Why I orgasmed in an MRI scanner
January 27th, 2012
07:10 AM ET

Why I orgasmed in an MRI scanner

Kayt Sukel is a passionate science writer and the author of "Dirty Minds: How our brains influence love, sex and relationships" - an edgy, irreverent book that examines all the ways our neurons can wreak havoc with our hearts.

Let me just get this out of the way upfront: I had an orgasm in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

That is, as background research for my book, "Dirty Minds: How our brains influence love, sex and relationships," I participated in a study at Rutgers University where scientists measured the activity in my brain as I self-stimulated to an orgasm.

I wasn’t the first woman to participate in one of these studies - and I won’t be the last.

I know, it’s controversial and perhaps even a bit shocking. And, because of that, I expected readers and commenters to make a few jokes at my expense (and perhaps even question my character) when I wrote about the experience.

But what I didn’t expect was so much outrage about sex research in general.

Time and time again, regardless of the publication discussing my fMRI orgasm, commenters wrote things like, “If only researchers were as interested in finding a cure for cancer,” and “I can’t believe my tax dollars are going to pay for such useless research.”

How can the study of human sexuality be considered useless? This is something that is prevalent in each and every one of our lives. When we’re not having sex, we’re talking about it. When we’re not talking about it, we’re thinking about it. And when we’re not thinking about it, we worry that something is wrong with us.

Sex is a primary source of human motivation and can change the way we act and the way we feel in quite dramatic ways. And this isn’t something that occurs solely in the privacy of our bedrooms: You see sex at play in advertising and marketing, in problems in the work place, in self-esteem and identity, in pleasure and reward, and also in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Human sexuality has direct influence over so many aspects of day-to-day life. Understanding such a universal phenomenon is never useless. Yet, many want to discount its importance - and its study.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Alfred Kinsey, esteemed biologist and founder of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, pioneered the study of sexual behavior with the publication of the Kinsey Reports. That work was the first of its kind: a systematic, scientific approach to understanding variation in normal sexual behavior. And, thankfully, his work has inspired countless brave scientists in the decades since to buck the status quo and study human sexuality.

Yet, while we’ve come a long way in our understanding the biology of sex, there is still plenty left to discover. We now have a good deal of data on the mechanics of sexual behavior.

But as anyone who has ever been involved in a sexual relationship knows, there’s a lot more to sex than pure mechanics - a heck of a lot more. The blossoming field of neuroscience, including neuro-imaging studies like the orgasm one I participated in as well as cellular and molecular research, is now offering us a new window of understanding into age-old questions about sex and related behaviors by focusing on all the ways our brains influence our behaviors.

During the course of my research for "Dirty Minds," I asked neuroscientific researchers about the greatest challenges involved in studying human sexuality. I expected to hear concerns about finding study participants willing to be honest about their sex lives or if what was learned in the laboratory could really be applied to real-world behaviors.

But unanimously, the scientists I talked to said their greatest challenge was finding research grants and financial support for their work. Because so many of us are peevish about the study of sex, funding agencies can be, too. But none of us should be. Human sexuality is important - and its study is something we should all get behind. Because we can’t begin to have discussions about how to best deal with problems concerning sexual behavior, sexual function and sexual intimacy until we have a better handle on what’s normal.

Time and time again, I’m asked how I managed to have an orgasm in an fMRI scanner. But that’s not the right question. The important question is why I had an orgasm in an fMRI scanner. And that’s to help further our understanding of orgasm and human sexuality. When I say I came for the science - I mean it. And it’s my hope that more people will do the same in the future.

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Filed under: Sex

soundoff (1,389 Responses)
  1. Glenc

    I can't tell my girlfriend about this article ..... I'd get dumped for a magnetic donut. 😉

    January 29, 2012 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrSnow

      Finally, science is on track to create the Orgasmo Gun!

      January 30, 2012 at 00:08 | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      That says more about you than it does your girlfriend

      January 30, 2012 at 11:04 | Report abuse |
    • Joes

      Is there a video on youtube?

