Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women

An fMRI Analysis

Nan J. Wise, Eleni Frangos, Barry Komisaruk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background Although the literature on imaging of regional brain activity during sexual arousal in women and men is extensive and largely consistent, that on orgasm is relatively limited and variable, owing in part to the methodologic challenges posed by variability in latency to orgasm in participants and head movement. Aim To compare brain activity at orgasm (self- and partner-induced) with that at the onset of genital stimulation, immediately before the onset of orgasm, and immediately after the cessation of orgasm and to upgrade the methodology for obtaining and analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings. Methods Using fMRI, we sampled equivalent time points across female participants’ variable durations of stimulation and orgasm in response to self- and partner-induced clitoral stimulation. The first 20-second epoch of orgasm was contrasted with the 20-second epochs at the beginning of stimulation and immediately before and after orgasm. Separate analyses were conducted for whole-brain and brainstem regions of interest. For a finer-grained analysis of the peri-orgasm phase, we conducted a time-course analysis on regions of interest. Head movement was minimized to a mean less than 1.3 mm using a custom-fitted thermoplastic whole-head and neck brace stabilizer. Outcomes Ten women experienced orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in a Siemens 3-T Trio fMRI scanner. Results Brain activity gradually increased leading up to orgasm, peaked at orgasm, and then decreased. We found no evidence of deactivation of brain regions leading up to or during orgasm. The activated brain regions included sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortical, and brainstem regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, operculum, right angular gyrus, paracentral lobule, cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, and dorsal raphe). Clinical Translation Insight gained from the present findings could provide guidance toward a rational basis for treatment of orgasmic disorders, including anorgasmia. Strengths and Limitations This is evidently the first fMRI study of orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in women. Methodologic solutions to the technical issues posed by excessive head movement and variable latencies to orgasm were successfully applied in the present study, enabling identification of brain regions involved in orgasm. Limitations include the small sample (N = 10), which combined self- and partner-induced stimulation datasets for analysis and which qualify the generalization of our conclusions. Conclusion Extensive cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions reach peak levels of activity at orgasm. Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. J Sex Med 2017;14:1380–1391.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1380-1391
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Volume14
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Fingerprint

Orgasm
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Brain
Head Movements
Brain Stem
Psychological Sexual Dysfunctions
Braces
Parietal Lobe
Ventral Tegmental Area

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine

Cite this

Wise, Nan J. ; Frangos, Eleni ; Komisaruk, Barry. / Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women : An fMRI Analysis. In: Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2017 ; Vol. 14, No. 11. pp. 1380-1391.
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abstract = "Background Although the literature on imaging of regional brain activity during sexual arousal in women and men is extensive and largely consistent, that on orgasm is relatively limited and variable, owing in part to the methodologic challenges posed by variability in latency to orgasm in participants and head movement. Aim To compare brain activity at orgasm (self- and partner-induced) with that at the onset of genital stimulation, immediately before the onset of orgasm, and immediately after the cessation of orgasm and to upgrade the methodology for obtaining and analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings. Methods Using fMRI, we sampled equivalent time points across female participants’ variable durations of stimulation and orgasm in response to self- and partner-induced clitoral stimulation. The first 20-second epoch of orgasm was contrasted with the 20-second epochs at the beginning of stimulation and immediately before and after orgasm. Separate analyses were conducted for whole-brain and brainstem regions of interest. For a finer-grained analysis of the peri-orgasm phase, we conducted a time-course analysis on regions of interest. Head movement was minimized to a mean less than 1.3 mm using a custom-fitted thermoplastic whole-head and neck brace stabilizer. Outcomes Ten women experienced orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in a Siemens 3-T Trio fMRI scanner. Results Brain activity gradually increased leading up to orgasm, peaked at orgasm, and then decreased. We found no evidence of deactivation of brain regions leading up to or during orgasm. The activated brain regions included sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortical, and brainstem regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, operculum, right angular gyrus, paracentral lobule, cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, and dorsal raphe). Clinical Translation Insight gained from the present findings could provide guidance toward a rational basis for treatment of orgasmic disorders, including anorgasmia. Strengths and Limitations This is evidently the first fMRI study of orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in women. Methodologic solutions to the technical issues posed by excessive head movement and variable latencies to orgasm were successfully applied in the present study, enabling identification of brain regions involved in orgasm. Limitations include the small sample (N = 10), which combined self- and partner-induced stimulation datasets for analysis and which qualify the generalization of our conclusions. Conclusion Extensive cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions reach peak levels of activity at orgasm. Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. J Sex Med 2017;14:1380–1391.",
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Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women : An fMRI Analysis. / Wise, Nan J.; Frangos, Eleni; Komisaruk, Barry.

