Sugar and Sex - Is There a Connection?
Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.
The title is of this long awaited article in the second supplement series is misleading. This story is not really about sugar and sex so much as their common denominator beta-endorphin. In this article, I want to cover several topics which will include:
The Role Of Beta-Endorphin In Sexuality
I started thinking about this subject
when I was asked to give a talk to a singles group. The title
was Sugar and Sex: Is There a Connection? Of course I knew there
was but I was a little short on scientific facts to back up what
my own experience had told me. I went back to the on-line Library
of Congress to ask some questions. Most of what I found was published
about rat studies rather than people studies, but it sure was
a fascinating way to begin to think about the role of beta-endorphin
in sexuality. Let me share some of the things I found.
What These Might Mean
Let's start by putting a few caveats
on what I am going to say. We know there is a big leap between
laboratory findings with rats and complex human interactions.
But I think some of this material is both instructive and helpful
in making sense of some of the behaviors I have lived and have
seen in my own clinical practice. Let's first look at the lab
findings and then talk about the interactive implications.
Because sugar sensitive people have materially
lower levels of BE, they will experience a heightened response
to the effects of BE release. Not only will you like sugar and
alcohol; you are also likely to like sex. You may have experientially
learned that sexual interaction and orgasm not only creates euphoria,
but also stimulates a sense of being valued, connected and feeling
wanted. This is BE levels going up.
Why Sex May be Really Important to You
Vaginal stimulation creates a significant
release of beta-endorphin. It effects a more than 100% increase
in the pain threshold (mediated by beta-endorphin). In fact,
because many of you may feel inadequate, less than, isolated
and disconnected much of the time, the call of sexual activity
may be even more compelling. Sexual encounters may be a critical
contributor to your feeling okay. Sexual encounters may create
an opportunity for powerful connection and intimacy.
However, there is a risk involved. If
your sugar sensitive biochemistry remains imbalanced, sugar or
alcohol priming may trigger your desire for sex. Or your sexual
activity may prime you to binge on sugars. Or either may activate
a huge spike in BE and create a major withdrawal as the effects
wear off. Beta-endorphin withdrawal can account for why women
look for chocolate after her partner leaves. Withdrawal will
effect loss of euphoria, separation anxiety and isolation distress.
Euphoria crashes into loneliness and the quest for the perfect
night goes on.
The sugar sensitive person may struggle
with sexual addiction without understanding the power of BE reactivity
that is operating. This draw and reliance on the BE effects may
be masked as a commitment to find the perfect partner. New encounters
can heighten the BE effect of the sexual interaction by adding
the component of novelty. New situations and risk both heighten
the BE impact of a sexual encounter.
Sexual addiction for the sugar sensitive
person may also manifest in masturbation. Many of you may take
care of the feelings of isolation and inadequacy by using self-stimulation
to provide solace and comfort.
The Spike Effect
Much of the BE risk inherent in sexual
activity of any sort comes with the spike effect
- a large flash, followed by a concomitant drop and BE withdrawal.
Sexual beta-endorphin is no different from any other kind of
endorphin action. A rush will set you up; a warm and flooding
cascade will heal you. Sexual encounters that evoke a long, slow
infusion of beta-endorphin can be a part of an overall BE raising
recovery program. Relational intimacy does not carry the same
associated risk behavior. This type of sexual encounter seems
to flow from recovery. As your sugar sensitive biochemistry becomes
more and more stable, you will be drawn to those activities which
reinforce living in a heightened state of BE. Activities such
as yoga, meditation, and tai chi evoke flexibility, endurance,
stability, groundedness and compassion.
Relational intimacy seems to evoke the
same cumulative effect. Emotional stability fosters the interest
in such activities. And the activity reinforces emotional stability.
By shifting the BE effect from spike to flow, you move from priming
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