One Clock Blog

Get Up!

The prelude of anticipation. The build-up of emotion. The ecstasy of release. Are we talking about sex or music? Turns out, both.

We’ve extolled the merits of a wake-up routine on this blog before, but with Valentine’s Day approaching, we wanted to talk about one of its best components: morning sex.

Mood-boosting, stress-relieving, and intimacy-building, sex—at any time of day—is rife with benefits for the body and mind. Sex lowers blood pressure while fortifying the immune system, burns calories, lessens your chances of heart disease, and improves your sleep patterns.

A few things make morning sex particularly potent—namely, that you’re stepping out of your sheets having already done all of the above, as well as something both fun and pleasurable. And, when set in motion by music, one of history’s all-time greatest aphrodisiacs, the double rush of dopamine puts a hot cup of coffee to shame.

What’s the science behind this salacious duet?

Music sets the mood by mirroring it. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not——. The right music loosens our inhibitions and enlivens our imaginations. It activates our libidinal energy, which is what psychoanalysts call our instinctual drive for food, sex, and other vital elements of survival. (Freud had the most hard-and-fast rules about the term, while Carl Jung thought it also fed the appetite for creative and spiritual pursuits. This disagreement was the beginning of their dissolution—the libido is powerful.)

If you compare a piece of music to a sexual experience, you’ll notice they make use of all the same provocations—both consider tempo, rhythm, and emotional intensity, ideally without any one element being more overwrought than another.

“Love music has the same shape as sex, widening waves of desire deferring a climax for as long as possible,” writes Michael Spitzer, author of A History of Emotion in Western Music, in an article on the topic for Aeon. Spitzer notes that neuroscientists even have a name for the goosebumps you feel when you hear a musical crescendo. They call it a skin orgasm.

“From neuro-scientific research we know that music can activate the same pleasure centers of the brain that also respond to much less abstract rewards such as food, drugs, or indeed sex,” explains Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen, who conducted a study on the interconnections of sex and music by interviewing over 2000 participants (the study was sponsored by Spotify).

As for which songs the majority of the participants named as best literal turn-ons? Anything from the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. Huh.

Musical tastes aside, we’re still learning a lot about why exactly certain music feels so good, whether you’re listening to it in a post-coital glow, or in your car during rush hour (where it’s likely the only source of pleasure). It’s something neuroscientists, psychological behavioralists, and musical ethnographers have been studying for years, and in a variety of cultural contexts.

In her extensive, career-consuming research on the music-brain symphony, Dr. Valorie Salimpoor has found that the gratification is twofold. (Salimpoor uses positron emission tomography (PET) scanners as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct her studies.) Yes, music stimulates the region of the brain that releases dopamine, which makes the body positively hum. But it operates with some nuance, triggering a variety of memories and past associations, which explains why one song really does it for some and leaves others wanting—and not in the good way.

“[Music is] really an exercise for your whole brain,” she says. Salimpoor explains that it sets a line of communication in motion between the nucleus accumbens, the superior temporal gyrus, and finally the visual centers. In other words, sound waves entering the brain have a universal effect in the release of the all-powerful happy hormone, but then go on to chart paths through our highly-individualized memory templates. Little did we know, we’re attempting a finely tuned massage when we make that perfect mix-tape for our special someone.

All of this happens really fast. The brain starts to make predictions about whether or not it loves what it hears within a song’s first 30 seconds. There’s still room for a slow burn though. The brain also likes to be surprised.

“Leonard Meyer, the American music theorist who cracked the riddle of musical emotion in the 1950s, realized that all music was based on patterns, some of which were natural (or psychologically hardwired), such as the expectation that a scale will continue in the same direction that it began; some of which are learned, such as the convention that a verse in a pop song will lead to a chorus,” explains Spitzer.

“Composers tread a tightrope between novelty and redundancy. Too much change, and the listener is lost. Too little, and the listener is bored. Emotion is induced when a pattern is interrupted or subverted in some way.”

Again—sex or music?

It’s not necessary, or maybe even advisable, to know exactly how this all comes together in the bedroom. The delight of both sex and music is that they transport you to a place where thoughts of the nucleus accumbens are irrelevant. If the morning light, the music, and the mood are all coming together, we suggest you should too. Don’t forget to set your alarm.