How to pleasure

A Sexologist Explains How Full-Body Orgasms Come from the Sympathetic Nervous System

Published: JULY 10, 2019 | Updated: AUGUST 29, 2021
Believe it or not, the key to bigger, better orgasms is actually your brain.

We often hear that our brains are our biggest sex organ. And, as a sexologist and sex journalist, I can tell you that this is absolutely true.


The brain is a non-negotiable player in getting turned on and experiencing orgasm. Yet, the role of the brain in sexuality is far more complicated than you might think. Your brain and body work in tandem, sending signals to each other during arousal. It is an ever-flowing communication system that needs to be tended to, cared for, and treated gently.

Otherwise, you can’t have those full-body orgasms you crave.

Read: How To Have A Full Body Orgasm


That’s right. Without the female body completely engaged in its highest potential for pleasure, total and complete orgasmic release is basically impossible. Is your interest piqued? Perhaps this freaks you out a little? That’s OK.

Let’s take a look at the response center to better understand what the hell is going on: Enter the Autonomic Nervous System. This collection of nerves is hugely impactful in sex. Without it, we’d be screwed (and not in a good way).

What is the ANS?

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has a big job: It runs much of the involuntary stuff your body does, such as temperature regulation, respiration (aka: breathing), and controlling blood pressure. The ANS contains two subparts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.


The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems (PNS) work in opposing, but complementary, ways. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for increasing involuntary bodily actions, like breathing, heart rate, etc, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system works on the opposing responses: slowing heart rate, calming breathing, and bodily relaxation.

To put it really simply: The SNS says, “ON!” and the PNS says, “OFF!”

How the ANS Plays Into Arousal (or Lack Thereof)

In Vagina by author Naomi Wolf, she takes time to explore the extremely complex and interwoven parts of female sexual arousal. Particularly, the vital role the Autonomic Nervous System plays in female sexual arousal.


The brain affects the ANS, which then affects the body. This is why when you’re taking a hot bath and think of that one time your partner went down on you while using a stainless steel dildo inside of your vagina can leave you wet and wanting without the slightest physical touch. Conversely, the vulva, clitoral complex, and vagina can also feed into the ANS, which then speaks to the brain. As Wolf points out, it is a constant feedback loop.

The ANS manages many of the critical things connected to arousal and orgasm, such as respiration, blushing of the skin, and blood-flow to the genitals. The blood-flow to your genitals signals the vagina to get wet.

Read: 31 Fascinating Facts About Orgasm


The SNS and PNS controls that pesky “flight or fight” response cycle, as well as the opposing relaxation response. When you relax, the ANS begins to heal your body from the wear and tear of everyday life.

In a sexier sense, when totally calmed, the ANS allows us the relaxation and full breadth of stimulation possible for female pleasure.

The SNS is a crucial part of whether you become aroused or if attempts at arousal are successful. This system is actually responsible for whether or not you respond positively or negatively to the erotic touch of a romantic partner. The SNS takes impulses and signals that travel from the vagina up to the brain for processing. Is this good or is this unwanted?


Calming the ANS

It’s important to understand that you cannot make the ANS do anything. You cannot control it. To calm it, you have to be in the right environment, with the right partner, and under the right sexual circumstances. Meaning: You need to be completely and totally comfortable and down to clown.

It is possible for female-bodied to go into another plane of reality when they orgasm, but you have to feel safe in order to relax into a transcendent state.

Read: 10 Tips for a Bigger, Better Orgasm

You must let go of your stresses, and feel safe from bodily and mental harm of any kind, and to know your partner will care for you if you completely let go. Only in this emotionally secure state can you relax and then, become fully aroused.

Wolf explains to get the ANS fully involved, touch needs to be careful and wanted. It needs to be intentional and loving. You have to be embodied and relaxed to completely give into this state of total body pleasure and awareness.

When you’re relaxed like this, “high orgasm” space, you go into a trance state. You lose control of your cares and worries. You’re in a state of total relaxation, awash in dopamine and oxytocin.

How to Actually Calm the ANS

Calming the ANS to get into full relaxation mode takes the work of both you and your partner. Set up an environment in which you feel completely safe. Perhaps that is at home, in your cozy room, maybe it’s on a vacation by the ocean.

I suggest taking a hot bath (if you’re into hot baths), while breathing deeply. Put on some relaxing music and breathe into your body, taking full diaphragmatic breaths. Because the ANS cannot be willed to behave in any particular way, you have to create circumstances in which your brain says, “I am safe. I am calm” to your body and your body says, “I am safe. I am calm” to your brain.

Consider your state of mind before entering into this process. Outside stresses are a deterrent from sexual arousal. The ANS not only helps with arousal, it also impedes it.

Once you’re in a serene space, your partner can begin touching you. This action must be with someone you trust completely, no matter the type of relationship you have. It helps if they begin seduction with words of affirmation. Hearing words of love can positively impact the ANS response. Remember that this will take patience and time for both of you.

Read: 4 Reasons to Never Fake an Orgasm

Wolf notes that touch must be positive and gentle, with your partner taking time to read the signs of your body. Take your time. Don’t even put intercourse on the menu so as to allow sexual play to unfold naturally. Every act has meaning and purpose.

Lastly, listen to your body. Visualize your clitoris and vagina. Pull your attention into them and the sensations they feel.

This practice takes time, so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work right away. Getting stressed out about it not working will only make it less likely to work. The mind and body are complicated, huh?

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

Gigi Engle

Gigi Engle is an award-winning author, certified sex educator, psychosexual therapist in training, and author of "All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life." Known as The Bisexual’s Therapist, she is a speaker, LGBTQIA+ activist, and sex expert.She currently works as the resident sex expert for Lifestyle Condoms and as a volunteer psychosexual therapist at 56 Dean Street, London’s foremost LGBTQIA+ clinic. She is also a...

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