MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Researchers have finally discovered the secrets behindthe mysteries of female orgasm, writes Pat Sheil
To the male of the species, being involved in a female orgasm is a wonderfully fulfilling experience. It makes you feel all warm and gooey inside. You may suspect that you weren’t entirely responsible for the successful conclusion of your encounter, but you know that you were a part of it in some small way. Reflecting on what transpired afterwards, you feel much the same as an Amish man walking home from a successful barn-raising.
But what exactly is going on here? There aren’t many men alive who haven’t thought how much fun it would be to actually experience a full-blown female orgasm, if only once. Not so much actually live in a woman’s body for a night, but just to somehow download the sensory data into his skull for a few minutes and feel the heat.
The prospect is some way off, but might just be getting closer. If not quite pinpointing what a woman’s climax is, a researcher in the Netherlands has at least found out what it isn’t. The results are deeply counter-intuitive, and somewhat disappointing for men who like to think that they’re the epicentre of the action.
Gert Holstege, of the University Groningen, recruited 13 heterosexual women and their partners. He asked the volunteers to lie on a scanning machine bed, where they were injected with a dye that shows changes in brain function. Then they were wheeled headfirst into the PET scanner, stark naked and legs akimbo.
Holstege’s team compared the women’s brain activity in four states: resting, faking an orgasm, having their clitoris stimulated by their partner, and clitoral stimulation to the point of orgasm. (This is the kind of research that only gets done in places like the Netherlands – you just can’t imagine it taking place at the University of Kansas, let alone Lahore. Hats must also go off to a group of horny women whose devotion to science was such that they could manage to come in a lab surrounded with researchers and with their heads stuck in a PET scanner.) So what did Holstege find? It turns out that when women approach climax, whole regions of their brains shut down, and the more excited they get, the more functions cease. Speaking at a meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology in Copenhagen last month, Holsteg said that only one part of the brain was more active than normal during orgasm – the cerebellum, which is normally associated with movement. So if you think she’s making lots of noise because she thinks you’re just tops, well, forget it. In women, the parts of the brain involved in emotion shut down the hotter they get. Alertness and anxiety fall to near zero. It seems that when she’s feeling at her very happiest, she’s feeling nothing but the orgasm itself.
Let’s look at the difference between faked and genuine orgasms for a moment. It’s this data that makes Holstege’s conclusions deeply compelling. ‘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, but there is nothing really changing in the brain’, says Holstege. ‘When women faked orgasm, the part of the brain governing conscious action lit up. It was not activated during genuine orgasm.’
The most striking results, however, were seen in the parts of the brain that deactivated. ‘During orgasm, there was a strong, enormous deactivation in the brain’, Holstege said. ‘It looks like to have an
orgasm, you need to not be fearful or full of anxiety.’
Holstege added that he had trouble getting reliable results from another study on men, because the scanner needs cerebral changes lasting at least two minutes in order to record an activity.