Measuring prolactin surges after orgasm might provide insight into women’s sexual satisfaction, European researchers suggest.
Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It is normally associated with lactation in breastfeeding women, but women who are not pregnant and men also have prolactin.
Past research has shown that pituitary hormone prolactin (PRL) plays a role in regulating sexual satisfaction for both men and women. The goal of this study was to investigate how changes in prolactin levels after orgasm related to the way women rated those orgasms.
To this end, the researchers recruited nine sexually-active couples to participate in the study. In this way, they could collect data from nine women. The women were healthy both physically and psychologically, were nonsmokers, and were not taking any medication. They had all been in a relationship for at least twelve months and ranged in age from 21 to 31 years old.
Prolactin measurements were measured through blood samples, which were taken from each woman in two conditions: after intercourse (experimental) and after a period of no sexual activity (control).
On the evening of the experiment, baseline prolactin levels were measured for each woman. The women then returned home and, about 1.5 to 2.5 hours later, had penile-vaginal intercourse with their partners. Each sexual encounter was to last approximately 30 minutes, including foreplay.
After sexual activity was completed, the couples called an experimenter, who took another blood sample within 30 minutes.
Each woman also completed the Acute Sexual Experience Scale (ASES) questionnaire and rated her encounter in terms of its quality and her sexual satisfaction after orgasm.
Women who had orgasms saw increases in their prolactin levels, with the number of orgasms affecting the increase. The greatest surges occurred in women who had two orgasms. However, women who had no orgasm had no increase. In fact, their prolactin levels were lower after sexual activity than they were at baseline. “Thus,” the authors wrote, “there is support for the use of PRL surges as an objective measure of orgasm and orgasm quality.”
The researchers acknowledged that prolactin levels can increase when a person is under stress. However, the measurement method in this study had been used in past research and was considered reliable. In addition, the stress of giving a blood sample did not cause PRL levels to rise when women were in the control condition and all of the women were on regular, well-functioning menstrual cycles, leading researchers to conclude that the PRL surges were linked to orgasm.
Larger studies would need to confirm these results before they could be applied to a clinical setting, the authors noted. However, the relationship between prolactin and sexual satisfaction could help researchers develop treatments for women with sexual dysfunction.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Leeners, Brigitte, MD, et al.
“The Quality of Sexual Experience in Women Correlates with Post-Orgasmic Prolactin Surges: Results from an Experimental Prototype Study”
(Full-text. First published online: February 19, 2013)
(June 29, 2010)