Smart people are cool because they can tell us stuff we don’t know. The best kind of smart people are the ones who share information in a loving, guiding way because they enjoy sharing their knowledge with the world. The worst kind of smart people are the ones who are really condescending and intentionally make you feel like an idiot for not knowing stuff, and constantly tell you how disappointed they are by your “normal girl blogger-brain.” (Sorry—personal rant). Thankfully, Dr. Barry Komisaruk is the nice kind of smart person. He’s an acclaimed neuroscientist and orgasm expert who’s currently studying what the heck goes on in our brains when we cum. He’s also written some books on the subject, with catchy names like The Science of Orgasm and The Orgasm Answer Guide. As we all know, science is very important (almost as important as blogging/Djing), so in the name of science I traveled all the way to the glamorous state of New Jersey to ask Dr. K some questions about the Big O.
Note: Dr. Komisaruk appeared on the “Orgasms: Where R They?” episode of the VICE Slutever show, so you should watch that too!
So Doctor K, tell us: why is it more difficult for some women to orgasm than it is for others?
Dr Komisaruk: Well, nobody really knows. What I can say is that women describe orgasms from clitoral stimulation more readily than from vaginal or cervical stimulation, but there is great individual variability. Probably one of the reasons is that there are different nerves that carry sensation from the clitoris, vagina and cervix. Some women can have orgasms from stimulation of any of those nerves. For others it’s not so easy. But when the nerves are stimulated in combination, then the orgasms have the potential to be more intense and complex.
So what’s a good technique for facilitating the Big-O?
Well, it’s kind of like driving a manual shift car: clitoral stimulation is like starting in first gear, and vaginal stimulation is like starting in third or fourth gear. You can do it, but it’s much easier to start in first gear. Once you get the momentum going, then you can up the shift. So starting with clitoral stimulation might be a good strategy, and then, once you are stimulated, adding vaginal stimulation could increase the intensity and the inertia, and then adding cervical stimulation could make it more intense and complex, because it’s bringing in additional nerves.
Yeah, you can’t just slam it in really hard right from the start.
Another interesting thing: we put women in fMRI machines, had them masturbate, and mapped what parts of the sensory cortex in the brain are activated by clitoral, vaginal, and cervical stimulation. (The classical view is that different parts of the body project different parts of the of the sensory cortex, like for example the finger has it’s a finger projection region, and so on.) Then, as a control group, we had the women do self-stimulation of the nipples. And we found that, surprisingly, nipple self-stimulation activated the genital sensory region of the brain.
Yeah, not surprising.
Haha, your response is exactly the same as virtually every woman neuroscientist I’ve told that to! When I tell the male neuroscientists that nipple stimulation activates the genital region, they say, “That’s an exception to the rule, that’s an interesting change in the classical picture!” But the women just say, “Yeah, yeah.”
So do you think it’s potentially possible to cum from just nipple stimulation?
It seems so. This research definitely implies that nipple stimulation could intensify or facilitate having an orgasm.
I read that one in four women have trouble having orgasms. Is that true?
Something like that. That’s in literature, we haven’t done that study.
What about anorgasmia–people who can’t have orgasms at all?
Nobody really knows what prevents orgasms, but we’re studying that now. One thing that’s known is that certain drugs can interfere with orgasms. So some antipsychotic drugs, and also antidepressants, like Prozac. Antidepressants increase serotonin, which can have an inhibitory effect on sexual response, and the antipsychotics block dopamine, which can do the same. Some other causes of anorgasmia could be brain damage, nerve damage, or potentially hysterectomy. But if there’s no obvious medication or neuro damage then nobody understands what the difference is between people who can have orgasms readily and those who have trouble orgasming.
So is the G-spot real or not?
It depends on what you mean by the G-spot. It probably should be called the “G-zone,” because it’s not a specific anatomical entity. What people called the G-spot is the anterior wall of the vagina, above the clitoral bone. That area is a convergence of many sensitive body regions, and there are a lot of nerves there. Also, there’s evidence that the clitoris is much larger than just the external tip. The clitoris is much more like a V, and the part of the clit that is external is just the tip of the V. But the legs of the clitoris straddle the vagina. So when the penis enters the vagina it spreads the vagina and actually stimulates the clitoral legs, which can also be stimulated by pressing on the anterior vaginal wall.
So if the G-spot is vaguely real then why can’t I cum from just “inside” stimulation?
Well, there are individual differences. I mean there are people with high sensitivity to pain and people with low sensitive with the pain. The first question I would ask you is whether you have vaginal sensibility. Like do you feel the stimulation, or do you feel nothing?
