Orgasms unlock altered consciousness

Sex on the brain

Our intrepid reporter performs an intimate act in an fMRI scanner to explore the pathways of pleasure and pain

by Kayt Sukel

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).

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Brain stimulation (Image: Barry Komisaruk)

Brain stimulation (Image: Barry Komisaruk)

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