Dear Science,

I think my girlfriend is faking her orgasms. Is there any way, scientifically, to figure out if an orgasm is real or not?

Empirically Aroused

Sweaty feet are a good place to start. Having an orgasm, at least to your autonomic nervous system, is akin to being chased by a lion or getting into a drunken bar fight. For men and women, the medical school mnemonic (you'd be horrified to find out how most medical students pass their tests) for sex is "point and shoot," because it's the parasympathetic nervous system—the feed-and-breed regulator—that handles arousal, getting all hot and bothered, erect and wet. Only at the moment of orgasm does the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight, adrenaline-rush regulator—take over and end the show. If you want an objective measure of an orgasm that doesn't require specialized equipment, graduate students to operate it, and a multiple-Tesla magnet, Science suggests you look for sympathetic nervous system signs: a jump in heart rate, a sudden dilation of the pupils, or sweaty palms and feet.

You aren't the only one wondering. Drug designers, fresh from the victorious conquest of flaccid erections in men, are ready for new territory. Upon discovering women 30 or so years ago—hello, ladies—scientists have been busily testing orgasm-detecting machines in inherently, awkwardly hilarious experiments. Let's consider the latest idea: clitoral MRI. (A Seattle invention! Go UW!) First the volunteers were placed in an environment that really set the mood—a superchilled tube that made regular clanking noises. Next, the stimulation (take it away, journal article) "consisted of a 15-minute segment of neutral documentary video, followed by a 15-minute segment of sexually explicit stimulus material (AVSS), which was then followed by a second 15-minute segment of neutral video." In essence: Nova, porn, Novaa typical Friday evening for most scientists. The MRI looked for the female erection. You know, swelling of the clitoral tissue around the vagina. But most of the objective scientific tests are about as accurate as sweaty feet.

Have you thought about asking? Your partner might otherwise wonder why you keep reaching for her feet or shining lights in her eyes at her moment of (provisional) ecstasy. Questionnaires are the most frequently used scientific test used to determine if women are coming to orgasm, still the gold standard for sexuality research. But filling out bubble sheets might prove awkward in the bedroom. Just hold your girlfriend's palms, look deeply in her eyes, and you'll have all the data you need.

Rousingly Yours,


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