Science of orgasm

This month's Scientific American Mind unpacks the neurology of orgasm. It summarizes some very intriguing and also controversial research. For example, brain scans seem to show that orgasms aren't just about heightened arousal but also the silencing of the brain's "center of vigilance" to lose all inhibitions. From Scientific American Mind:
To find out whether orgasm looks similar in the female brain (as it does in the male brain), (University of Groningen neuroscientist Gert) Holstege’s team asked the male partners of 12 women to stimulate their partner’s clitoris–the site whose excitation most easily leads to orgasm–until she climaxed, again inside a PET scanner. Not surprisingly, the team reported in 2006, clitoral stimulation by itself led to activation in areas of the brain involved in receiving and perceiving sensory signals from that part of the body and in describing a body sensation–for instance, labeling it “sexual.”

But when a woman reached orgasm, something unexpected happened: much of her brain went silent. Some of the most muted neurons sat in the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which may govern self-control over basic desires such as sex. Decreased activity there, the researchers suggest, might correspond to a release of tension and inhibition. The scientists also saw a dip in excitation in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which has an apparent role in moral reasoning and social judgment–a change that may be tied to a suspension of judgment and reflection.

Brain activity fell in the amygdala, too, suggesting a depression of vigilance similar to that seen in men, who generally showed far less deactivation in their brain during orgasm than their female counterparts did. “Fear and anxiety need to be avoided at all costs if a woman wishes to have an orgasm; we knew that, but now we can see it happening in the depths of the brain,” Holstege says. He went so far as to declare at the 2005 meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Development: “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”
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  1. I first read the subject as “Science Orgasm,” which seemed like a likely BB post.

  2. yeah, i feel you on that one sputnik. that’s gotta be a lot of work. i wonder if they can dim the lights in that thing, or how if they have a specific roomier more accomodating PET scanner for these sorts of “scientific” experiments…

  3. “But when a woman reached orgasm, something unexpected happened: much of her brain went silent.”

    talk about the “little death”, huh?

  4. I’m reading a book on this subject right now. Well, sort of on this subject. It’s more about the history of scientific study of sex. (Bonk by Mary Roach, for the curious. It’s interesting, but so far not as amusing as her last two.) I’ve learned a little bit, but mostly I’ve just come to the conclusion that people who participate in these sorts of studies are much more secure in themselves than I am. Also, less claustrophobic.

  5. This could lead to some odd dirty talk: The things I would do to your left lateral oribitofrontal cortex. Baby, you won’t need you amygdala tonight; tonight is your night.

  6. Maybe the orgasms would have scanned differently if they let the women stimulate their own clitorises…

  7. Okay, I wouldn’t call it “fringe,” but it is interesting that in this day and age (though, I guess it was in 2005), they resorted to using the older and poorer resolution PET imaging instead of fMRI.

    It might be interesting to follow up with fMRI.

    And no one has mentioned that they finally got around to investigating female orgasm when the male orgasm was already well established?

  8. “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”
    I beg to differ….

    Although, might be nice to test claims of orgasm on command. First stimulate to orgasm in the MRI. Record results. On a separate day, be ordered to orgasm in the MRI. Record results. Compare.

  9. “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”

    Oh, I thought it was just me.

  10. “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”

    As contrasted to those who are faking it.

  11. Maybe the orgasms would have scanned differently if they let the women stimulate their own clitorises…

    My first thought was: what if they were lesbians, what if they were alone, what about vaginal orgasms, what about anal orgasms, what about thoughtgasms? I’d be interested to know what the PET scan would show for both men and women in a bunch of different scenarios.

  12. “At the moment of orgasm, women do not have any emotional feelings.”

    Right. They have them right after.

    On the other hand, men are probably exactly the opposite. ;-)

    (I know, I know. Cheap joke.)

  13. Do meditation before sex to increase your Orgasm !

    Find the point before the orgasm and stay there with your partner the longest time as possible !

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