Functional MRI of the Brain During Orgasm In Women

Department of Psychology, Rutgers,The State University of New Jersey, Newark 07102, USA.
Annual review of sex research 02/2005; 16:62-86.
Source: PubMed


Women diagnosed with complete spinal cord injury (SCI) at T10 or higher report sensations generated by vaginal-cervical mechanical self-stimulation (CSS). In this paper we review brain responses to sexual arousal and orgasm in such women, and further hypothesize that the afferent pathway for this unexpected perception is provided by the Vagus nerves, which bypass the spinal cord. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we ascertained that the region of the medulla oblongata to which the Vagus nerves project (the Nucleus of the Solitary Tract or NTS) is activated by CSS. We also used an objective measure, CSS-induced analgesia response to experimentally induced finger pain, to ascertain the functionality of this pathway. During CSS, several women experienced orgasms. Brain regions activated during orgasm included the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, amygdala, accumbens-bed nucleus of the stria terminalis-preoptic area, hippocampus, basal ganglia (especially putamen), cerebellum, and anterior cingulate, insular, parietal and frontal cortices, and lower brainstem (central gray, mesencephalic reticular formation, and NTS). We conclude that the Vagus nerves provide a spinal cord-bypass pathway for vaginal-cervical sensibility and that activation of this pathway can produce analgesia and orgasm.

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Available from: Barry Komisaruk
    • "Contrary to the paucity of increases in rCBF, decreases in rCBF were evident in a number of places especially in temporal and prefrontal areas of the brain viz in the amygdala (ventral and medial parts of the temporal lobe) and in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex . Komisaruk and Whipple (2011), however, using a novel 'tapestry' representation of the fMRI activity of the brain based on the animated time course analysis of brain activation during orgasm bydescribes a widespread, non-uniform sequence of activation of different brain regions leading up to orgasm with greater activation in the right hemisphere than the left (see alsoKomisaruk and Whipple, 2005). Komisaruk and Whipple (2005) undertook recordings by fMRI of the brains in a few women who could generate orgasms by 'thought alone' that is, without any physical stimulation. "
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    ABSTRACT: The female orgasm has been examined over the years by numerous scientific disciplines yet it still has many secrets to be disclosed. Because its physiology, especially its neurophysiology, is sparingly understood its pharmacology is necessarily limited based mainly on the side effects of drugs. Few published studies have used a placebo group as controls. The paucity of focussed studies is well illustrated by the fact that there still is no approved medication to treat female orgasmic dysfunction. The present brief overview examines the mostimportant aspects of its biology and especially its physiology highlighting the many questions that need answering if we are to have a comprehensive pharmacology of the female orgasm.
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    • "Several brain regions have been linked to sexual arousal mechanisms in normal individuals. The brainstem centers as the reticular activating systems of the pons and midbrain that are important for alertness and arousal, play a role in affective responses, orgasm, and sexual arousal (Klucken et al., 2009; Komisaruk & Whipple, 2005). Subcortical areas as the hypothalamus and pituitary are important structures in the control and execution of human sexual response through the action of hormones as they are involved in reproduction, sexual desire, lubrication, and sexual orientation (Dominguez, 2009; Huh et al., 2008; McClellan, Parker, & Tobet, 2006; Paul et al., 2008; Takahashi et al., 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Brain injury can directly and indirectly affect important aspects related to sexuality and sexual function. In this critical review of the literature, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and sexuality are examined. A general review of the concept of sexuality and the neurological correlates of sexual function are proposed as a framework to understand the cognitive, behavioral and physical effects of TBI on sexuality and sexual function. Studies are then classified according to the participants enrolled and findings are presented from the professional's, the survivor's, the patient/partner's, and the non-injured spouse's perspectives. Results are discussed taking into account methodological limitations and knowledge gaps. Next, implications for sexual rehabilitation for individuals with TBI are discussed. Finally, suggestions for future research and their pertinence for improving rehabilitation outcomes are considered.
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    • "Whipple and colleagues studied 10 women who were orgasmic with sexual fantasy only (Whipple, Ogden, & Komisaruk, 1992). Changes related to orgasm can be found in the neo-cortex, the limbic system and the cerebellum (Komisaruk & Whipple, 2005). Georgiadis et al. (2006) saw a prominent orgasm-related deactivation in the orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior temporal lobes, suggesting that some behavioural disinhibition (letting go of control) is mandatory for orgasm to occur. "
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    ABSTRACT: A consistent finding in the literature has been that only about half of the women experiencing orgasm difficulties also report associated distress. This may suggest that orgasms are less important for women's sexual satisfaction than they are for men. Evidence is provided to suggest that orgasms are important for women's sexual satisfaction. The lack of distress seems related to women's lesser consistency of orgasm during partnered sexual activity and not to orgasms being less important per se. In contrast to current suggestions that inability to orgasm during vaginal intercourse points to psychological immaturity, data are presented that imply that women's orgasm consistency in all forms of partnered sexual activity is associated with sexual autonomy (i.e., the extent to which one feels that one's sexual behaviours are self-determined). This paper ends with a brief overview of organic and psychosexual factors associated with problems with sexual excitation and sexual inhibition and reviews evidence-based treatment of anorgasmia. For orgasm problems that are related to problems with sexual excitation, effective treatments are available. We recommend that more effort is given to studying factors associated with sexual inhibition.
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