The neurochemistry of orgasm

Below is an excerpt from a review, published in this week’s Nature, of the book The Science of Orgasm (ISBN 9780801884900).

The review is by Prof Tim Spector whose work we’ve featured previously on Mind Hacks.

Spector published the results of a study in 2005 on the genetics of female orgasm which generated a range of critical commentaries.

His review tackles a new book which aims to cover the latest research on orgasm from a number of perspectives, but also gives a glimpse into the neuroscience of orgasm itself.

In my view, the best part of the book is the neurochemistry of the orgasm. Studies of paraplegic women clearly show the importance in female orgasm of multiple complex neural pathways such as the vagus nerve.

Functional brain imaging is an exciting area for study and (despite poor-quality pictures) the authors present the latest findings of multiple areas of brain activity during orgasm — which make any simplistic dopamine (stimulatory) – serotonin (inhibitory) mode of action unlikely.

They postulate a central role for areas such as the cingulate cortex, which is also where pain is perceived — linking pain and orgasm as related sensory processes. Orgasms apparently alter pain perception and increase pain thresholds, and this link may explain bizarre reports of women having orgasms during childbirth.

However, just when I was ready for the truth — a clear definition of orgasm and where it arises in the brain — I was told it was not a reflex, only a perception of neural activity and, even worse, probably a form of diffuse consciousness in an as yet undiscovered fifth dimension.

After such a careful, slow build-up of teasing and tantalizing data, I was definitely left frustrated — and wanting more.

Link to Spectors’ review (not freely available unfortunately).
Link to info on the book from the publishers.


  1. Posted February 22, 2007 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    “a form of diffuse consciousness in an as yet undiscovered fifth dimension.”
    Ugh does it really say that in the book? I hate when authors resort to psuedo-science dualist babble rather just admit that they don’t know. It would have been much more powerful had they just left it as an intriguing unknown open for further study.

  2. Jake Reimer
    Posted May 15, 2007 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    There’s a pretty funny review of this book at Litmus Zine:

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