      January 31, 2012 at 06:34 | Report abuse |
    • clumsygirl

      i think we should figure out first what is the female orgasm. a real female orgasm is as same as males, women also have about 10 seconds shudder of climax, and have the refractory period after every orgasm, women never can have the multiple orgasm.

      February 3, 2012 at 08:53 | Report abuse |
  2. Marty

    Where do I sign up? I have pretty much done the same thing in every other possible place known to man (and woman).

    January 29, 2012 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. A Reasoner

    These research dollars were better spent than they would be trying to colonize the moon.

    January 29, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brandon

      There's nothing wrong with spending money going to the moon. I'd like to have an orgasm there also.

      January 29, 2012 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • Aletheya

      ...And on the trip TO the moon. Ever hear of the zero-G club?

      January 30, 2012 at 19:41 | Report abuse |
  4. chemmajor

    I can't have an MRI due to surgical steel in various places. How can I be a part of this research?

    January 29, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fupped Duck

      Just BEAT IT

      January 30, 2012 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  5. Just Sayin...

    Maybe it's just me, but I don't really see what an MRI would tell you except that you have a brain! I might see some scientific benefit from an experiment with an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to see what neurons are firing where... but general pictures of slices of a brain doesn't sound like very promising scientific study.

    January 29, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PaulMD

      A Functional MRI (fMRI) such as was used here measures blood flow as well as structure, which can be used to ascertain brain activity.

      January 29, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
    • just respondin'

      fMRI will tell you where a cognitive process happens, through the BOLD response for experimental condition minus a control condition. EEG or ERP will tell you when some cognitive process occurs (with milisecond precision), but not where that process occurs (this is known as the inverse problem, of trying to reconstruct a set of dipole generators given an observed distribution of voltage potentials at the scalp).

      January 30, 2012 at 07:50 | Report abuse |
  6. maxine

    wow... all i can say. is this Cosmo I'm reading?

    January 29, 2012 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ELOB

      I bet you are a seemingly "prude" woman who is a banshee in the sack. Am I right?

      January 29, 2012 at 19:02 | Report abuse |
    • What's up with that?

      But you clicked on the article, Maxine. Please explain... Did you finish your National Enquirer?

      January 30, 2012 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
  7. cin

    Aren't you suppose to be perfectly still while getting a MRI?

    January 29, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Josh

      Thank you. One of the few intelligent comments/questions on here. I was curious about the "mechanics" of this as well. The only thing I could think of is "stimulator" of some sort that had no electronic components/metals – perhaps like an egg timer/sex toy hybrid.

      January 29, 2012 at 21:15 | Report abuse |
    • DWo

      The only thing I can figure is that since they were imaging her brain, and the, err, stimulation was occurring south of that, they should have been able to get a decent image provided her head remained steady. Having had an MRI, they basically insure that by immobilizing the imaged area, so odds are they "strapped" her head down, leaving her free to do she needed to do to get where she needed to go.

      January 30, 2012 at 09:20 | Report abuse |
    • littleirish

      she had the fMRI completely different from the standard MRI which requires no movement. The fMRI see where blood goes and what body fluid moves and what does the brian do while in some movement. I had the fMRI to see how my vertigo effect my ears (no fun!)

      January 31, 2012 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
  8. drew

    The article needs to focus more the details of the orgasm. How long did it last? What stimulus was used? Did you find the G-spot? These are important scientific questions.

    January 29, 2012 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • And that's just for starters...

      Also, "Did you go back more than twice?" "Did you fantasize?" "Scream?"

      January 30, 2012 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
  9. SilentBoy741

    All I ask is Fitness Center Rules: When you're done with the machine, wipe it down.

    January 29, 2012 at 20:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ryan

    Maybe next time they will research why I, a male, haven't had an orgasm in 12 and a half years on Paxil.

    January 29, 2012 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Howie

      I think you answered that one yourself, stop the Paxil.

