Physiological Reactions

Rats have similar physiological reactions to humans when it comes to sex, and perhaps also to orgasm. In fact, a good deal of what we know about what happens; in our brains during orgasm comes from the laboratory rat. While much of what happens in the brain during human orgasm remains a mystery; decades of research by scientists has helped unravel some of the secrets.
One of the main reasons why some aspects of research have advanced so much so far is the use of animals in research. In our lab, lead by James Pfaus at the Centro De Investigaciones Cerebrales and Concordia University; animals are helping us understand what orgasms are all about.
By conducting this research we hope to better understand human sexual interactions and the reason we might be attracted to certain people, scents and places. How do we get aroused? And how can this happen without us noticing it? Do the sounds we make during sex mean anything?

Studying orgasms in animals

The biggest difficulty in studying orgasms in animals is the subjective nature of the experience. Clearly, we can’t ask animals if they had an orgasm after a certain amount or type of sexual stimulation. When it comes to orgasms, it’s simple: you know it when you have one.

But how might we scientifically define an orgasm? Most definitions refer to the physiological sensations; and emotional attributes that converge to a period of relaxation and ecstasy. More specifically, an orgasm can be defined; as the release of the “sexual tension” from the build-up of stimulation before orgasm.

It’s a frequent mistake to assume that orgasms coincide with ejaculation. The two coincide rather consistently in men (although some men do not ejaculate during orgasm). This is not typically the case with women, though some women; “ejaculate” during orgasm. To date, however, there is only one way to know if someone is having an orgasm: pelvic muscle contractions.

Genetic and environmental differences

But subjectivity matters. One person’s best orgasm might be just average to another person. Also, the stimulation required to induce an orgasm can vary hugely across people. This makes controlled experiments difficult to conduct in humans. Genetic and environmental differences likely cause a lot of variation in perceiving and reporting sexual stimulation, and the tipping point at which this “sexual tension” is released.
Standardized questionnaires aiming to assess the intensity and frequency of orgasm carry the same issues that plague all self-reporting studies, such as lying or the lack of proper understanding of your own subjective states. Currently, with only one orgasm marker, no imaging technique to reliably uncover the biochemical mechanisms and the ever-changing territory of the subjective experiences on the orgasm research in humans, we neuro-scientists hit a roadblock.