New research provides preliminary evidence that an intimacy practice called orgasmic meditation results in altered patterns of functional connectivity in the brain. The findings have been published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Orgasmic meditation (OM) is a paired practice between two individuals that focuses on clitoral stimulation to facilitate a meditative experience. Lead researcher Andrew B. Newberg, a professor at Thomas Jefferson University and research director at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, told PsyPost there were two primary reasons he was interested in studying orgasmic meditation.
“One is that I have been studying the neurophysiology of religious and spiritual practices/experiences for almost 30 years,” he explained. “These studies have included more traditional practices such as meditation and prayer to more unique practices such as speaking in tongues and now, orgasmic meditation. Thus, it is part of my ongoing research into this whole field of study – sometimes referred to as neurotheology.”
“The second main reason is that my original work looked at the relationship between religious rituals and how they evolved in human beings. Human rituals are fundamental to religious and spiritual traditions and include various ceremonies, holidays, and practices that are repetitive and help connect people to each other and to the specific stories and teachings of the tradition.”
“Our hypothesis has been that human rituals evolved from animal rituals and we have tried to track areas of the brain involved in such rituals,” Newburg said. “But animal rituals are primarily mating rituals. Thus, there should be a strong link between mating or sexual experience and spiritual experience. My hope was that this study of OM would be an important link to support this idea.”
For the study, the researchers recruited 20 healthy women who had been regularly performing the practice. The women then invited a male partner to participate in the study along with them. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine functional connectivity after 15 minutes of OM practice and after a control condition in which the participants were in the same room and positioned the same way.
Compared to the control condition, Newburg and his colleagues observed that the OM practice was associated with increased functional connectivity between several brain regions. “Such findings in the period immediately following a practice imply some degree of a lasting effect of the practice on brain function even when the person is no longer performing the practice,” the researchers noted.
For both men and women, the OM practice was associated with altered connectivity involving the left superior temporal lobe, the frontal lobe, anterior cingulate, and insula. For women, the practice was also associated with altered connectivity involving the cerebellum, thalamus, inferior frontal lobe posterior parietal lobe, angular gyrus, amygdala and middle temporal gyrus, and prefrontal cortex.
“In general, the results support the close connection between the sexual and spiritual,” Newburg said. “Importantly, the OM practice is not about sexual gratification, but rather, about helping to bring about a strong spiritual experience. In that sense it might be regarded as similar to other spiritual practices that focus on body processes such as breathing or walking. To that end, the brain changes associated with OM are more closely related to other meditation practices, although there are some areas associated with sexual stimulation as well. Thus, it is a true hybrid practice.”
But the OM practice could not physically be performed as participants underwent fMRI scans, a limitation acknowledged by the researchers. Female participants were scanned immediately after OM practice or the control condition, while their male counterparts were scanned approximately 45 minutes later.
“There is still a lot left to be understood about the neurophysiology of the OM practice as well as the relationship between sexuality and spirituality,” Newburg explained. “An important caveat to the current study is that the fMRI data was obtained after the OM practice. We have additional data that will actually show what is happening during the practice itself and we hope to show that the data from both analyses further contribute to understanding how OM affects the brain and body.”
“On the other hand, since the fMRI data shows effects persisting after the OM practice, there are implications for its use on a therapeutic level possibly helping patients with anxiety, depression or emotional trauma. We hope to launch future clinical trials to determine how OM might be useful in a clinical setting.”
The study, “Alterations in Functional Connectivity Measured by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the Relationship With Heart Rate Variability in Subjects After Performing Orgasmic Meditation: An Exploratory Study“, was authored by Andrew B. Newberg, Nancy A. Wintering, Chloe Hriso, Faezeh Vedaei, Marie Stoner, and Reneita Ross.