      January 30, 2012 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
    • Smartblondie

      I would say the Paxil is counterproductive. However, make sure you NEVER go off of it abruptly!!!

      January 30, 2012 at 18:18 | Report abuse |
  11. Make it required

    "Hey Doc, I think I'm laying on a wet spot"

    January 29, 2012 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. mylife

    Pictures, or it didn't happen.

    January 29, 2012 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wellhellothere


      January 30, 2012 at 02:05 | Report abuse |
  13. Loren

    Because you're a freelance writer who needed the extra cash to help with rent? 100 points to Lorryndor!

    January 30, 2012 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. larry5

    Isn't there a scene in a Woody Allen move where he hides from the police in a machine that has replaced sex in the future?

    January 30, 2012 at 04:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hybridhor

      Yes, the Orgasmetron!

      January 30, 2012 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
  15. jim

    I say you put one of those in every store in america and sell tokens like at the arcade, and boom economy fixed

    January 30, 2012 at 04:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Celyia

    Clumsily written article. The author spends so much time making this a personal defense that she doesn't spend much time into delving into why studies of this nature could be very important and what it means to the average person.

    Evidence suggests that sex may help lower the risk of prostate cancer. Or it can possibly fight the effects of aging. It's suggested that sex may release chemicals that not only promote healing but relieve pain. Sex is a natural, instinctive behavior; understanding how sex affects the brain could help us not only with sex itself, but understanding how the human body works better. That understanding could lead to healthier, more fulfilling lives.

    Great subject, but dreadfully written and impotent article.

    January 30, 2012 at 06:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Puleeease

      Where did you leave your imagination?

      January 30, 2012 at 09:32 | Report abuse |
    • Terrils

      Agree entirely. I read the whole thing, realized I was at the end, and went ... "and your point?" It sounded like she was boasting. Exactly WHY in an MRI machine? I wanted to know what was being measured and what they hoped to find, instead of a diatribe about why it's OK to research sex. Then again, the headline itself suggested she used the MRI machine to give herself an orgasm ... whole thing's very sloppy.

      January 30, 2012 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • Jesse Fallis

      Nicely said. I think you should have written the article!

      January 31, 2012 at 01:17 | Report abuse |
    • Kristal

      exactly my point . sex is vital 2 the progress of humankind not doing yourself in a machine and then telling the world about it .

      January 31, 2012 at 10:38 | Report abuse |
    • Robert - Atlanta

      Did the article make you think about buying her book? If so, mission accomplished!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:03 | Report abuse |
    • SillyRabbit

      I agree, very sloppy job on part of the writer. I was interested in the results of her MRI and what (if anything) they found out. Lame argument overall, I mean I agree that Sexual Research is important but not because of this article – the writer should stop trying to defend herself and give us more facts and interesting results.

      February 14, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
  17. jim

    I suppose if you have no real talent for anything you can always take part in a sex study.

    January 30, 2012 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. ringo

    no really, that was a really stupid article.

    January 30, 2012 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Gonzodon

    Now I want to read how I orgasmed in the checkout line at Krogers.

    January 30, 2012 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply

      Were you Krogering yourself?

      February 2, 2012 at 06:30 | Report abuse |
  20. Andrew

    Video. Or it didn't happen. 🙂

    January 30, 2012 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. psuser

    Is the headline really needed? A vulgar tease now represents the news.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ib42

      Who would read headlines about hummingbirds and bears after a short while? Only SEX grabs and holds the attention. That's the reason for this writer masturbating in public and the article.

      January 30, 2012 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
  22. oreo

    Seems like good research, just like she said though, I hope my tax dollars are not paying for this. Actually the government ought to get out of all things than can be done by the private sector.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Hybridhor

    They finally invented Woody Allens 'Orgasmetron' !

    January 30, 2012 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. ib42

    Sex grabs and holds the attention much better, quicker and longer that stories about polar bears and hummingbirds.

