In the unspoken language of love, the face you make at the pinnacle of pleasure may have something of an accent based on where you come from.
People from Western and East Asian cultures had consistently different ideas of what facial expressions indicate the moment of orgasm, researchers found in a study published Monday in PNAS. Specifically, Western participants expected widened eyes and gaping mouths, while East Asian participant’s ideas culminated in a slight, tight-lipped smile.
But contrary to those cultural climaxes, the look of dire pain had universal contortions. Participants from both cultures recognized the apex of anguish by inward-pulling facial expressions, such as lowered brows, wrinkled noses, and raised cheeks.
The researchers behind the study—led by psychologists at the University of Glasgow in Scotland—argue that the new data disputes earlier conclusions that faces of physical pain and sexual pleasure are indistinguishable. “This finding is counterintuitive, because facial expressions are widely considered to be a powerful tool for human social communication and interaction,” they note.
With their data coming to a head with different facial expressions, they speculate that culture-specific expectations of o-faces and p-faces could one day be useful to study human interactions. Those nuanced expression could offer an intimate peek into our “complex social world and provide a richer, more accurate account of social communication.”
To bang out accurate representations of orgasmic and pained facial expressions, the researchers turned to mathematic modeling. They set up a dynamic face-movement generator which randomly selected a set of nuanced facial movements from a core set of 42. Those core movements included things like a mouth stretch, eyelid raising, and jaw dropping. The researchers then displayed those random sets (including one to four facial movements) onto a photorealistic face to produce quickie animations.
The researchers then had 40 participants from each of the two cultures (80 total) look through 3,600 of those animations each. The participants labeled every one of the animations as showing either “pain,” “orgasm,” or “other.” They then ranked the animation’s intensity from “very weak” to “very strong.”
From there, the researchers mashed the results within the two cultural groups and let loose assembled facial models for orgasm and pained faces. They had 104 other participants (26 people of both sexes from each of the two cultures) look though them. For this group, the models were each displayed on photorealistic faces of the same race as the participant but the opposite sex. The observers had to discriminate if they thought the face represented pain or orgasm and how well it did at either. The modeled representations were effective, the researchers found: the participants were in consistent agreement about what looked like pain and what looked like pleasure.
With the participant-confirmed representations of o- and p- faces, the researchers then compared how they differed—or didn’t. They found that the pained models had similar inward-pulling facial expressions, while the pleasure models were more culture-specific.
The authors speculate that those differences could be explained by culture-specific expectations and preferences for overt excitement and content calm. More specifically, they explain:
These cultural differences correspond to current theories of ideal affect that propose that Westerners value high arousal-positive states such as excitement and enthusiasm, which are often associated with wide-open eye and mouth movements, whereas East Asians tend to value low arousal-positive states, which are often associated with closed-mouth smiles.
They’ll need more data to back up that hypothesis and confirm their results. But, they add, with new technologies decoding facial movements, such data should be easier to come by in the future.
The Erotic Literary Salon will be held Tuesday, October 16. The evening will start with the Adult Sex-Ed Salon a one-hour program devoted to sex and sexuality. The audience will have the opportunity to pose any questions regarding sex and sexuality anonymously. Sexologist Susana Mayer, PhD, along with co-host Walter will facilitate the Adult Sex-Ed Salon and attendees interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences will join in the discussion. This is always an extremely lively, audience driven Q & A period.
Featured Reader: Krystle Kotara is a New York-based published author and the owner and creative director of Anya Lust, a luxury lingerie boutique. Being recognized for her ability to capture the essence of sensuality through visual storytelling, Krystle decided to write poetry books and sultry novellas to allow readers to paint their own picture through her words. Her first published book, The Lust Diaries, is a collection of poetry and prose exploring womanhood and sensuality, love and fantasy. Krystle will be reading from her book and signing copies throughout the night.
Follow Krystle on Instagram @thelustdiaries and her boutique @anya_lust.
PHILADELPHIA:The Erotic Literary Salon, unique in the English-speaking world has launched a growing movement mainstreaming erotica. Salons attract a supportive audience of 60 or more individuals. Approximately 10-15 attendees participate as writers, readers, storytellers, spoken-word performers of original works. The audience has the opportunity to participate reading sexuality quotes from various books or they can just listen, enjoy and applaud. Sign-up to read at the door; guidelines can be found at the Salon’s website.
Salons gather the 3rd Tuesday of every month at TIME (The Bohemian Absinthe Lounge), 1315 Sansom Street, Center City, Philadelphia. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., for cocktails, food and conversation. Adult Sex-Ed between7:00-8:00, readings begin at approximately8:30. Admission is $12, discounted for students and seniors to $10. Salon attendees must be 21.
