I have spent a good portion of the morning talking to my coworkers about the neuroscience of orgasm. There's a fascinating area of research on women who are paralyzed and numb from the waist down who can still experience orgasm. This appears to be due to the vagus nerve. The word vagus comes from the same root as vagabond, and the nerve is named for the way it "wanders" throughout the body instead of going to the spinal cord and taking the traditional route up to the brain. So when a woman is paralyzed, there is still a way for signals of pleasure to reach her brain and therefore her consciousness*.
In the process of looking up the article that documents this, I also found out that there's research showing that when people orgasm, there's a drastic decrease in activity in their prefrontal cortex. This makes sense, since experiencing an orgasm makes you feel "out of control". Similar research shows that some men and women who have trouble reaching orgasm fail to decrease prefrontal activity. Of course, it's hard to know what's causing what, but it seems to bear out the common wisdom that thinking too much about trying to come only makes it more difficult to do so.
My coworkers and I agreed that this would be a fun line of research to pursue, but that we'd get embarrassed trying to explain our jobs at parties, so it's for the best that we study something more mundane, like morality.
* - The actual mechanics of orgasm, especially in men, can be induced without any conscious awareness, kind of like a crayfish's swimmeret system. (I knew something seemed familiar!)
huh. I didn't know that about orgasm and the prefrontal cortex. I have ADHD and decreased prefrontal activity (and size) is part of the disorder. I also have some of the most intense orgasms I and my partners have seen. I wonder that's common in ADHDers...
I have ADHD and decreased prefrontal activity (and size) is part of the disorder. I also have some of the most intense orgasms I and my partners have seen. I wonder that's common in ADHDers...
Googling gets me nothing... I wonder how weird it would be to just email one of these orgasm researchers with "hey, have you looked at orgasms in people with ADHD?" Hell, something as simple as a survey & instrument battery could at least establish the phenomenon.
Edited at 2009-06-05 06:40 pm (UTC)
The actual mechanics of orgasm, especially in men, can be induced without any conscious awareness
Yeah, anyone who has ever been a teenage boy can confirm that.
I happen to think that orgasm research would be an AWESOME thing to be able to talk about at parties. You would be very popular. Unfortunately, there might be some unwelcome attention. But hey, it's not like you're researching YOUR orgasms. That slight level of detachment is what makes the difference between "personal and embarrassing" and "fascinating and awesome and possibly a bit titillating." I mean, titillating at parties. The research shouldn't be titillating for the research. I'm pretty sure that would be unethical. :-)
The notion that prefrontal activity decreases during orgasm is fantastic, and actually pretty intuitive. Sweet neurological basis for Reich's orgone energy theory (specifically what he talks about in "The function of the orgasm" and good news for sex magicians too! Awesome!
There's a book called Bonk that explores this research for the layman. Get it, LAYman? Anyway. It talks about the decreased attention and such as the etymology of "trick" since, at the point when a "trick" is pre- or peri-orgasm, a confederate prostitute would be able to get his wallet (or the contents thereof) without much notice.