Science Can Now Explain Why Sex Feels Good

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) latest finding might explain why humans enjoy having sex – and the breakthrough could lead to treatment for disorders like erectile dysfunction.

An NIH team has been researching a protein called PIEZO2 for more than ten years, according to a news release from the agency Tuesday.

The protein is found in nerve endings around the body, including the sexual organs. When it is touched or pressure is applied, the nerve endings send a signal through a person’s spine and to the brain. Researchers used mice to determine whether the mechanism of this protein was responsible for sexual stimulation.

For their research, published in the journal Science, researchers engineered mice to lack PIEZO2. Mice who lacked the protein were still able to feel pain, but were unable to be sexually stimulated. This made the researchers believe the protein is linked specifically to sexual feelings.

Furthermore, they found male mice who did not have the protein could not produce offspring when paired with a female mouse. While they did show sexual interest, they could not properly mate.

“Mechanosensation is directly linked with reproductive health and yet, so little has been known about the underlying mechanisms,”Alexander Chesler, M.D., an NIH senior investigator who led the study said. “These findings have direct clinical implications because they pinpoint a specific molecular target and, more broadly, provide an entry point to uncover the neural circuits involved in sexual sensation.”

Researchers hope that this discovery can help them develop long term treatments for erectile dysfunction.

Around 30 million Americans have the condition, according to the NIH. It is most likely to affect older men, those who are overweight or those who smoke. However, young men with mental health conditions such as anxiety are also at an increased risk of developing the condition.

Current treatments often include oral drugs such as Viagra or Cialis, while some men may opt for penis injections or implants.

Researchers hope they will be able to develop a more permanent and less invasive way to deliver treatment to men.

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