Are we (women) indeed too dumb to know we have had an orgasm?

Yet another article comes out in Cosmo (US) about our work written by yet another journalist taking yet another “trip” in our scanner. This piece is particularly misleading. Although I am sure that the writer had the best of intentions, the combination of sensation-seeking editing and the hatchet job on what was originally a much longer piece stuns the reader with an eye-catching headline, “Are you orgasming without even knowing it? I was until I masturbated for science!”

So the erstwhile sexual adventurer who has come to our lab to “come” apparently “didn’t, and it wasn’t until an older male (patriarch) scientist told her that this happens “all the time’ that she realizes that she has indeed orgasmed in the scanner”.

Really, Cosmo? Are we woman just too dumb to know when (and if) we have had an orgasm? And furthermore, are we so dumb that we don’t know this until you tell us in an enlightening behind-the-scenes science report?

The patently ridiculous claim that we (the scientists) can read the brain scans of women and tell whether they have had an orgasm (when they didn’t think so) is so ridiculous that I feel compelled to share the direct quote:
“Komisaruk (male scientist) wasn’t surprised by my (writer) epiphany; numerous other female participants in the study reported having no orgasm, when the scan revealed otherwise.”

I understand that the journalist was trying to make a point; orgasms do indeed come in all shapes and sizes and flavors—from the kind that makes you nearly pass out to the type that doesn’t knock your socks off. But really, is this act of female sexual empowerment of donating an orgasm to science going to devolve into a classic patriarchal tale of male science-supremacy where “he” tells the female participant that she has “come” without knowing it? And then a happy ending (pun intended) as the benevolent male scientist pats her on the head as he unlocks this “secret” of female sexuality for the ever-grateful lass?

As the scientist who actually does the “orgasm science”—the nuts and bolts—the one who did her dissertation on this topic—and recently submitted two papers to scientific journals on this work—–the same “she” who laboriously took the raw data from the scanner and transformed it into statistical maps of the brain that indicate which brain regions are indeed activated above baseline during the “orgasm” task, I can assure you that there is no way that we can tell simply by looking at brain results that a woman has in fact “orgasmed” (whether she knew it or not).

In fact, the declaration of when (and if) an orgasm happens in the scanner is totally made by the participant. Who could be better at determining what is happening in the body and brain than the woman, herself? Then the hard job for me begins. I go back to my dreary computer lab, labor for hours, and examine the data to see which regions “peak” when the woman declared she did. No mind reading, no brain reading, simply correlating a task (self declared orgasm onset and offset achieved via the participant pressing a button) and then a statistical process of seeing which brain regions were most active at that time.

And speaking of brains, I have tons of data where woman are merely thinking of genital stimulation (sans orgasm) and their sensuous “brainy” reward places light up like a veritable Christmas tree. It looks just like an orgasm. Are they having orgasms and don ‘t know it, too?

So, dear ladies (and gentlemen), in sum, don’t believe everything you read in Cosmo. But you knew that already, yes?

And trust your own experience, above all.

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