    January 30, 2012 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. timmy

    s...kanks will always be s....kanks.

    January 30, 2012 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Bobbyb

    Ok, how many people looked up Kayt Sukel to see if she was hot? Or am I the only one?...

    January 30, 2012 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Skeptic

      She's a lonely broad.

      January 30, 2012 at 20:33 | Report abuse |
  27. speak for your self

    Maybe you need to get your mind on more important matters of life. Everyone in the world is not thinking about sex 24/7 just pervert.

    January 30, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert - Atlanta

      Right! You women should do what Rick Santorum and the republicans told you – If you are raped and get pregnant it’s a gift from god! Enjoy!

      January 31, 2012 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
  28. question

    did you wash your hand afterward ?

    January 30, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Skeptic

      She licked it clean.

      January 30, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
  29. atroy


    January 30, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. mmi16

    Without sex there is no history.

    None of us got here without sex!

    January 30, 2012 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. DFWDelia

    Orgasms are super no matter how or where they happen! I found out a long time ago that riding lawnmowers and even wooden roller coasters and things like that make me orgasm and I really can't even control it.

    January 31, 2012 at 02:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Woody

    All you prudes pretend you are offended by the article.....why did you click on the story then. Unbelievable.

    January 31, 2012 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Ray Radlein

    I really think that, just for this one article, the clickable link between the timestamp and "Reply" below should read "Report self-abuse"

    January 31, 2012 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. WWRRD

    This will drive up health care costs. Lots of sexually frustrated women going to the radiology lab a couple times a week.

    January 31, 2012 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Jim

    After seeing her photo I don't want to watch anymore.

    January 31, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply

    The percentage of sexless marriages is estimated at between 10 to 20%. Add to that the number of asexuals and sexless singles and it is easy to see why the author would receive such a backlash. People who don't enjoy sex generally don't care why they don't. Ironically, this seems to be more prevalent amongst women.

    February 2, 2012 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Thinker

    There was a science show on TV (I think it was on BBC, but I dont remember) that had this study on one ep. The fMRI show something like 37 separate areas of the brain lit up. I wish I could remember more about it now with all the people asking what the scan actually found.

    February 2, 2012 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jim

    This MRI scan will be six minutes. During this scan, it is important that you remain perfectly still. Orgasm does not go well with MRI scans. Got it?

    February 2, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Sup?

    I am sooo enjoying the banter on this blog........ way more entertaining than why the author of the article had to make herself orgasm. More scientific findings would have added more substance to the article, though.

    February 5, 2012 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. AT

    It's hard to find funding for research on diseases that kill people. In this current fiscal environment, if it ain't killing people, it ain't a priority.

    February 14, 2012 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bern

      I see your point but I would urge you to consider this in a broader sense. I have major depressive disorder. It doesn't kill me, but it does rob me of the ability to enjoy any activities. I would argue that having my body shambling around going through the motions does not really qualify as life so maybe in that sense it is a killer. Certainly some depressives have resorted to suicide and that is resulting in deaths. If this study helps determine what parts of the brain are involved in pleasurable activities like sex, maybe there will be future help for those of us with problems in that area. Life without joy might as well be death. So I find this reasearch to be worthy of funding even by your stated standard.

      October 31, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse |
  41. evensteven

    Thank you for your contribution to science. I'd like to make one also. Can you give me a hand?

    February 18, 2012 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. zo6man

    very good article....i know my mind is always on sex.....one of the few pleasures in life.....and i'm going to read about it all i can....learn as much as i can...and enjoyed it....all the time!!

    March 7, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Remarkable issues here. I'm very satisfied to peer your post. Thank you so much and I'm looking ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a mail?

    April 3, 2012 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. spiderweb

    I hope they disinfected the scanner after the masturbation session as it would be a bit smelly. Yuk!

    July 25, 2012 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 22, 2013 at 05:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Steel

    You're a sociopath. Sex is a private matter, for your husband and only for him.

    March 25, 2013 at 04:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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