Orgasms from touch or imagination register similar brain pleasure

Photo: fMRI brain scan (wikicommons)

ARCATA, Calif., October 7, 2013 – Scientists at Rutgers University have found that whether orgasms are stimulated by imagination or physical touch, the same pleasure centers of the brain are activated, according to the New York Times

Even if the idea of an orgasm without touching seems surprising, The Times notes the findings are consistent with over 100 years of sexuality research. 


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This study has implications far beyond sex and pleasure. In fact, it confirms a premise that has long been part of hypnosis: the body can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined. 

Hypnosis has been used in clinical and medical settings for over 200 years, and by some accounts several thousand years. The most dramatic examples may be surgery or dental procedures performed without chemical anesthesia. 

While few patients elect to have surgery without anesthesia, hypnosis is fairly common before and after surgery. This has been shown to speed recovery time, reduce the need for medication, and save money.

An even more common application of hypnosis is the relief of chronic pain.


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fMRI scans, referred to in The Times article above, register changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain. Previous studies using fMRI show that the same pain centers of the brain will “light up,” or activate whether pain is imagined or actually inflicted. Similarly, the same visual areas of the brain activate from a hypnotically suggested hallucination as they do from an object actually observed.

Another popular example of this same brain response is laughter. In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria introduced Laughter Yoga in India. There are now over 6000 laughter clubs in more than 70 countries around the world. The premise, again, is that the body can’t tell the difference between real laughter and sustained, enthusiastic fake laughter. 

This is because the brain produces “happy hormones” either way. That means increased serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin get released and provide the same mood boost whether laughing at a joke or funny movie, or if you’re laughing for no reason at all.

Studies have shown laughter also reduces stress, improves circulation and strengthens the immune system. Laughter also increases the threshold for tolerating pain

Beyond all the science of sex, pain and laughter, Billy Joel told us what we need to know in 1980 when he sang “Sometimes a fantasy is all you need.”

The brain is an amazing thing. Its connection to the body is deeper and stronger than most of us recognize from moment to moment. This lack of recognition may have something to do with why articles such as the one from The Times, and neuroscience reporting in general, often neglect to mention hypnosis.

This is the first installment of the Manifest Positivity column here in the Communities section. Upcoming articles will show even more ways that hypnosis is part of every day life, plus offer simple and practical ways that you can use your mind to create happiness and good health.

Dave Berman, C.Ht. is a clinical and medical hypnotherapist in private practice. He is also a Laughter Yoga enthusiast and certified class leader.


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Dave Berman, C.Ht.

Dave Berman, C.Ht. is a Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist, Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Life Coach. His private practice, Manifest Positivity, is based in Arcata, CA where he sees clients in person and via Skype.

Dave is also a popular public speaker, workshop presenter and prolific writer of articles about the mind/body connection. His focus is offering practical tips about the relationship between thoughts, feelings, physical wellness and peak performance. 

Contact Dave Berman, C.Ht.

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