I don’t feel nothing, but—like I always say—sex with no clit stimulation just feels like I’m inserting my tampon over and over on repeat forever. It’s like, “Yeah, I can feel it, but it doesn’t feel good.”
Hmm. I don’t know if you want to get personal about this, but for instance, if you use a dildo, if you start with clitoral stimulation, and get excited from the clitoral stimulation, does adding the vaginal stimulation of the dildo change the quality of the clitoral stimulation? Does it make any differences?
Some times it does, yeah, but the inside stimulation has to be very specific otherwise it just interferes with what I’m doing on the outside. Like I have a friend who says she finds it easier to cum during anal sex because it means the penis is far enough back there that it’s out of her way and she can masturbate in peace.
Well the same nerve that carries sensation from the vagina, which is the pelvic nerve, also carries sensation from the rectum. So that may be why women and men can say they can have orgasms from rectal stimulation. And, you know, if it gets the penis out of the way and that enables better clitoral stimulation to occur, well… whatever it takes, you know?!
Def. So do you know anything about squirting?
What about it?
Well, what is it? Like in porn so much comes out, and some people say, “it’s pee” and other people say, “no, it’s not pee.” So where is that liquid coming from?
Well there is definitely a difference between pee and squirt. In men the prostate gland and the seminal vesicles secrete seminal fluid. There’s also a prostate gland in women called the Skene’s gland. There are a number of studies showing that there is a chemical difference between the female ejaculate and urine: urine has a high level of urea and a low level of acid phosphates; by contrast, ejaculation contains the opposite, having low urea and high acid phosphates. That’s the same in men and women. So some females can ejaculate, but only a very small volume, like maybe a teaspoon full, similar to men’s ejaculate, whereas humans can obviously excrete far more urine, more like a cup full. In the porno films that show a large volume of female ejaculate, that probably is urine, but we’re not sure. Actually, we’re doing a study of that.
Yeah because in porn it shoots out like a fire hydrant and it’s like, where the fuck would that even be coming from?
Well it’s probably urine, probably urine, but we’re not sure.
So are any scientists currently working to create a sort of Viagra for women or what?
Well, I know that a lot of drug companies are interested in doing that. But the idea of Viagra does not work in women because it’s a completely different process. Viagra has the effect of just dilating blood vessels and increasing the blood flood to the penis, and that produces the erection. But there’s nothing comparably necessary in women for sexual response. In woman Viagra doesn’t have any particular effect except possibly increasing a little bit of lubrication and turgidity. But other drug companies are trying different strategies of modifying of brain chemistry, to see if that could affect sexual response in women.
So why did you start studying the science of orgasm?
The reason I got into it was that I found in my laboratory animal study that vaginal stimulation has a very profound pain blocking action. At the time my wife was dying of breast cancer. She was in terrible pain, and when I made that discovery I thought myself, “If I’m a good scientist, why don’t I do something useful? Like study how to block pain!”
And I found that vaginal stimulation does have a very strong pain blocking action in women. And then, I was interested in knowing what nerves carry the pain blocking signal, so I analyzed it in laboratory animals. I identified the pain blocking substance released by vaginal stimulation and I patented that. I also study women with spinal cord injury, and which nerves are involved in the pain blocking action. And through studying orgasm and doing brain imaging, I created the first evidence in the world of where orgasms occur in the brain.
The masturbation/pain blocking thing makes sense to me. I usually masturbate to get rid of my headache when I’m hungover.
Exactly. I lot of women have told us that, and it’s true, it works. There are some cultures where they apply vaginal stimulation prior to childbirth. The culture obstetricians I’ve spoken to say that they think it just helps to stretch the birth canal, but it’s probably also activating the pain blocking mechanism. Obviously a lot of women say that childbirth is the worst pain they’ve ever experienced, but in our studies we found that women became less sensitive to any externally apply pain while the baby was emerging through the birth canal. So in another words, there is a pain blocking mechanism from vaginal stimulation that is probably activated during childbirth.
In your book The Science of Orgasm you say that some women have the ability to literally think their way to orgasm. That’s crazy/unfair.
Yeah, I was very skeptical of that at first. So we identified ten women who claimed they could have orgasm just by thinking. There are numbers of physiological indicators of orgasm: the heart rate approximately doubles; the blood pressure doubles; the pupils dilate to about twice to their normal diameter; and the pain threshold is elevated. So we measured all four of those indicators of orgasm in these ten women, first when they induced the orgasm by genital self-stimulation, and also when they induce orgasms just by thinking. And surprisingly the measurements were comparable!
Weird. So what’s the difference between the male and female orgasm in the brain?
Well in general, the differences are trivial compared to the similarity. The differences are relatively minor.