Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Unlocking the Mysteries of Orgasm - NEUROSCIENCE
A few years back, researchers from Rutgers University managed to view the brain areas and nerve pathways that are activated in the brain when we experience an orgasm.
At that time, genital sensation was thought to reach the brain only through the spinal cord. Neuroscientist Barry R. Komisaruk studied five women with severed spinal cords, injuries that left them paralyzed in their lower torsos. During the research, the women used vaginocervical self-stimulation and felt both stimulation and pain blockage. Three experienced orgasm.
Komisaruk and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how genital sensation was signaled to the brain in women without an intact spinal cord. Imaging revealed activation of an alternative pathway through the vagus nerve, a long cranial nerve that had never been shown to extend into the pelvis in humans.
The findings, published in Brain Research (Oct. 22, 2004), “gave neural validation that they [the women] must be feeling sensation,” says Komisaruk. “It turned out to be the world’s first evidence of where orgasms occur in women’s brains.”
Since then, he has been using new technology to identify the sequence of brain regional activity leading up to, during and after women’s orgasms and map where input from the clitoris, vagina, cervix and uterus project in the brain. He also is mapping men’s genital sensations and orgasms. The data so far show that the penis, scrotum and testicles project sensation to different brain regions.
Komisaruk’s current work could help people who do not experience orgasm. “Virtually nothing is known about anorgasmia in men or women, other than that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants) have a powerful effect on blocking orgasm,” he says.
He and his colleagues are developing a method of neurobiofeedback to enable people with genital sensation but not orgasm to view “their own brain activity in real time and see where the blockage occurs.” Anorgasmic individuals possibly could learn to bypass the blockage by controlling the related brain region.
BOLD (Blood Oxygen Level Dependent) contrast imaging showing a sequence of blood flowing to parts of the brain associated with increased activity. Yellow = Moderate activity, Red = High activity, and orange would be intermediate between the two.