10 things you didn’t know about orgasms

Did you know that quadriplegics can have knee orgasms? Or that pig farmers can buy a “sow vibrator” to increase fertility in female pigs?

We didn’t either – until we watched Mary Roach’s awesome TED talk, ‘10 things you didn’t know about orgasm.’ Mary’s talk is one of the most popular TED videos of all time, with almost 11 million views.

We’re big fans of Mary, her talk and definitely of orgasms, so for those of you who haven’t caught this video yet, here are some of Mary’s amazing findings:

1.    A fetus can masturbate in utero.

A paper in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine documented observations of a fetus performing what looked suspiciously like “masturbation movements” in utero. The paper ran with photographic evidence taken during ultrasound, so these would have been moving images.

2.    You don’t need genitals to have them.

Orgasm is a reflex of the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system that controls unconscious body functions, like digestion and heart rate. It can be triggered by an astonishingly wide variety of stimuli. Yes, genital stimulation is the most obvious, but Mary describes a woman who could be brought to orgasm by stroking her eyebrow, and other who climaxed when she brushed her teeth.

3.    You can have them when you’re dead.

Yes, you did read that right. Dead bodies can orgasm.

However, it takes a very specific type of dead body – a beating heart cadaver – to do so. This is someone who is brain-dead but their body is still functioning through the support of a respirator, keeping oxygen flowing to their organs for transplantation. Because the sacral nerve is still being oxygenated, it is possible to trigger certain physical responses in these cadavers – orgasms being one of them.

4.    They can cause bad breath.

According to 1930s author Theodoor van de Velde, a slight seminal odor can be detected on the breath of a woman within about an hour of sexual intercourse. Van de Velde wrote in his book, “Ideal Marriage,” that he could differentiate the semen of a young man and that of a more mature one simply from the smell.

5.    They can cure hiccups.

In 1999, an Israeli man could not stop hiccupping. After days of no relief, he had sex with his wife – and miraculously, the hiccups disappeared. He told his doctor, who published a report in a Canadian medical journal. The article suggested masturbation for single hiccupers.

6.    Doctors once prescribed them for fertility.

Gynecologists in the early 1900s (and even earlier) believed that the purpose of the female orgasm was to suck semen up through the cervix and increase the likelihood of pregnancy. In the 1950s, however, Masters and Johnson tested this theory and found no evidence of “upsuck.”

The other side to this theory has to do with the male orgasm. Sperm that sit in the body for a week or more start to develop abnormalities that make them less effective when it comes time to reach the female egg. This may be an evolutionary reason why men masturbate fairly regularly.

7.    Pig farmers still do.

While there has been no evidence for human “upsuck” theories, the Danish National Committee for Pig Production has provided us with some for the animal kingdom. It has been proven that sexually stimulating a female pig during artificial insemination will cause a 6% rise in the number of piglets conceived.

But understandably, some farmers are squeamish about the idea of stimulating a pig clitoris. So, as Mary puts it, shy but ambitious pig farmers can buy a sow vibrator that hangs on the sperm feeder tube to vibrate.

8.    Animals orgasm more than we think they do.

It can be difficult to identify an animal orgasm, Mary explains, because animals rarely express pain or pleasure on their faces the way we humans do. Instead, they tend to use different parts of their faces; in assessing the pigs being stimulated above, for example, a farmer could look to her ears for a response. Primates, meanwhile, use their mouths more to express pleasure.

9.    There was an instrument developed in lab studies – a camera attached to a phallus – to study what happens inside a woman’s vagina when she climaxes.

Back to Masters and Johnson. These enterprising scientists wanted to understand the complete sexual response cycle in the human body. Unfortunately for them, with women most of the response is internal. Not to be swayed, they developed an “artificial coition machine” – essentially, a penis camera on a motor. The woman would masturbate using this clear, acrylic penis, to which was attached a camera and a light source, and from that Masters and Johnson would study the body’s response to stimulation internally. This device has since been dismantled.

10. Kinsey conducted, for lack of a better term, a ‘jerk-off’ in which he lined men up next to each other and had them ejaculate in order to study how far semen can shoot.

In the 1940s there was widespread belief that the force with which a man ejaculated into a woman’s cervix was a big factor in fertility. To test this theory, Alfred Kinsey rounded up 300 men, a measuring tape and a movie camera. Though for three-quarters of the men the ejaculate went nowhere at all really, the record was just shy of eight feet.

Watch Mary’s Ted Talk below:

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