The Daily Dump

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Tuesday, June 21

Brain Areas Shut Off During Female Orgasm

I had so much to say about this news story, I had to make it a post of its own.


New research indicates parts of the brain that govern fear and anxiety are switched off when a woman is having an orgasm but remain active if she is faking. (They have a part of the brain that does that?)

In the first study to map brain function during orgasm, scientists from the Netherlands also found that as a woman climaxes, an area of the brain governing emotional control is largely deactivated. (Apparently, The Girlfriend has an orgasm every time I tell her I’m going out with the guys.)

"The fact that there is no deactivation in faked orgasms means a basic part of a real orgasm is letting go. Women can imitate orgasm quite well, as we know (“We?” How close did this guy come to saying “I”?), but there is nothing really happening in the brain," said neuroscientist Gert Holstege, presenting his findings Monday to the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. (Imagine presenting your report on “the basic tenets of cryo-embriology” right after this guy? It’s like Coldplay opening up for Ashley Simpson.)

In the study, Holstege and his colleagues at Groningen University recruited 11 men, 13 women and their partners. The volunteers were (given Bacardi 151, put in a room with the Poison Ivy trilogy playing and) injected with a dye that shows changes in brain function on a scan. For men, the scanner tracked activity at rest, during erection, during manual stimulation by their partner (during dinner, during intense fighting or debate, while doing difficult mathematical or analytical problems, while discussing plans for the future), during ejaculation brought on by the partner's hand (and during Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous).

For women, the scanner measured brain activity at rest, while they faked an orgasm, while their partners stimulated looked for their clitoris and while they experienced orgasm. (After the tests were completed, Holstege commented: “That was awesome!”)

Holstege said he had trouble getting reliable results from the study on men because the scanner needs activities lasting at least two minutes and the men's climaxes didn't last that long (Efforts to get the men to run a two-minute mile also were unsuccessful). However, the scans did show activation of reward centers in the brain for men, but not for women (prompting women to comment, “You always were selfish. Asshole.”).

Holstege said his results on women were more clear (and smelled better).

When women faked orgasm, the cortex, the part of the brain governing conscious action, lit up. It was not activated during a genuine orgasm. (That must be why The Girlfriend always laughs . . .)

Even the body movements made during a real orgasm were unconscious, Holstege said (adding: “Movements may even be so complex as getting out of bed, quickly getting dressed and leaving my apartment without saying a single word”).

The most striking results were seen in the parts of the brain that shut down, or deactivated. Deactivation was visible in the amygdala, a part of the brain thought to be involved in the neurobiology of fear and anxiety. (OK, I don’t have anything to say to this, making it a good time to mention that someone just walked up to me and asked me to do something work related, to which I replied, “I just have to finish this first.” I guess this is what they are talking about when they say people lost their jobs because of blogs.)

"During orgasm shopping, there was strong, enormous deactivation in the brain. During fake orgasm, there was no deactivation of the brain at all. None," Holstege said.

Shutting down the brain during orgasm may ensure that obstacles such as fear and stress (and sobriety) did not get in the way, Holstege proposed. "Deactivation of these very important parts of the brain might be the most important necessity for having an orgasm me having sex at all," he said.

Donald Pfaff, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Rockefeller University in New York, said the interpretations were reasonable. "It makes poetic sense," said Pfaff, who was not connected with the research (and clearly had no idea what we were talking about).


You always did love the Poison Ivy trilogy. Remember the time you made us rent "Poison Ivy II: Lily" and watch it in your basement? I do. Traumatizing.

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