THE brain’s reward circuits and rational thought processes are overwhelmed with electrical activity when a woman reaches sexual climax.
In the first film of what goes on inside a woman’s brain as she approaches and then experiences orgasm, researchers recorded how sexual arousal generates a cascade of events that, at its peak, involves 30 parts of the brain.
In their research they asked 16 women to “self-stimulate” until they achieved orgasm, while lying under a blanket in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Despite the clinical surroundings, all the women were able to achieve their goal, mostly in less than five minutes — although some took up to 20.
The scientists used the machine to observe which parts of the brain became active at each phase. The film, based on images taken of the women’s brains every two seconds, shows the surges in electrical activity as an orgasm overwhelms different combinations of brain areas in turn. They flood not only the brain’s “reward circuits” but also the parts associated with rational thought.
The pattern of activation seemed to be similar in all the women observed.
The study is fascinating in several ways — from a biological standpoint, it’s remarkable that the female orgasmic response (which, as we’re endlessly reminded, is unnecessary for reproduction) is so strong and so much stronger than we males get. Evolution is a terrific thing sometimes. I’m wondering if this is a happy accident, or if there is a selfish gene somewhere in human chromosomes that survived because women who have intensely pleasurable orgasms are that much more likely to engage in intercourse and thus to reproduce.
From a sociological standpoint, too (and forgive my wording here), it’s impressive that the culturally-less-important orgasm is the better one. I don’t want to think that male jealousy is a major cause of this, but nor do I want to think that the “unnecessary for reproduction” argument has been strong enough to cause this much repression.
“In women, orgasm produces a very extensive response across the brain and body,” said Barry Komisaruk, professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who oversaw the research.
“In one experiment we asked women to self-stimulate and then raise their hands each time they orgasmed. Some women raised their hands several times each session, often just a few seconds apart,” Professor Komisaruk said. “So the evidence is that woman tend to have longer orgasms and can experience several of them.”
On a side note, I’m quite jealous of Professor Komisaruk.