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Mary Roach's Orgasms

January 31, 2012

Brit Trogen

 

We've covered orgasms before at Science in Seconds... the elusive female orgasm, and those achieved with robotic assistance, for example. But our interest goes nowhere near the depth paid to the subject by Mary Roach, author of "Bonk" and "Stiff" (which I highly recommend).

 

In research for her book on the science of sex, Roach came across several interesting findings relating to orgasms. Masturbation, for example, has been observed in the womb, according to several rousing studies. It could also be possible to stimulate orgasms in people who are "dead" (braindead but being prepared for organ transplants) by stimulating the sacral nerve... though why anyone should choose to do this is another question. But some of her ideas are even weirder than that.

 

1) Orgasms can cure the hiccups, according to a study published in the Canadian Family Physician by Francis Fesmire. Following up on his Ig Nobel prize-winning study on hiccups and rectal massage, Fesmire found that stimulating the vagus nerve through hiccups can stop "intractable hiccups." It's better than eating peanut butter.

 

2) Stimulating orgasms in female pigs can increase the number of piglets produced via artificial insemination. There is, for better or worse, a video of this phenomenon that was given as a tutorial to pig farmers. Watch at your own risk. (Going one step farther, apparently there is now a "sow vibrator" that can be employed for similar effect.)

 

3) Animals like macaques experience orgasms, too. Roach is incorrect in her assertion that female macaques only experience orgasm when mating with other females (the relative percentage of female:female orgasms is unavailable, though a landmark set of studies on the subject was conducted by Suzanne Chevalier-Skolnikoff), but female macaques are known to get the Big O fairly often. In male:female mating pairs, it occurs approximately 33% of the time. As an added bonus, female macaques are more likely to experience orgasm when paired with males who are higher up in the heirarchy.

 

Ultimately, Roach's findings all come down to one thing: that an orgasm isn't just about genitals or even sex. A great deal of mystery remains in the subject, but by viewing the orgasm as part of a response of the autonomous nervous system we can at least explain those women who can have one just by stroking their eyebrows.

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