NEW ORLEANS - There's no faking orgasm in the female brain, a team of Dutch researchers has discovered.
The scientists from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands scanned the brains of eight female volunteers who were faking an orgasm, receiving clitoral stimulation from a partner or experiencing orgasm.
During orgasm, a so-called pleasure center and an area of the brain stem are activated. Those parts of the brain show no activity when a woman is faking orgasm.
The research could be important in treating sexual dysfunction in women, said Janniko R. Georgiadis, one of the lead researchers. The team presented the results of its study Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
The picture of the female brain during orgasm looks much like the male brain during ejaculation, said Gert Holstege, the leader of the Dutch research group. The researchers presented a study last year of the male brain during ejaculation, but the workings of the female brain during sex have been a mystery and something of a taboo until now, he said.
"Now we see for the first time what really is happening and how much is happening in the brain and where to look further," Holstege said.
When a woman has an orgasm, an area in the middle of the brain, called the meso-diencephalic junction, is activated. That area is also active in men during orgasm. Cells in the region are known to produce brain chemicals, such as dopamine, that may produce the pleasurable feelings associated with orgasm, Georgiadis said.
The researchers did find some differences between men's and women's brains during orgasm. In women, but not in men, a region of the brain stem called the periaqueductal gray activates during orgasm. Research in female cats, rats and hamsters also showed that the same region is involved in sexual behavior. That part of the brain is called the "fighting machine of the brain stem" and helps regulate the fight or flight response and other essential body functions, Georgiadis said. The researchers do not know how this region of the brain influences sexual behavior in women.
A second presentation by the same group showed that the amygdala, a fear center, becomes less active in men's brains during sex. The region also is involved in vigilance, so animals and people may need to shut down that part of the brain to avoid getting distracted during sex, Georgiadis said. So far, the researchers have not seen deactivation of the amygdala in female brains during sex, he said.
The researchers plan to do additional studies to learn more about the details of brain activity during sex. Such studies could be important in understanding sexual dysfunction.
Reporter Tina Hesman