Why Some Women Can't Have Orgasms

Question: Why are some women unable to climax?

Barry Komisaruk: We don't really know why some women can't experience orgasms. I started out by some years ago trying to find women who don't experience orgasms to study them in looking at their brain activity during genital self-stimulation and we identified one women and she -- but she before she came to our lab she said she got a new boyfriend and now she's had her first orgasm. So that did it for that experiment. We're still looking and it is a very interesting question. We don't really know. Certainly there are situations in which with peripheral nerve damage or diabetes, these can impede the neural transmission, the sensory nerves.

It’s much rarer in the case of men. McKenzie reported that only a few, two or three, of the men they interviewed out of many hundreds could have orgasms by thought alone, but we have found a substantial number of women who can have orgasms just by thinking. We’ve studied them and are continuing to study them and it’s really very interesting. We measured their heart rate and blood pressure and pain thresholds, which pain thresholds go up during orgasm. In other words, we found that women become much less sensitive to pain during orgasm and also their pupils dilate. All those measures, the heart rate, blood pressure, pain thresholds, and pupil dilations, they are all about doubled during orgasm generated by genital self-stimulation.

What we found is that women – we had ten women in the laboratory who said they could have orgasms just by thought and we measured their physiological responses when they applied genital self-stimulation, actual physical stimulation, and then we compared it with when they said they had orgasms by though alone. The physiological responses were essentially the same. They were indistinguishable. In other words, those women were really having orgasms just by thinking. They had different ideas – we asked them what their thought process was to elicit the orgasm and some said they had erotic imagery, but others said they had pastoral imagery, like walking along the shore on a warm summer day. Other women have a much more abstract image such as imagining the energy moving up and down their body and producing the orgasm. So, there are big individual differences.

Now we’re looking at their brain activity in women who have orgasms by thought alone and we are seeing very great similarities between when they have orgasms by just thinking and orgasms when they do genital self-stimulation.

Question: Is there something psychological going on?

Barry Komisaruk: We’re starting to study men and it’s a very good question, but we don’t really know what the difference is. It seems to be much rarer in men than in women. One of the things we are finding, very new findings, is that when women think of different parts of their body, the thinking about those parts of the body activates the sensory cortex. There’s a map of the body on the sensory cortex. In other words, the fingers are in one place and the toes are represented in another place, the face is represented in another place, the genitals in another place. It’s all systematically laid out, very much like the body plan is laid out on the sensory cortex.

What we’re finding is that when women think about their finger being stimulated, or they think about their toe being stimulated, or they think about their clitoris being stimulated, or their nipple, that the corresponding part of the body, the representation of it in the sensory cortex, of those body parts is actually activated just as if they are really being stimulated physically. I think one of the interesting questions is whether, since women can think their genital systems into actual activity in the brain, can men do the same thing? If they can’t then that might be a way of understanding why women can have orgasms by thought alone. Are the activating their genital sensory representation, which then spreads to other parts of the brain? And can men not do that? We don’t really know. But we have the tools to investigate that.

Recorded on October 29, 2009

It’s a mystery that Rutgers psychology professor Barry Komisaruk is trying to solve. Men seem to be immune from the problem.

Moon landing astronauts reveal they possibly infected Earth with space germs

Two Apollo 11 astronauts question NASA's planetary safety procedures.

Credit: Bettmann, Getty Images.
Surprising Science
  • Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins revealed that there were deficiencies in NASA's safety procedures following the Apollo 11 mission.
  • Moon landing astronauts were quarantined for 21 days.
  • Earth could be contaminated with lunar bacteria.
Keep reading Show less

NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
  • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
  • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Keep reading Show less

Where the evidence of fake news is really hiding

When it comes to sniffing out whether a source is credible or not, even journalists can sometimes take the wrong approach.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less