The quintessential stereotype of a college student is something like this: a penniless young adult experiencing lots of sleepless nights, whether at the library, out on the town or hooking up with someone. This may not be the case for everyone, of course, but all of these aspects are typically seen as staples to the “real college experience” — especially sex. It is easy to attribute the sexual activities of college-aged students to their newfound freedom, highly stressful lives or even daddy issues. However, the desire and pleasure of having sex is controlled by a slew of chemicals and structures within our brain, coupled with evolutionary behaviors ingrained into our very being, making sex purely a scientific matter.
It all starts on the dance floor of The Rathskeller or with swiping through Tinder profiles. Our eyes send an image to the visual cortex. Then, the information moves to the area in our brain responsible for making decisions, while also controlling our social behavior and emotional reactions: the prefrontal cortex. This region judges whether the person is physically desirable in less than 1/4 of a second.
At the same time, the rostromedial tegmental nucleus region of the prefrontal cortex evaluates if the person would be specifically beneficial to you. This means that, beyond just assessing someone’s surface looks, our brain is also looking to see if they would be a fitting mate. This process, occurring almost instantaneously, is the basis of desire. Whether it be innocent or sexual, it is impossible to deny our brain’s affinity toward someone.
Next comes the typical human mating strategy: flirting. Whether it be a cheesy pickup line or extended eye contact, we all have our own tactics when trying to earn the interest of our potential mate. While the intention may be to get to know a new person or to get a new person in your bed, flirting was necessary for our human ancestors to determine if a mate was worth it without first taking the risk of becoming pregnant.
These conversations or physical gestures are ways of gauging someone’s physical health and their probability of producing the best offspring. Our impressions of intelligence, skills and qualities become vital in determining whether or not we would consider reproducing — or simply having sex — with them.
After passing levels one and two of the sex game, you have unlocked the third and final level: actually engaging in sexual intercourse. This activity has been designed, by the process of evolution, to be as enjoyable as possible. If people weren’t inclined to have sex, the results would include a lack of offspring for future generations and the eventual demise of the human species.
That being said, the pleasurableness of sex is a result of the sheer necessity for it. During sex, multiple areas of our brain release dopamine, the neurotransmitter behind pleasure. The higher the levels of dopamine, the greater the rush you feel while experiencing sex.
Genetics also plays a role in the sexual experience. The DRD4 gene, sometimes referred to as the “slut gene,” has a variant that causes people to seek out higher rushes of dopamine, which can be achieved through sex. In 2010, a study by Justin Garcia, ‘12, concluded that those with a certain variant of this gene tend to be more sexually promiscuous and are more likely to have one-night stands.
Not only does sex create life, but it also plays a crucial role in how we live our lives. Whether you have never had sex or have a triple-digit body count, neither is anything to be ashamed of. After all, it’s out of our hands and under the authority of evolution, neurochemistry and genetics.
Savanna Vidal is a sophomore majoring in biology.