Creator of this event, Dr. Susana, is Philadelphia’s best-known sexologist. She lends her voice to the Salon by offering relevant information to support the discussions that arise in the Salon and blog.
“…surprisingly comfortable….Salon devotees praise her for the space she has created….”
“I think Susana is doing a very brave thing.”
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 10, 2010
“There are laughter and tears along with the hot rush of blood – to the face.
Daily News, March 15, 2010
“I never knew such a life of honesty could exist. I finally found a home I can be comfortable in…this event changed my life.
New Study Finds Electrical Stimulation = Better Orgasms
by Anna Radakovich
Here’s a cool new study that could help the future of women’s orgasms. In 2016, scientists at the University of Michigan were studying the effects of electrical nerve stimulation to treat urinary incontinence (peeing your pants), and ended up discovering that it stimulated women into having orgasms!
That study led to the latest study called “Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation to improve female sexual dysfunction symptoms. A pilot study.”
The discovery happened in the same way as the invention of Viagra, which happened when researchers conducted tests on patients with high blood pressure and cardiac angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart). Viagra did nothing for heart problems, but it did cause unexpected boners. Hello!
Researchers zapped nerves in their female subject’s hoo ha’s for 30 minutes, as well as their tibial (ankle) nerve, with the results indicating more blood flow to the lady business. Subjects said the stimulation did not hurt and felt like a “tingling or buzzing” sensation.
According to Keely Malcom, a blogger at the University’s lab blog,Tim Bruns, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at University of Michigan reported, “In this particular treatment, a patient receives nerve stimulation therapy once a week to improve neural signaling and function in the muscles that control the bladder. The nerves controlling the pelvic organs start out in the same location in the spinal cord and branch. One form of stimulation is effective for bladder dysfunction despite an odd placement of the electrodes: near the tibial nerve in the ankle.”
The current theory, Bruns explains, “is that the nerves that travel down to the foot overlap near the spinal cord with some of the nerves to the pelvic organs, leading to a possible overlap in synaptic routes.”
Michigan Medicine OB-GYN Mitchell Berger, M.D., Ph.D., and urologic surgeon Priyanka Gupta, M.D.says they were so encouraged by these early findings, that the the researchers are seeking funding for a larger study. “This study presents an alternative method for treating female sexual dysfunction that is nonpharmacologic and noninvasive. Through studies like this, we can further understand female sexual arousal and offer treatments for a disorder that has very few options.”
The study was funded by a grant from the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
With studies like these, who knows; in the future scientists could come up with a sex machine, an “orgasmatron” that we could use at home. We’d never leave the house.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
“Psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich declared the existence of a universal healing and revitalizing force in the 1950’s, called “orgone”, (from the word “orgasm”) and created devices (the booth and breathing apparatus are pictured here) to capture and administer it.”
Heartbreak Is Hard Even When Your Lover Is The Eiffel Tower
Objectum sexuals are people who fall in love with objects, but that doesn’t mean their relationships are free from drama and pain.
Loss, grief, heartache: Breakups are no less painful when you’re doing it with a bridge. Or a pylon. Or a wooden fence. Or the Eiffel Tower.
So argues Erika Eiffel, the tower crane operator and former award-winning archer made famous by the documentaryMarried to the Eiffel Tower. Erika is one of the few public objectum sexuals—people with a love orientation toward objects—and, in addition to holding a commitment ceremony with the 186-year-old French iron tower, has fallen for fighter jets, fencing, and is currently in a relationship with a crane. She also runs the support website Object Sexuality Internationale.
We don’t know how many objectum sexuals there are in the world—not enough data has been gathered and people are, understandably, reluctant to identify their orientation in such a climate of distrust and misinformation. We do, however, know that objectum sexuality is found in both men and women across the world. In 2010, the clinical sexologist Dr. Amy Marsh wrote in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality that, while it is often assumed that OS is “a pathology” or related to “a history of sexual trauma,” there is, in fact, no data to support such a claim and that “OS appears to be a genuine—though rare—sexual orientation.”
There is very little data on the subject altogether—the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t even carry a definition of objectum sexuality. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that so many non-OS people lump a love orientation toward objects in with autism and sexual trauma at one end and fetishism and paraphilia at the other.
The hot tang of heartache was no less real for Erika Eiffel when she broke up with her “greatest love” because, for her, objectum sexuality is “not an affliction or an addiction; it’s an orientation, the way we are inclined.” And while it is one thing to have your heart broken by something as unruly, as unpredictable, and as flawed as a person, it must be quite another to lose something as stable, as unmoving, as apparently constant as the Eiffel Tower.
