Dr. Komisaruk: Talking about Orgasms with a Smart Person

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.




18 Replies to “Dr. Komisaruk: Talking about Orgasms with a Smart Person”

  1. a teaspoon??! BULLSHIT! I can squirt over and over with my current boyfriend and it is straight up CUPS…. like soaks through to the mattress. and it is NOT URINE I PROMISE!

      1. May I recommend disposable incontinence pads instead of towels? I couldn’t live without them! They are sold along with products like Depends – designed for bedwetting, essentially. The plastic backing means that no matter how much you squirt, your bed and bedding aren’t ruined.

    1. I agree! Count me as another woman who knows that high-volume squirting isn’t fake, isn’t pee.

      I’m astounded that this is a mystery to a scientist when it can so easily be proven and so many people are interested. “We’re doing a study”, he said? It’s about time and count me in. I’ll prove it to ya!

  2. I can orgasm through penetration alone if I am extremely turned on. If there’s no foreplay then it’s not going to happen but yeah, those orgasms are more powerful because I’m more turned on by a man being inside me than me touching myself on the clitoris.

      1. Remember whatever sex reteureminqs we need, not matter how kinky there is always someone out there who can supply it. The issue is always getting in touch with that person.The internet is the most powerful and quickest tool we have. The biggest issue I find is that we spend time on what we want but we do not tell the person enough about us.Your profile is the ONLY thing they have to go on. Spend at least an hour on that profile and update it every month. Think of it as a resume for sex. +2Was this answer helpful?

      2. The vagina is NOT the only part of a woman. We have baesrts,feet, ears and legs. The vagina is part of me NOT all of me. +1Was this answer helpful?

    1. Me and my girlfriend broke up relntecy and I’m worried that the next girl I end up with will not be able to have vaginal orgasms. To all you girls out there that can’t orgasm from penetration alone it’s a real shame. My ex girlfriend would cry sometimes after orgasms literally tears rolling down her cheeks. It’s a very powerful experience to share with someone you love.

    2. karley do you by any chance know of any cerurnt studies that i could be apart of as a woman who has never orgasmed? i’ve been sexually active for 8 years and have tried literally everything but i just can’t. vibrators, patience, hands, shower heads, faucets, everything.it’s not that i feel nothing i just can never reach climax. it really fucking bums me out.

  3. I am sure that everyone in some point of their early life had an orgasm just by looking at something not expected. I remember I must have been 17 while on vacation with my family. I saw someone masturbating obvs this person had no idea that I was awake and I had an orgasm just by watching. I guess nowadays we are exposed to pornography that sex it has lost it’s sensuality. I guess that after that a guy wanking it totally turns me on.

  4. So, I was watching MadMen (finally) with my girlfriend, and, ya know, one of the main things one notices about the show is how different women were treated (or shown to be treated, which is maybe even less terrible than it actually was) but, nonetheless, they do make it a major point of showing how women were thought to be completely incapable of knowing anything, whether it be history, math or even themselves! And how their physical and mental boundaries were basically non-existent. Like how Don can just call his wife’s shrink and have him (the shrink) tell Don everything that is going on with Betty. Or how the term “hysterical” is thrown around whenever a girl cries, etc. and all of those other nice things that make us realize why all our dads are assholes.

    Now, this Doctor you spoke with seems very smart, and even comes off as sort of nice, BUT the problem with doctors (and science in general), is the smugness with which answers are given to questions that have no answers yet.
    So, while being the last two people on the planet to catch up on MadMen I couldn’t help but think of this interview I had recently read of yours, especially the part where the kindly Dr. Soandso says, “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.” I mean, why would he say “probably”? He has NO idea! They may be studying it right now, but the way he just kind of brushes off the women who say it’s not pee (like EVERY comment so far on this blogpost) totally reminded me of the still very dismissive attitude toward women’s opinions in science and even their own personal experiences!

    Especially since my girlfriend falls into the “squirter” category, and after having soaked through the covers, the mattress pad, and down into the mattress after a “normal” sex session (normal for us of course. Not meaning that I’m Don Juan or anything, just meaning that it is very easy for my girlfriend to cum, and to cum frequently, and in great quantity (although, she says the sensation of cumming is very, very different from what she calls her “big orgasm,” which for her, takes much longer to achieve (though still induced from her clit but from much less direct stimulation, i.e. she can cum as many times as I suck on her clit—and usually within seconds to just over a minute being the longest any cumming takes—but to give her the “big orgasm” comes from a mix of penetration, her cumming a few times before so that her clit is desensitized enough so that she can handle the intensity of a vibrator not directly on her clit but just off to the side without cumming long enough to allow her to “build” her big orgasm while my cock is inside of her, or I’m licking everywhere but her clit. The big orgasm is then an ejaculation free 10-15 seconds where her whole vagina throbs rapidly at first and then slows and then stops and then she starts to cum again after the big part of the big orgasm is finished))).
    And after all this and having used up stacks of stolen gym towels to try to somehow deal with the sheer volume of liquid spraying out of her during sex (also, thanks Tricia for the recommendation of the incontinence pads, might save us from having to buy a new mattress sooner rather than later), most of the time she will still run out of bed the second I’m done cumming because she has to pee so bad!

    All this just makes me think that it is bad for a “doctor” to be belittling a posteriori accounts from (the figure I’ve read (since my girlfriend and I have done much research on it and kept an orgasm journal for her as we are just really interested in what’s happening when she squirts (not to mention that I think it’s hot as fuck being able to tell my girlfriend, “Get up here and cum on my face…”) and since there is ZERO conclusive information out there—probably because doctors are smugging their female patients out of their own experiences!) so, from the hard-to-find information out there about female ejaculation, the figure we’ve seen most commonly is that 10% of women ejaculate. And just because the lab says that the chemical makeup of the fluid is “similar” to urine does NOT mean that women are wetting the bed while they are getting the bed very wet.

    And that’s where I think these doctors are being very irresponsible when they say something like, “Eh, after a teaspoon or so these girls are just peeing themselves,” giving women yet another reason to be stressed about having an orgasm or cumming or whatever the Hell is naturally happening with a good squirt :)

  5. There has only been ONCE I have cum from not playing with my clit.. It was from being in a lucid sex dream (also the only time I’ve had a lucid dream) and I was fully aware of it and it was like nothing I’ve experienced since :'(

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