In December pst welcomed Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a neuroscientist who studies brain function at the Rutgers University Orgasm Laboratory where they study the correspondences between brains and sexual stimulation. Subjects volunteer to crawl into an MRI chamber and bring themselves to climax, or sometimes bring a partner who strokes them into climax while scientists monitor which parts of their brain lights up.
But Pooja came not to speak about her day job—instead she spoke about OM, orgasmic meditation, a form of meditation she practices where a partner stimulates the top left quadrant of your clitoris (this area has the most nerve endings) for fifteen minutes. During this time both stimulator and stimulated hyper-vigilantly maintains awareness of every aspect of their bodies and their minds. The point is not to achieve orgasm though sometimes, before you get good at OM, orgasm is a side result.
Eager questions peppered with giggles followed Pooja’s talk. People want to know:
+ If there are differences in brain activity during male and female orgasms (not so much.)
+If there’s a difference in the male and female brains (yes—men have more grey matter while women have larger language centers--though I’m not sure what, if anything this means.)
+What role fantasy plays in arousal (plenty) and climax (not so much—climax is an involuntary reaction, albeit a pleasurable one, to physical stimulus.)
+ Are there differences in brain activity between self-stimulation, with or without a dildo (Pooja says dildos are the equivalent of jack hammers) and partnered interactions (yes—because with partners surrender happens, which activates, or actually deactivates parts of the brain.)
Try as I might, my brain has difficulty keeping track of the brains complex landscape: two hemispheres divided into multiple regions—each with its own distinct characteristic. Some activities and purposes cross between regions or express in multiple areas at once. The Limbic system, which sexual pleasure lights particularly brightly houses aspects of memory and emotion. Simultaneously, as arousal builds, activity in the critical, analytical frontal-cortex dims. I suppose this is evidence of surrender, or it’s possible brain waves emanating from one region affects the weather in another.
It is believed meditation leads to clarity and an enhanced capacity for concentration, the brain firing full tilt. I wonder though what mixing these two different brain states, the all “on” of meditation with the on/off of sexual stimulation leads to besides an endorphin colored afterglow and a wish for the greater good? It was hard for Pooja to say.
Choosing a menu for the event I tried to steer clear of dirty jokes though temptation got the best me in stuffed Medjool dates that lay prone next to skewer-stiffened sauce-drenched satays. The centerpiece of the meal was Mapo Tofu, a dish described as numbing, tender, hot, and spicy—the Sichuan peppercorns that are central to the dish creates an anesthetizing tingle that allows one to perceive the floral undertones of the searing chilies that flavor the tofu. It was served with brown rice drizzled with tahini and flax seed—a staple at meditation retreats, and a salad of lively biting mustard greens modulated with succulent fleshy persimmon.
In my weekly writing class the teacher gives a prompt, then sets a timer for five minutes. This weeks: “You turn a key, open a door, cross a threshold into a kitchen—what do you smell cooking? How does this make you feel?” Charged with taping into stream-of-consciousness my hand stalls; I am thinking: I walk through the door of an empty house, live alone; I am the cook, if I was out nothing’s cooking. Glaring facts short-circuit an imagined lick of scent. Broth? Bread? Burnt sugar? The sense memory is supposed to generate a story. The scent, generating “remembrances of things passed” percolates desire.
It is not the thought of an old Aunt’s tea-soaked cookie that fires up my brain. I imagine opening my door to find a cook in my kitchen wiping buttered hands onto a worn linen cloth before reaching out to greet me. I thrill at the thought of relinquishing culinary control. Is it the food or are the food and the cook rolled to one? Is it scent that lights up the same parts of my brain as clitoral stimulation?
Orgasm is an involuntary reaction caused by physical stimulation. Desire makes it better, or more intense but at some point the conscious mind (though not the brain waves) stills. Is hunger similar; it too is an involuntary reaction stimulated and intensified by the smell of something good to eat. The smell drives the story but at some point the story no longer matters. Instinct takes over until you’ve had your fill.
After class I prepare a simple supper—yesterday’s soup made from the bones of last weeks’ roast, thickened with 2 cups of frozen beans from Christmas Eve’s cassoulet. A sliced avocado with lime and olive oil offers bright accompaniment.
Having cooked, having eaten, having sponged away the crumbs I turn off lights and head upstairs. Rising scents trapped in the stairwell, living ghosts of supper greet me as I climb towards the comfort of my bed.
By morning these lingering scents will have dissipated but in the moment they spark not desire, for I am on the other side of hunger, but a sense of well-being. Is this akin to post-coital bliss, or the oneness generated by ohm? No longer tied to visceral instinct the after-scent becomes sensual evidence lighting or maybe dimming region of my brain. In the moment the scents transform, becoming memories almost impossible to recall until new scents call them forward as a point of comparison. One scent, tying me to others.