"Lie back and think of England" was once the customary advice given by mothers to their daughters on their wedding night, and there may well be some hidden wisdom in that old adage, as it turns out that some people really can bring themselves to orgasm using just the power of thought. And while England might not be the optimal mental material for doing so, there’s a whole load of science you need to be aware of if you want to achieve a hands-free climax.
Think Yourself Off
Back in the early 1990s, researchers from Rutgers University recruited 10 women who claimed to be able to experience orgasms just by thinking, and asked them to pleasure themselves with their minds while having their heart rate, blood pressure, pupil diameter, and pain threshold measured.
When the same women then brought themselves to orgasm the old-fashioned way – by physically stimulating their genitals – the researchers noted that the increases in these physiological measures were virtually the same as when they had experienced thought-induced orgasms. Amongst other things, this proved that they weren’t faking it, and really could generate genuine orgasms using only the power of their minds – but it brought the researchers no closer to discovering how they did it.
Study co-author Barry Komisaruk told IFLScience that when he asked the participants to describe the mental imagery they used to bring themselves to climax, the responses were surprisingly varied. “Some women said they had erotic thoughts, while others said they were thinking of their lovers whispering sweet nothings in their ear,” he explained. Others, meanwhile, focused their minds on less sexual images: “One woman said that she had an image of walking along the shore of the ocean on a warm summer afternoon; and one of the women, who did yoga, said she imagined the chakras moving up and down her spine.”
What’s Going On In The Brain?
Orgasmic control is all about brain activity, and recent research has found that parts of the frontal cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum all become activated during orgasm, and appear to be involved in generating sexual arousal and coordinating orgasm-specific muscle responses.
At the same time, the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala are deactivated, leading to behavioral disinhibition and a reduction in fear, thereby creating the right emotional state for orgasm to occur.
Komisaruk and his team are currently in the midst of scanning the brains of people undergoing thought-induced orgasms, and while the results can’t yet be fully disclosed, he does confirm that “many of the same brain regions are activated during orgasms by thought compared to orgasms during physical self-stimulation.”
Separate research has found that the same parts of the brain light up when people think about touching their genitals as when they actually touch themselves, although imagining the act also leads to greater activity in the prefrontal cortex, which may help to maintain an awareness that no actual physical stimulation is occurring, potentially limiting the extent of the arousal.
Learning to control specific brain regions is not easy, but a technique called biofeedback is already being used to help people manipulate their brain activity in order to overcome various forms of sexual dysfunction, and could potentially lead to greater orgasm control.
This involves having one’s brain activity monitored with electrodes, which then feed into a computer screen displaying a visual representation of this neural activity. When a certain desirable change occurs in the brain, the user is able to see this manifested as movement on the screen and can then learn to generate this type of neural activity at will by repeating whatever they happened to be doing with their mind when the change originally occurred.
Komisaruk says that people who are able to mentally control their orgasms probably learned to do so using “their own kind of internal biofeedback system”, whereby they “are very aware of their feelings” and as such are able to recognize and recreate subtle changes in their mental state.
Attaining such hyperawareness of one’s internal processes is not easy, but several studies have revealed how practices like meditation help to increase the synchronicity between the genitals and mental arousal, by training the mind to become more perceptive of what’s going on in the body.
In fact, meditation is often used to help people overcome sexual dysfunction, and could represent a path towards greater orgasmic control.
What’s Going On In The Body?
Beverly Whipple, who co-authored the study on women who could think themselves to orgasm, told IFLScience that in terms of physiology, “there was really no difference between the orgasm from imagery alone and the orgasm from self-stimulation.”
In both cases, the sympathetic nervous system – which prepares the body for action by accelerating heart rate, among other things – became activated.
The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which means it is mostly automatic and can’t be voluntary controlled, although there are certain techniques for increasing one’s ability to consciously influence its activity and boost the chances of experiencing an orgasm.
In one study, a group of women were asked to hyperventilate, which leads to an increase in muscle tension, heart rate, and several other processes controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. While this was going on, researchers measured their vaginal arousal using something called a photoplethysmograph, and found that this too increased as the sympathetic nervous system became activated.
Studies have also revealed how meditation leads to an increased capacity to voluntarily control the sympathetic nervous system, so practicing this ancient Eastern technique could well be your best bet if you want to train both the body and the brain to enter an orgasmic state at your command.
Ultimately, however, it seems that some people are just more naturally tuned to their genitals, and while Whipple says that it is theoretically possible to learn to give yourself an orgasm using only your mind, she concedes that “I can’t say how easy it is or how it is done”. It’s worth noting, though, that none of the women in her study claimed to have achieved an orgasm by thinking of England.