Monday, March 02, 2009

Your Cheatin' Mind Will Tell on You

It's been a little over 100 years since Sigmund Freud claimed in “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” that women who have orgasms by means other than direct penile penetration of the vagina become prone to neurosis and hysteria.

Back near the turn of the century, women responded to Freud’s warning by beginning a multi-generational, transcontinental tsunami of faked vaginal orgasms. Or so the lore tells us. But who cares anymore? Any supposed physiological differences between vaginal and clitoral orgasms were debunked in the 60’s by Masters & Johnson.

No one fakes it anymore. Right? Not. Sexual surveys conducted since 2000 place the incidence of fakery at between 51% and 73% for women (and slightly higher for Democrats than Republicans). At last, however, technology has caught up with the liars. Indeed, recent advances may have made faking orgasms both nearly impossible and completely irrelevant.

Item: As of September 2005, faking orgasms became much harder to get away with for people having sex in magnetic resonance imaging tubes. Neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia declared ready for prime time their lie detection technology. Using functional MRIs that display changes in oxygen levels in a subject’s cerebral cortex, the scientists are almost always able to detect when test subjects lie about the identity of cards they are dealt. Now imagine this: A sexually as-yet unsatisfied woman relaxes near her spent lover in the MRI tube. Only moments before, hoping to fool him about the quality of his performance, she sang loudly, in soprano registers, of her pleasure. Now imagine that her lover asks, “Wow. So it was good for you, too?” Imagine that she answers, “Wonderful!” rather than, “Actually, no.” Were her lover to chance a look at the MRI screen, he would notice tell-tale elevated oxygen levels in the picture of her anterior cingulated gyrus and left prefrontal cortex. The gig, as they say, would be up.

Item: Another recent lie catching breakthrough is a P300-detecting electroencephalograph (or EEG) developed at the Brain Fingerprinting Lab in Seattle, Washington. The presence of the brainwave called P300 on this EEG’s readout denotes that a test subject is familiar with the details she has been asked to recall. Theoretically, therefore, the absence of P300 in the brainwave of an as-yet sexually unsatisfied woman would be telling. Immediately post-coitus, her lover might ask, “So, was it good for you, too?” But even a quick glance at her EEG would tell him that she has insufficient data with which to answer the question. That would be a disappointing performance review for him -- no matter how theatrically she may have tried to hide the truth.

Item: Faking orgasms is now unnecessary, as may be sex. An Orgasmatron has been developed by an anesthesiologist at the Piedmont Institute of Pain Management in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s a box of electrodes that is implanted under the skin of either a man’s or a woman’s buttocks and that stimulates nerves in the spine. Triggered by remote control, the device lets lovers proceed from A to Z without dallying at B, L, or W.

Barbarella, watch out.

”What do women want?” Sigmund Freud famously asked shortly after he had announced that what women shouldn’t want is any stimulation of the bundle of nerve endings that actually produces orgasm. Freud readily acknowledged that he was not well-informed enough to answer the question he had posed. Now, 150 years after his birth, we still can’t answer the question in any but the most superficial ways. However, functional MRIs, the P300-Reading EEG and the Orgasmatron may be about to change all that. True, they probably won’t ever tell us what women really and truly want in their hearts of hearts. But they may give both men and women what they need: No way to lie, and no excuse to, either.

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