The Neurobiology of Pleasure

It’s important to recognise that both sexual attraction and lasting love create the experience of pleasure. That’s because sexual desire and long-term love both stimulate the striatum—an area of the brain that includes the nucleus accumbens (the pleasure center).

So what’s the difference? Well, long-term love (but not sexual desire) also stimulates the insula, an area of the brain associated with motivation. In other words, the insula “gives value” to pleasurable and/or life-sustaining activities (to make sure we continue to engage in them).

Yes! This means that lasting love has an inherent “value” that sexual attraction does not, and in short, the striatum (the home of the pleasure center) is responsible for the initial attraction and sexual desire, while the insula is responsible for transforming that desire into long-term love.

Sexual desire is said to be influenced by androgens in men and by androgens and estrogens in women.

Many studies associate the sex hormone, testosterone with sexual desire. Testosterone is mainly synthesized in the testes in men and in the ovaries in women.

Which part of the brain is responsible for pleasure?

Anything that is pleasurable will activate the nucleus accumbens.

Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center. All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.


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