All in the name of science of course!
New Scientist’s intrepid reporter performs an intimate act in an fMRI scanner to explore the pathways of pleasure and pain . . .
WITH a click and a whirr, I am pulled into the scanner. My head is strapped down and I have been draped with a blanket so that I may touch my nether regions – my clitoris in particular – with a certain degree of modesty. I am here neither for a medical procedure nor an adult movie. Rather, I am about to stimulate myself to orgasm while an fMRI scanner tracks the blood flow in my brain.
My actions are helping Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and colleagues to tease apart the mechanisms underlying sexual arousal. In doing so, not only have they discovered that there is more than one route to orgasm, but they may also have revealed a novel type of consciousness – an understanding of which could lead to new treatments for pain (see Top-down pain relief).
Despite orgasm being a near-universal human phenomenon, we still don’t know all that much about it. “The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable,” says Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Indiana. . .
. . . “I don’t think orgasm turns off consciousness but it changes it,” he says. “When you ask people how they perceive their orgasm, they describe a feeling of a loss of control.” Georgiadis suggests that perhaps orgasm offsets systems that usually dominate attention and behaviour. “I’m not sure if this altered state is necessary to achieve more pleasure or is just some side effect,” he says. It is possible that the inability to let go and reach this altered state may be what prohibits individuals with anorgasmia from reaching climax. . .
. . . “This kind of research is incredibly useful,” says Heiman. “Orgasm is tied into the brain’s reward system and likely other important systems as well. There is much we can learn about the brain, about sensation, about how pleasure works and probably much more from this one physical response.”