From the BlogMeet Ron

The Science of Sex: good for solving engineering problems.

The Science of Sex: good for solving engineering problems.

“People often don’t think about sex as a feedback loop, but it is perhaps one of the most powerful and successful loops of all time.”


Sex uses positive feedback. The ‘positive’ part doesn’t mean happy or good; it means that the output intensifies the input.

You do something. You like it. You want to do it more. The stimulation of the erogenous zones is relayed to the brain, which registers pleasure, encouraging you to continue the pleasurable activity, which leads to more pleasure, and so on, until orgasm shuts the whole thing down.


But a healthy sex life doesn’t only depend on positive feedback: We also need negative feedback after sex so that we do other things too—like eat and sleep and go to work. Negative feedback is a major part of many of the body’s regulatory systems. So, for instance, if your body’s blood pressure shoots up past normal levels, your brain controller will take steps to bring it back down. Your thermostat is another example of a negative feedback loop.

Malfunctioning negative feedback may lead to hypersexuality—the inability to inhibit sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior. Consequences of compulsive sexual behaviors can include increased risk for STDs, financial loss, greater risk of illegal activities, strain on interpersonal relationships, warped understanding of intimacy, and personal shame and guilt. Many scientific articles point out parallels between sexual impulse control and substance abuse disorders.


The body is chock full of feedback loops—loops for pain, growth, repair, movement, balance, hunger, and on and on. The scientific record is brimming with discussions of biological feedback, therapists encourage to communicate effectively, but the systematic study of sexual feedback is woefully thin. This blind spot is unwarranted considering how common sexual problems are, and those problems can often be traced back to flawed feedback loops.

If you are having a sexual experience solo, the feedback loop is simple. You do more of what feels nice and less of what does not. But sex with another person can create an imperfectly closed loop—the information doesn’t get fed back to properly affect the subsequent action. What engineers call a “noisy” system.

The trouble is, when two (or more) people are involved, feedback is based on secondary clues. Like that thermostat installed right by the drafty window, if the signals coming in are not spot on, the experience is going to suffer.


The sexes seem to differ in terms of interpretation of physical feedback. Women’s subjective experience is more strongly influenced by context—am I safe? How do I feel about this person? Is this socially acceptable? This means that in women, the feedback loop may be noisier, with multiple inputs, and more chances to derail.

If people who have a difficult time reaching climax can watch their brains as they try, so the thinking goes, perhaps they can learn better how to get there. The technique, called neurobiofeedback, most commonly uses EEG, and it is being tried to treat everything from attention and behavioral disorders to migraines. At its heart, neurobiofeedback seeks to close the feedback loop so things will run more smoothly. Better feedback loops might mean better sex.


The complexity of biology is staggering, but I think it is no coincidence that similar problems tend toward similar solutions. Maybe sex therapists should invite an engineer for a consult. Maybe engineers should branch out a bit and pay more attention to sex, one of the most deeply human questions.


How Sex Is Like Your Thermostat – Facts So Romantic – Nautilus


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