Mary Roach: 10 things you didn't know about orgasm | TED | Summary and Q&A

May 20, 2009
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Mary Roach: 10 things you didn't know about orgasm | TED


This talk explores the various aspects of orgasms, including unusual triggers, reflexes, and their potential impact on fertility.

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Key Insights

  • ๐Ÿค” According to an ultrasound study, in-utero masturbation has been observed in fetuses, highlighting the complexity of the nervous system and its role in orgasm.
  • ๐Ÿ’ก Orgasms can be triggered by a range of sensations beyond genital stimulation, such as stroke on the eyebrow or brushing teeth, showcasing the diversity of factors that can induce sexual pleasure.
  • ๐Ÿงช The orgasm reflex can even be triggered in a dead body, as demonstrated by the Lazarus reflex, prompting discussion around the potential for postmortem orgasms.
  • โ™€๏ธ Women's orgasms were believed to facilitate conception due to the "upsuck" theory in the early 1900s, but subsequent research from Masters and Johnson debunked this notion.
  • ๐Ÿ’‘ Results from research in Israel suggest that sexual intercourse can alleviate intractable hiccups, providing an unconventional hiccup treatment option.
  • ๐Ÿท Danish pig husbandry practices demonstrate the positive impact of sexual stimulation on pig fertility, with boar courtship techniques enhancing artificial insemination success rates.
  • ๐Ÿ”ฌ Scientists, such as Masters and Johnson, have used artificial coition machines to study the human sexual response cycle, highlighting the depth of research in this field.
  • ๐Ÿ•ฐ๏ธ Alfred Kinsey's research includes measurements of the distance ejaculated semen can travel, with one anonymous record-holder reaching just under eight feet, showcasing the variability in ejaculate force.


Alright. I'm going to show you a couple of images from a very diverting paper in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. I'm going to go way out on a limb and say that it is the most diverting paper ever published in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. The title is "Observations of In-Utero Masturbation." (Laughter) Okay. Now on the left you can ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Can orgasms be triggered in brain-dead individuals?

According to a brain death expert, if the sacral nerve of a brain-dead person is being oxygenated, it is conceivably possible to trigger an orgasm. However, the experience would not be enjoyable for the person involved.

Q: Why did pigs become a subject of orgasm research?

Pigs were studied to determine if sexual stimulation during artificial insemination could increase the farrowing rate. The Danish National Committee for Pig Production found that sexually stimulating a sow during insemination led to a 6% increase in piglet production.

Q: What was the purpose of Masters and Johnson's artificial coition machine?

Masters and Johnson created an artificial coition machine to study the entire human sexual response cycle. The machine consisted of a clear acrylic phallus with a camera and light source attached to a motor, allowing women to have sex with it for research purposes.

Q: What did Alfred Kinsey discover about the distance semen can travel?

Kinsey conducted experiments to measure the distance semen traveled upon ejaculation. He found that for most men, semen simply slopped out, but the record holder landed just under eight feet.


This video explores various fascinating and amusing facts and research about human sexuality, orgasms, and related topics. It covers everything from observations of in-utero masturbation in ultrasounds, to the neurological triggers of orgasms, to strange cases of unique orgasmic experiences and their underlying causes, to historical theories and studies on female orgasm and fertility, and even unusual experiments involving animals and artificial coition machines.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the most diverting paper ever published in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine?

The most diverting paper ever published in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine is titled "Observations of In-Utero Masturbation."

Q: What triggers the orgasm reflex?

The orgasm reflex can be triggered by a broad range of inputs, including genital stimulation, sensory activities like eyebrow stroking or teeth brushing, and sensitivity in specific areas due to spinal cord injuries.

Q: Can people think themselves to orgasm?

Yes, there are individuals who can think themselves to orgasm, as demonstrated by a woman in a study at Rutgers University. This ability is known as thought-induced orgasm.

Q: Can orgasms be triggered in dead individuals?

It is theoretically possible to trigger an orgasm in a dead person if the sacral nerve, responsible for orgasms, is being oxygenated. However, it would not be as enjoyable for the deceased individual.

Q: Are there researchers studying orgasms in dead individuals?

Yes, there is a researcher at the University of Alabama who explores orgasm research. While the idea of triggering orgasms in dead people is intriguing, ethical considerations and human subjects review board approvals pose significant obstacles.

Q: Was there a belief that the contractions during female orgasm helped conception?

In the early 1900s, gynecologists believed in the "upsuck" theory, which suggested that contractions during female orgasm helped facilitate conception by sucking semen up through the cervix. This theory was prevalent until Masters and Johnson challenged it in the 1950s.

Q: How did Masters and Johnson study the upsuck theory?

Masters and Johnson conducted an experiment in which they outfitted women with cervical caps containing artificial semen with radio-opaque substances. The women masturbated while being observed through an X-ray device, and the study failed to provide evidence supporting the upsuck theory.

Q: Can men's frequent masturbation enhance sperm quality?

British sexologist Roy Levin has suggested that frequent and enthusiastic male masturbation may help maintain fresh and healthy sperm by regularly producing new sperm cells.

Q: Are there examples of upsuck in the animal kingdom?

Yes, upsuck has been observed in animals like pigs. In Denmark, research with sows showed that sexual stimulation during artificial insemination led to increased farrowing rates. The Danish National Committee for Pig Production developed a stimulation plan utilizing five points of stimulation.

Q: How did researchers stimulate sows for increased farrowing rates?

Researchers used a variety of techniques to sexually stimulate sows, including using their hands to mimic the snout of a boar and utilizing sow vibrators that hang on sperm feeder tubes to provide additional stimulation.


This video takes a humorous and informative approach to exploring various aspects of human sexuality and orgasm. It highlights unusual cases, scientific research, historical beliefs, and even experiments involving animals. From observations of in-utero masturbation to the triggers of orgasm and the upsuck theory of female fertility, the video sheds light on the fascinating and sometimes surprising aspects of human sexual experiences.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Orgasms can be triggered by a wide range of stimuli, from genital stimulation to brushing teeth, and even thinking.

  • Reflexes within the autonomic nervous system can cause orgasms in unexpected areas, such as the knee or mouth.

  • There are various theories surrounding the purpose and impact of orgasms on fertility, including the "upsuck" theory and the potential benefits of frequent masturbation for sperm quality.

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