Passie et al. “On the function of groaning and hyperventilation during sexual intercourse: intensification of sexual experience by altering brain metabolism through hypocapnia” Medical Hypotheses, 2003.
Yes, people DO really study this stuff. I now present your Friday Weird Science, and I don’t even have to play with the title!
Now, I’m going to start by saying that I do not want to hear about YOUR groaning and hyperventilation experiences. This is a clean blog, thank you! Unless, of course, you have a random sampling with p<0.05. ‘Round here, even the sex is geeky.
As some of you may be aware, hyperventilation, along with suffocation, can produce altered states of consciousness. You can see examples of this when kids choke each other to get high (which is a HORRIBLE idea). This is because hyperventilation and other kinds of breathing differences drastically reduce blood flow to the brain, sometimes as much as 50%, and this can produce drastic changes in mood, particularly inducing a feeling of euphoria (I believe in ‘Sex and the City’ they call it “seeing God”. The authors here thought that changes in blood flow to the brain caused by hyperventilation might increase the sexual experience.
Sexual arousal has lots of difference symptoms: release of many different hormones, increases in blood flow to the lips, cheeks, and genetalia, increased heart rate, and a definite inability to think clearly. Hyperventilation and vocalizations such as groaning are considered common features of sexual response (Masters and Johnson, 1966), though interestingly the authors say that women are more likely to have this than men (I’d like to see that study, Davidson, 1980). Many of the physiological sexual responses that we have are those that produce increased sexual responses in our mates, facilitating reproduction. For example, flushed lips and cheeks are a sexual attractant and a sign of health, and of course pelvic thrusting can always get a response.
However, here the authors hypothesize that hyperventilation may produce increased sexual response in ourselves. What’s the purpose of this? Well, sex is supposed to be fun, if it weren’t, you wouldn’t do it, and then the species would die out. So presumably physiological responses that increase our enjoyment of sex would make us more likely to do it again. Additionally, our physiological responses are designed so that we can’t stop halfway. So a decrease in cortical blood flow from hyperventilating would stop us thinking very clearly, and thus keep us doin’ what we’re doin’.
To help us with this, it appears that blood flow is down in the cortex, but not so much in the limbic regions. An fMRI study of hyperventilation has shown that blood flow is decreased by as much as 50%, but that this decrease is largely confined to the neocortex (the frontal lobes, etc, involved in higher processing), while not occuring so much in the limbic regions. The limbin regions are the areas responsible for our basic drives, one of which is obviously sex. So a decrease in blood flow to the cerebrum would stop you thinking that maybe this isn’t such a good idea, while still getting blood flow to the limbic areas would keep you thinking that this is DEFINITELY a good idea.
This was published in medical hypotheses, so there’s not a study out yet, but I think the results might be…interesting. In the meantime the takehome lessons are these:
1) Why try Viagra when you can just breathe faster?
2) Those loud people in the next apartment may be having better sex than you.
3) Take necessary precautions BEFORE the hyperventilating sets in, so you know you’re thinking somewhat clearly.
1)Masters WH, Johnson VE. “Human Sexual Response” Boston: Little Brown and Co. 1966
2)Davidson, JM. “The psychobiology of sexual experience.” in “The Psychobiology of Consciousness”. New York, Plenum Press, 1980, 271-332.
3)Posse S et al. “Regional dynamic signal changes during controlled hyperventilation assessed with blood oxygen level-dependent functional MR imaging” Am. J. Neuroradiol. 1997; 18: 1763-1770.
4)Passie, T. (2003). On the function of groaning and hyperventilation during sexual intercourse: intensification of sexual experience by altering brain metabolism through hypocapnia. Medical Hypotheses, 60(5), 660-663. DOI: 10.1016/S0306-9877(03)00010-0
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