There’s no faking it

From New Orleans, at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience

You can’t call the Dutch sexist. At last year’s meeting, scientists from the Netherlands amused and shocked U.S. neuroscientists with a brain-imaging study of men achieving orgasm. The same research team returned this year with images of the brain activity of women reaching climax. In an added twist, the investigators contrasted the brain activity when a woman faked an orgasm and when she actually had one as best as they could tell.

Hopeful of finding ways to help men and women who suffer from sexual dysfunction, Gert Holstege of the University of Groningen and his colleagues have been recruiting men and women willing to undergo positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans while being manually stimulated to orgasm by a spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend. While ejaculation offered proof that a man had reached climax, a female orgasm was confirmed by physiological measurements such as heart rate and anal pressure.

As expected, areas of the brain previously implicated in pleasure showed increased activity in both men and women having orgasms. In fact, Holstege says, orgasmic brain activity resembles that seen in a person taking heroin. Overall, the male and female brain activity during orgasms closely matched. “Basically, 95 percent is the same,” says Holstege.

Before their partners began to stimulate them, the women were asked to fake orgasms. They couldn’t fool the PET scans. The researchers observed a very different pattern of brain activation during faked and real orgasms. During fakes, many of the brain regions with increased activity were ones involved in muscle control.


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