In: Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 14, No. 11, 01.11.2017, p. 1380-1391.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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N2 - Background Although the literature on imaging of regional brain activity during sexual arousal in women and men is extensive and largely consistent, that on orgasm is relatively limited and variable, owing in part to the methodologic challenges posed by variability in latency to orgasm in participants and head movement. Aim To compare brain activity at orgasm (self- and partner-induced) with that at the onset of genital stimulation, immediately before the onset of orgasm, and immediately after the cessation of orgasm and to upgrade the methodology for obtaining and analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings. Methods Using fMRI, we sampled equivalent time points across female participants’ variable durations of stimulation and orgasm in response to self- and partner-induced clitoral stimulation. The first 20-second epoch of orgasm was contrasted with the 20-second epochs at the beginning of stimulation and immediately before and after orgasm. Separate analyses were conducted for whole-brain and brainstem regions of interest. For a finer-grained analysis of the peri-orgasm phase, we conducted a time-course analysis on regions of interest. Head movement was minimized to a mean less than 1.3 mm using a custom-fitted thermoplastic whole-head and neck brace stabilizer. Outcomes Ten women experienced orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in a Siemens 3-T Trio fMRI scanner. Results Brain activity gradually increased leading up to orgasm, peaked at orgasm, and then decreased. We found no evidence of deactivation of brain regions leading up to or during orgasm. The activated brain regions included sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortical, and brainstem regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, operculum, right angular gyrus, paracentral lobule, cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, and dorsal raphe). Clinical Translation Insight gained from the present findings could provide guidance toward a rational basis for treatment of orgasmic disorders, including anorgasmia. Strengths and Limitations This is evidently the first fMRI study of orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in women. Methodologic solutions to the technical issues posed by excessive head movement and variable latencies to orgasm were successfully applied in the present study, enabling identification of brain regions involved in orgasm. Limitations include the small sample (N = 10), which combined self- and partner-induced stimulation datasets for analysis and which qualify the generalization of our conclusions. Conclusion Extensive cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions reach peak levels of activity at orgasm. Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. J Sex Med 2017;14:1380–1391.

AB - Background Although the literature on imaging of regional brain activity during sexual arousal in women and men is extensive and largely consistent, that on orgasm is relatively limited and variable, owing in part to the methodologic challenges posed by variability in latency to orgasm in participants and head movement. Aim To compare brain activity at orgasm (self- and partner-induced) with that at the onset of genital stimulation, immediately before the onset of orgasm, and immediately after the cessation of orgasm and to upgrade the methodology for obtaining and analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) findings. Methods Using fMRI, we sampled equivalent time points across female participants’ variable durations of stimulation and orgasm in response to self- and partner-induced clitoral stimulation. The first 20-second epoch of orgasm was contrasted with the 20-second epochs at the beginning of stimulation and immediately before and after orgasm. Separate analyses were conducted for whole-brain and brainstem regions of interest. For a finer-grained analysis of the peri-orgasm phase, we conducted a time-course analysis on regions of interest. Head movement was minimized to a mean less than 1.3 mm using a custom-fitted thermoplastic whole-head and neck brace stabilizer. Outcomes Ten women experienced orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in a Siemens 3-T Trio fMRI scanner. Results Brain activity gradually increased leading up to orgasm, peaked at orgasm, and then decreased. We found no evidence of deactivation of brain regions leading up to or during orgasm. The activated brain regions included sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortical, and brainstem regions (eg, nucleus accumbens, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, operculum, right angular gyrus, paracentral lobule, cerebellum, hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, and dorsal raphe). Clinical Translation Insight gained from the present findings could provide guidance toward a rational basis for treatment of orgasmic disorders, including anorgasmia. Strengths and Limitations This is evidently the first fMRI study of orgasm elicited by self- and partner-induced genital stimulation in women. Methodologic solutions to the technical issues posed by excessive head movement and variable latencies to orgasm were successfully applied in the present study, enabling identification of brain regions involved in orgasm. Limitations include the small sample (N = 10), which combined self- and partner-induced stimulation datasets for analysis and which qualify the generalization of our conclusions. Conclusion Extensive cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions reach peak levels of activity at orgasm. Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. J Sex Med 2017;14:1380–1391.

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