J.D. Salinger once wrote that “a woman’s body is like a violin; it takes a terrific musician to play it right”. Pressed or caressed the right way, a woman can be transported to such ecstasy, that for a few seconds, the rest of the world ceases to exist. But get it wrong and pain, frustration, or dull nothingness can ensue. It’s a stark contrast to a man’s experience; so long as they can get an erection, a few minutes of vigorous stimulation generally results in ejaculation.

Why are orgasms so intensely pleasurable? How come women can experience multiple orgasms? And does the fabled G-spot even exist? These are some of the most enduring mysteries of medicine. “We are able to go to the moon, but we do not understand enough about our own bodies,” says Emmanuele Jannini at the University of Rome Tor Vergata – one of those who has spent his career trying to unravel it. Recent years have seen a flurry of studies by these real-life Masters of Sex, and they are finally getting some answers.

It turns out that despite their varied experiences, both men and women show roughly the same neural activity during orgasm. “The similarities between men and women at orgasm are far greater than the differences,” says Barry Komisaruk at the University in New Jersey. “What we see is an overall activation of the brain; basically it’s like all systems go.”

This may explain why orgasms are so all-consuming – if the whole forest is blazing, it’s difficult to discriminate between the different campfires that were there at the start. “At orgasm, if everything gets activated simultaneously, this can obliterate the fine discrimination between activities,” Komisaruk adds. It is maybe why you can’t think about anything else.

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