A book I read by Mary Roach in my Human Anatomy class last year inspired me to look into some of her other works. As a result, I ended up purchasing Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Although I haven’t finished the book entirely, I managed to browse through some of the topics she wrote about. One, in particular, caught my eye: orgasms. There were two things I read that completely blew my mind.

First, that for women, it is possible to think yourself to an orgasm. How is this possible? An orgasm is a reflex that is a part of the autonomic nervous system, and it can be attained through a variety of input. While genital stimulation is a main factor, it does not have to be the only method. In the 1970s, Masters and Johnson found that there was a strong correlation between sexuality and thought. Additionally, Dr. Ian Kerner states that, “The connection is particularly strong in women. The brain is the most powerful sex organ. Men, however, have a much harder time making themselves climax without touch.” As a result, this “skill” can essentially be learned through concentration, fantasy, and breath work. Roach actually had the opportunity to interview a woman with the ability to do this, and within a minute, she attained one. While the fact that mere thought is enough to produce an orgasm, Roach also noted that women have attained orgasms by simply stroking their eye and brushing their teeth. Would this be considered a gift from the gods or a total burden? You decide.

The second fact I found completely shocking from Bonk was that technically you don’t even need to be fully alive to have an orgasm. The main center for orgasms is in the sacral nerve root, which is part of the spinal nerve of the autonomic nervous system. Triggering the exact spot will, in fact, stimulate the orgasm reflex. The funny thing is that spinal reflexes can occur without brain function. For example, the spinal reflex called the Lazarus sign has been performed on beating heart cadavers (an individual brain-dead, but still breathing with a respirator) numerous times. When the right spot is triggered, the cadaver will stretch out its arms, raise them, and cross them over his or her chest. With that said, it is possible to do the same to trigger the orgasm reflex, given that the spinal cord and sacral nerves are still receiving oxygen. The downside is that the cadaver probably wouldn’t feel it. While this phenomenon may seem to contradict what I mentioned earlier, both are scientifically possible. It just depends upon the circumstances.

If you’re further interested in this subject, or even sex with a scientific twist to it, I highly recommend reading Mary Roach’s book.

~ Kimberly Lau

Roach, M. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, New York, 2009.