptive and open to experience the active partner’s kiss.

Then you change roles and the receptive partner becomes the active partner and kisses the way he/she likes to kiss.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Then I leave the room. After they finish the exercise, I re-enter the room and ask them what they learned about how their partner likes to kiss. In this case Ron was a very busy kisser and used lots of tongue. Peggy kissed more slowly and gently and just did a little playful licking of Ron’s lips.

In the next part of the exercise I had the active one kiss in the style of the other partner and then switch roles. They each reported that it was a little difficult at first to imitate the other partner’s style.

But each one really enjoyed the experience as the receptive partner. In particular Peggy said that she got goose bumps all over when Ron kissed slowly and affectionately.

In the last part of the exercise both partners try to bring these two styles of kissing together. They reported that what they did was start with Peggy’s slow, sensual kissing and then progressed into Ron’s more active, passionate style. I sent them home to explore this more and to start bringing Peggy style into their lovemaking.

A New Way

The aim of this exercise is twofold. First it gives each partner a direct experience of the other’s style. And it also gets them communicating about what they like during sex.

Even for people with lots of sexual experience just talking about it can sometimes be very difficult. But if you really want your partner to beg for more, you actually have to find out what she likes.

After a few weeks they both found the changes very satisfying. When they slowed things down and had more loving, sensual lovemaking, their orgasms weren’t as intense, but were still very satisfying. The difference was that Peggy felt much better about things and didn’t feel like she was left hanging after sex.

Her need for loving feelings was taken care of and when he didn’t have an earth shattering orgasm he actually had a bit more energy for snuggling at the end. Putting more loving feelings into the sex act actually left Peggy wanting more.

Taking Charge of Love

So how can all of this information help you take charge of your sex life and really satisfy a woman? The first thing is that we tend to assume everybody else in the world feels the same way we do about sex and romance. But that is definitely not how things work.

Lots of women find an energetic session in bed and a fantastic orgasm feel really wonderful. Other women aren’t that crazy about wild sex. But one thing that almost all of them do share is basking in the glow of that cuddle hormone, oxytocin, after sex.

As a therapist I can help my couples improve their love lives by managing their hormones. If the love hormones, serotonin and oxytocin, have taken over and they find that their not so physically attracted to each other, it may be time to introduce some variety into their sex lives.

Role-playing, going on a sex vacation somewhere new, doing it in a different room, all of these can increase dopamine levels and reawaken the spark of sex. For others, engaging in more affectionate and loving sex can increase oxytocin levels and form a stronger bond between them.

If you really want her to beg for more you need to find out what she likes in bed. She’s not likely to have the desire for mind blowing sex that so many men think women want.

You may find out that she has a need for more romance and a deeper emotional connection. And you will probably discover that if you can take care of her need for closeness and loving she’s going to be begging you for more.

(1) http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2008/02/12/dopamine-and-orgasm/
(2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2031498/Sex-Why-makes-women-fall-love--just-makes-men-want-MORE.html
(3) http://www.yourtango.com/experts/nancy-lee-bentley-wholistic-health-expert/how-serotonin-affects-your-sex-drive
(4) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/business/fda-approval-addyi-female-viagra.html?_r=0

Dr. Karen Gless, Ph.D, RN, LMFT

Karen Gless, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a registered nurse with over 20 years in a successful psychotherapy

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