The more I learn about human sexuality, the more I see that nothing is weird. Atypical, maybe, but who wants to be normal in every way? Nipple orgasms, flaccid or dry penile orgasms, dream orgasms, electro-stim orgasms, minutes-long waves of multiple orgasms, orgasms without any genital (or anal) contact—people experience all this and more. (But hopefully not all at once!)
I can tell you all about multiple orgasms; the others, not so much. But recently something new happened to me: a mental (non-genital, at least) orgasm. This article is going to be part smut, part mind-blowing1 science, plus some existential drama thrown in for good measure!
It was the last day of his (long-awaited) week off work. We’d been alone—no children to get in the way—for three days now, and we’d managed to have more sex in the previous two days than we’d had for a couple weeks before this.
I had particular plans for this Friday: a problematic cock ring had been sitting in the closet shelf for a couple months now, untouched. I thought we’d finally have the chance to get this thing on his cock properly.2 But then he got pulled into some situation at work (because his employer doesn’t understand the meaning of “vacation”). While he took calls and tried to solve this urgent crisis, I got involved in writing my latest suction cup dildo review.
Lunchtime came and passed, and then it was almost time for him to leave to meet a friend. I was standing at the bathroom counter brushing my teeth when he walked out of the bathroom, fully erect cock out. I just looked at him, wondering if we had time.
“I’ve had a raging hard-on all morning,” he said.
“What? Why the hell didn’t you say something?” I wondered.
“Because things have to get done. Just ignore it and keep working.” He paused. “But I have to go in a minute…do you think it’s weird to not want penile-vaginal sex?”
I smiled and tried not to laugh at his innocence. (We’ve been together for thirteen years, but we’re still figuring out the basics, right?) “Of course not. Tell me?”
“I just want a handjob.”
That decided, we progressed over to the bed. He was nude from the waist down, while I’d taken off my shirt but was still wearing my pink pajama pants.
But as I stroked, and occasionally sucked, and wondered if we needed more lube, I realized that I needed to get off too. I could feel the usual throbbing of intense arousal, and a building pressure. Now I was jerking fast enough that speaking was an effort, so no sexy talk. I watched his reddened cock head glide in and out of my fingers, and I was transfixed. Soon he started to gasp, and I urged him on; then I watched him shoot his seed, even spurting up on the hoodie he’d pulled up above his belly button. Move over, ejaculating dildo; I was incredibly turned on.
Literally a second later, I felt my vagina clench, and I realized that an orgasmic wave was making me roll my shoulders backward; I’d been perched on one elbow beside him, but now I dropped onto my back, still holding his penis. I was still wearing my pants, and at no point had either of us touched my genitals. (He hadn’t even been playing with my breasts.) Nevertheless, I was swaying with the throes of a deep orgasm, just thinking about jerking his cock. It was surreal.
He was impressed. “You’re coming? Just from that? Whoa.”
I wrapped an arm around his torso as I continued to shake from the aftershocks. He was right: this was definitely something new and interesting. A month before that, I’d also come while giving a handjob, but I thought it was so easy because I’d had a string of vaginal orgasms from being penetrated a couple minutes before.
To be fair, my mental orgasm wasn’t produced by thought alone (like the “thought orgasms” I’ll be talking about in the next section.) The jerking I’d been doing probably activated the same parts of my brain that dildo-jerking does. I don’t think I can come just by lying back and thinking about whatever turns me on.4
The Science (and the Speculation)
After my experience, I had to do some research to assure myself I wasn’t some sort of alien. Luckily—don’t you love the information age?—it wasn’t difficult to find credible resources on mental (and other atypical) orgasms.
Enter this guy, Dr. Barry Komisaruk (talking about mental orgasms here) and his colleague Dr. Beverly Whipple, who’ve been researching5 brain activity during orgasm for decades. (The research has gone on for decades, not the orgasms. ????) Here’s what they say:
We previously reported autonomic responses during orgasm in 10 women who claimed that they could generate orgasms by thought alone (Whipple et al., 1992). Initially skeptical of their claims, we compared the autonomic responses under two conditions in each woman: one during genital self-stimulation-induced orgasm and the other during thought-induced orgasm. We found to our surprise that each of the parameters measured in a counterbalanced design (i.e., heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilatation, and pain threshold) approximately doubled during orgasm…The women described the imagery they experienced during the thought-induced orgasms variously: in some cases, erotic; others, pastoral; and still others, abstract (e.g., as “energy flow” repeatedly ascending and descending the body axis).6
So, basically, all the observable physical markers of a typical genital orgasm are present in a “thought orgasm” too. The paper goes on to describe how the scientists used fMRI imaging to show that the same brain regions7 light up with both normal masturbatory orgasms and these mental orgasms. The Science of Orgasm also notes that a 1948 study by Alfred Kinsey et al. reported that “three or four” out of five thousand men said they could ejaculate “without any mechanical stimulation” (that is, touching of the genitals, etc.).8
Clearly, then, thought orgasms exist, even if they’re not the most common thing ever. The science might give us a hint at how “brain” and “body” are so closely linked, at how much they influence each other. Still, I’m kinda stuck on the why. I can understand other “atypical” orgasms that involve touch somewhere: of the nipples or thighs or feet, even. (I recently read somewhere that earlobe orgasms are a thing too?) But my metaphorical hat is tipped at anyone who can imagine a landscape9 and come from it. That’s some serious mind-fuckery right there. (Pun intended.) We should seek these people out, gather their collective mental powers, and maybe develop telekinesis or something!
