Doing crossword puzzles is good for your brain -- but not as good as having orgasms, apparently.
Rutgers researchers Barry Komisaruk and Nan Wise, who study human pleasure, recruited female subjects willing to bring themselves to orgasm while lying in an fMRI machine that measured blood flow to different parts of the brain. These experiments showed that orgasms increase blood flow to all parts of the brain -- bringing nutrients and oxygenation along, too.
"Mental exercises increase brain activity but only in relatively localized regions,” Komisaruk told Will Pavia for the Times Of London. “Orgasm activates the whole.”
In November 2011, writer Kayt Sukel volunteered as a subject for Komisaruk's research. In an article about her experience for The Guardian, Sukel explained that the most difficult part of the experience was remaining still enough during the scan to keep the data viable -- and explaining to her friends what she was up to.
"If you ever want to make even the most cosmopolitan of your friends speechless, telling them you have volunteered to travel to Newark, New Jersey, so you can masturbate to orgasm in an fMRI is a great way to start," Sukel quipped in a blog post for the Huffington Post.
Komisaruk, who has been involved in this field of study since 1982, claims that his research is well-received by the academic community.
“We are desensitizing people,” he told the Times. “They used to be very squeamish about it and we’re very straightforward about it. They don’t make fun of it, we don’t make fun of it. A lot of people take it very seriously.”
Count his research as another good reason to keep having fun in bed.
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Keeps Your Blood Flowing
According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!
It's A Form Of Cardio
Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.
Lifts Your Mood
Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.
Helps You Sleep
A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.
Keeps Your Brain Healthy
Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/tips-moves/orgasm-news" target="_hplink">told <em>Cosmopolitan</em></a> that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.
It's A Natural Painkiller
One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.
It Relieves Stress
Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that <em>sexual</em> release can double as <em>stress</em> relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."
Gives You A Healthy Glow
There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/secret-health-benefits-sex/4-a-283856" target="_hplink">increased levels during sexual excitement</a>, can actually make your skin healthier.
Aids Your Emotional Health
Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."