http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-lov...urce=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link Are You Orgasming Without Even Knowing It? I was, until I masturbated for science. COURTESY By August McLaughlin 658 Masturbating in a small, cramped space in front of a team of scientists in a college lab probably doesn't rank high on many women's list of fantasies, but that's what I was about to do. I was participating in a study that used a functional MRI scan to compare how various brain regions activated during arousal and orgasm. Right after I'd signed up, I'd imagined myself propped up on all fours atop a hospital bed, hooked up to electrodes, going at it freely for science. But a few days before the procedure, I realized that my fantasies had missed a critical component — the huge, clanking MRI machine — and feared I might have a little trouble getting off. The tube reminiscent of a tanning bed/coffin triggered claustrophobic panic in many people, the scientists told me, and any movement of my head could sabotage the study. So shortly after I arrived to the Rutgers University lab in New Jersey, I was custom-fitted with a mask similar to Hannibal Lector's getup in Silence of the Lambs to keep my head motionless and also keep my mouth closed. (Could I even come without my mouth gaping open? I had no idea.) Getting ready. COURTESY As they put final touches on my head contraption, lead researchers Nan Wise, PhD, a longtime sex therapist, and Barry Komisaruk, PhD, a distinguished professor and renowned orgasm expert, explained what I'd do. Lying still and flat on my back in the scanner, I would be led through a series of text prompts, like, "imagine stimulating your nipple," then, "stimulate your nipple," using my fingers as Wise described. The last set would cue me to imagine self-stimulating then actually stimulating my clitoris to orgasm. "But I'm a vaginal/belly-down/sex-toy girl!" I thought. "I may have difficulty with that," I said aloud. The scientists assured me that the study didn't depend upon whether I reached orgasm or not, then benevolently offered me two chances to orgasm: using my fingers to stimulate my clitoris for one round, and the dildo I'd brought for internal stimulation for the second. How generous! I was determined to lose my sex-in-a-brain-scanner virginity. I entered a room filled with computers, dolled up in a bathrobe, cozy socks, and my adorable custom facemask. Technicians seated at the computers behind a window would be capturing and analyzing countless images of my brain activity throughout the experiment, and while they wouldn't be able to see my body as I went about my business (I'd be in the MRI machine), they would hear any sounds I would make. I made a mental note to keep it down in there. Seated on the sliding bed extending from the MRI machine, Wise gave me earplugs to offset the gunshot-like mechanical sounds of the machine in a half-hearted attempt to make this experience a little sexier. (Didn't work, but the effort was appreciated.) If at any time, I should feel uncomfortable, she assured, I could hit the emergency button near my left hand and out of the machine I would slide. "Are you ready?" Wise asked. Cue music, I thought. "Let's do this." Sexy. COURTESY The first thing I realized is that arousal is (almost) all in our minds. When Komisaruk's team first began the MRI research, he was surprised to learn that "thinking of stimulation of the clitoris, nipple, and [the] vagina activated the same classical sensory sites in the brain that were formerly thought to be activated only by physical stimulation." After a few minutes in the machine, I could attest to this. Imagining my lover suckling my nipple (OK, I may have strayed from the instructions) felt even more erotic than touching it myself. But the most surprising part came when I actually started masturbating. When a patient asked sexual science pioneer Virginia Johnson how to know if she'd experienced an orgasm, Johnson famously replied, "Trust me. You'd know." My and other women's MRI experiences, said Komisaruk, illustrated otherwise. Fingering my clitoris, I felt a buildup of excitement then relief I interpreted as surrender. I definitely hadn't orgasmed — or had I? While describing my experience later to the scientists, including the familiar post-orgasm swell of my labia and clitoris, it struck me: I'd come without even realizing it. Komisaruk wasn't surprised by my epiphany; numerous other female participants in the study reported having no orgasm, when the scan revealed otherwise. I'm probably not the only woman accustomed to combination orgasms — vaginal and clitoral, the kind you get using the Rabbit, or during penetrative sex — who'd written "small" orgasms off as foreplay or disappointment for years. Now that I know I can come from clitoral stimulation alone, I do so more readily and with much greater pleasure. This matches up with Komisaruk's finding that our beliefs about our sexuality tend to be self-fulfilling. In a world ridden with myths about our bodies and sexual capacity, this finding is particularly impactful for women. I'd often read that most women are incapable of orgasm through intercourse alone, and up to 30 percent aren't orgasmic at all. These statistics are misconstrued, over-quoted, and derived from one study, Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, chairperson of North America's World Sexual Health Day committee, told me. Maybe constantly hearing that women rarely orgasm gets inside our heads, convincing us we can't. Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine tells a more useful story, congruent with Komisaruk's findings. The study, which analyzed over 600 women aged 40 to 65 for eight years, showed that women's perception of sex plays a bigger role than age or even menopause. Participants who deemed sex important were three times as likely to remain sexually active in middle and later life than women without such values, regardless of physical ability. I hadn't expected the experiment to challenge my own beliefs about my sexuality, but I'm grateful it did. By my study session's end, I'd experienced two orgasms and about 16 micro-fantasies involving my clitoris, nipples, and, in one case — thanks to a control prompt paired with my overly fervent imagination — a gynecological tool, which may make my next pap smear appointment more interesting. By far the most gratifying takeaway was knowing that I'd contributed in some small way to the virtually untapped understanding of female sexual science. If I can discover at 35 that I'm not a "vaginal-belly-down-sex-toy" girl after all, but a woman who, like so many others, simply had more to learn, imagine what remains to be discovered for the rest of us.