It didn’t help answer my questions, either, that The Science of Orgasm ends by reflecting on the nature of human consciousness as a whole. (This is my life as a writer, condensed: I aim for “fun” and “sexy,” and instead I end up reading serious speculation about whether there’s a fifth dimension.) A fifth dimension? you say. What kind of pseudo-scientific BS is this!?
But it’s actually a really fascinating analogy (or maybe a hypothesis?). Here it is in my words: Time is the fourth dimension, right? And though we’re aware as time passes us by, we don’t always experience it in the same way—time speeds up or slows down[note]Sometimes it seems to fade away, too, if we become very engrossed in something—like I typically lose track of time when I’m writing or reading—or we lose touch with it, like when we sleep. Now, this is just our perception, but…what about the universe10 before time/after time? What does that even mean? Really, the phrase “before time” is meaningless in a practical sense.11 Time is something we experience but that we can never pin down.
Likewise, human consciousness flickers in and out, and ultimately, we don’t understand it. As the authors point out, we become separated from normal conscious reality whenever we sleep, for one.12 So the “fifth dimension” of our neurons projecting their impulses into human consciousness is variable and uncharted, much like time.
If there’s any one thing I’ve learned from reading this book (besides how complicated human anatomy is), it’s how little even the most modern, up-to-date scientists understand about the particulars of how the brain works. They can map all its regions, sure; name them, divide them, analyze them. But in the end, “we don’t understand how our brain activity—the activity of a hundred billion neurons, with each neuron having as many as a thousand or more synapses—produces, or could produce, this fifth dimension” of human awareness.13
Yeah, now I’m definitely mind-fucked. (OMG, the existential angst! ????)
Um…so, more orgasms, anyone? We gotta explore this fifth dimension more. A lot. Often. All for science!14
- It’s complicated. Don’t ask.
- So apparently there are people out there who are OK with having sex that doesn’t involve orgasm. I’m not one of these patient folks.
- But now that I’m on the topic, I’ll confess that my earliest memories of masturbating—if you can call it that—consisted of me lying in bed and just thinking about being wanted, being touched, being undressed; and feeling myself get aroused. For some reason or another, I believed that actually touching myself was dirty or wrong somehow. Sad times!
- One particular focus of their research is the ability of (some) women who’ve suffered a complete severage of the spinal cord, through gunshot wounds, to still orgasm through vaginocervical self-stimulation (i.e., internal masturbation)—even though they can’t feel anything else from the waist down. The hypothesis is that the vaginal and cervical stimulation travels through the vagus nerve, bypassing the spinal cord; this is important because the subjects in the study had previously been told that they would never feel sexual pleasure again. (See Barry Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer-Flores, and Beverly Whipple, The Science of Orgasm [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006], 202–207.) Komisaruk et al. also have done extensive research on how orgasm (especially through vaginal stimulation) has an analgesic effect: it elevates the pain threshold without diminishing sensation. Evolutionarily this is a huge plus because the analgesic effect allows for (somewhat?) easier childbirth and greater mother-child bonding immediately postpartum. I’d also like to note that I became so enthralled with this book because the authors absolutely demolish Elisabeth Lloyd’s (popular) argument that female orgasm is simply a “byproduct” or a “fantastic bonus”—a happy accident—of clits and cocks developing from the same embryonic structure. See Science of Orgasm, 10–15; and my discussion of the debate in my epic G-spot post.
- Barry R. Komisaruk and Beverly Whipple, “Functional MRI of the Brain During Orgasm In Women,” originally published in Annual Review of Sex Research 16 (2005): 62–86, quotation on p. 14 at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.177.782&rep=rep1&type=pdf. A very similar text appears in Komisaruk, Beyer-Flores, and Whipple, Science of Orgasm, 260–261.
- With the possible exception of the amydala, which Komisaruk and Whipple believe “may have a genital sensory role in orgasm” versus the “more cognitive role” of all the other brain regions activated at orgasm. See ibid.
- Komisaruk, Beyer-Flores, and Whipple, Science of Orgasm, 29, citing A. C. Kinsey, W. B. Pomeroy, and C. E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948).
- I.e., the “pastoral” imagery mentioned in the above block quote.
- Or multiverse? Or is there no beginning and end?
- Science of Orgasm, 289–290.
- Apart from our dreams, they note, which are like another form of consciousness. See Science of Orgasm, 290.
- Science of Orgasm, 290.
- Seriously, now I wanna be paid for letting my brain be imaged while I come in an fMRI machine. There would be a lot of dots of activity, I bet. You think they allow silicone dildos in the imaging chamber?