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Brain activity is important

June 22nd, 2005

Dr Petra

Yesterday I was commenting on research that identified through brain scans when people were having an orgasm or faking. I had some issues about the robustness and reliability of the research, as well as the usual concerns over how the media presented the study.

Within the blog I asked, “Why do we need to know about brain activity at orgasm?”

By that I meant that if people were having pleasurable feelings, imposing additional measures as ‘proof’ of orgasm could cause problems and anxieties. Like many sex researchers I feel if you have pleasurable feelings you should be allowed to claim and own them, rather than having them validated by some outside expert.

However I may not have made this clear, since a couple of people got in touch and pointed out there are occasions where we do need to know about brain activity at orgasm. Specifically where people have brain injury then orgasm can be impaired or affected, and in those cases neuropsychology can help support those with brain injury and their partners. In particular I’d like to thank Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks for his thoughtful feedback and questioning of my assumptions.

The human body has an amazing capacity for pleasure and enjoyment, and understanding the many ways the body responds to sex from the tips of our toes to what goes on in our brains is important if we want to learn more about sex. Understanding social, cultural and emotional factors are equally valid.

I have issues when research only focuses on the biological, hormonal or genetic without acknowledging sexual behaviour is the only way to study sex. And I get particularly worried when such research is used to subtly blame people; increase anxieties around sexual performance; set up standards of ‘normal’ we can’t aspire to; or provide seemingly ‘quick fixes’ for sex that are entirely based around the body.

But when it comes to understanding sex and pleasure, or helping rehabilitate people following brain injury, those are cases when we do need to know about brain activity at orgasm.

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