Of course, objectum sexuality is viewed by most as a kink, at best. The image of someone getting sweaty-palmed over a balustrade, a wall, a fairground ride, or a semi truck is ludicrous, laughable. At worst it’s a dangerous perversion—a symptom of mental illness. And yet, as someone who once dreamed her baby was an orange plastic extractor fan or can be brought to tears just by thinking of my grandparents’ old, paint-peeling garage doors, I can well understand the capacity objects have to evoke in us very human emotional reactions.
“I believe that everyone is animus as a child, that it’s innate,” says Erika on the phone from her apartment in Berlin. “Children are picking up on all these sensations from everything around them. But as they get older that is unlearned. They’re told, ‘This is an it.‘ As a child I was always very connected to objects. I used to carry this little plank of wood with me everywhere I went and as a kid people think that’s cute. But as you get older, their view changes.” For many OS people, their particular love orientation isn’t something that comes on during the trauma of adolescence—it’s something that the world around them grows out of.
Playwright Chloe Mashiter interviewed eight objectum sexuals to write Object Love, which opens at London’s Vault Festival this month. While each interviewee had their own private relationship to the objects of their affection, Mashiter did pick out certain common themes: “Not really liking plastics was something that came up a lot. Also, not liking medical objects or objects associated with death or hospitals.”
Mashiter wrote to people who’d fallen in love with cars, bridges, even the folding armrest of a desk chair. “There’s an English woman who’s in a relationship with the Statue of Liberty, who also has a human boyfriend, and he seems very supportive,” she says. “But there are cases of families trying to get OS people to have counseling or even get [committed to a mental hospital].”
For non-OS people the sticking point with objectum sexuality is, often, sex. “I understand that people are going to get visuals in their head and they are going to have questions about sex,” says Erika. “When you see a building and a person you have questions, just like when you see a very tall person and a very short person together. You wonder how the mechanics work. But you wouldn’t go up to those people and ask, ‘How do you do it when you’re so tall and she’s so short?’ The fact that people ask us those questions just shows how little they respect us.”
Erika was disowned by her mother for her objectum sexuality, lost almost all her archery sponsors after admitting to a relationship to her bow, and is has been publicly vilified for her sexual orientation. “The greatest heartbreak that I ever experienced was due to the media,” she tells me. “A year after my commitment ceremony with the Eiffel Tower, a British documentary maker approached me saying they wanted to cover it. I thought she was kind, but she kept pushing the sexual aspect.”
In one pivotal scene Erika is seen sitting astride one of the tower’s great iron girders, euphoric in her proximity to her partner. The scene cuts to a shot of Erika adjusting a stocking; we see her naked leg and infer that she’s consummating her commitment. “It was horrifying,” says Erika. Once the documentary aired in France, the staff at the Eiffel Tower “wanted nothing to do with me.” Erika felt torn from her partner, estranged. “I don’t even know how to articulate a heartbreak like that. It just wrecked me. It was this final blow, and I just had to withdraw.”
Erika, like lots of broken-hearted people, retreated to the comfort and security of an old companion. Only in this case, that companion was—somewhat controversially—the Berlin Wall.
“The Berlin Wall picked me up off my feet,” she explains. “It was an object that was hated for being who he is. In the 1980s I felt empathy for him; he can’t help where he was built. They focused their hatred on the wall, rather than the politics behind it. I felt like I was suffering in the same way. I went through a lot of rejection when I was younger because of my orientation.”
“People think I can just point at an object and decide to love it. They think I can’t develop relationships with people so I choose objects so I can have control. But I had no control over my relationship to the Eiffel Tower. If this was all about control, I’d love my toaster, you know?” —Erika Eiffel
This animosity, argues Erika, is a specifically Western phenomena. “I lived in Japan for ten years and was very open in how I interacted with objects. People just accepted me. Shinto is an animist religion—if you have a headache, you’ll rub the Buddha’s head and then rub your own; it’s an exchange of energy. Here in Germany, I’ll refer to my partner as ‘my big love.’ The only places where I have problems are the USA, England, and Australia. It’s the puritanical basis of the way people think in these countries that’s made me suffer a great deal. I’ve lost jobs, I’ve lost family, and I lost my greatest love.”
During the course of research, Mashiter heard a lot of breakup stories. “There have been instances where people have started to fall for another object. There are relationships where the communication breaks down. I’ve also heard of cases where the object ended the relationship; where the person feels like they’re doing everything that they can but aren’t getting anything back. And there are cases where the object is destroyed.”
Even when you invest your affection in bricks and mortar, iron and steel, wood and hinges, that love is, it seems, far from secure. “People think I can just point at an object and decide to love it,” says Erika. “They think I can’t develop relationships with people so I choose objects so I can have control. But I had no control over my relationship to the Eiffel Tower. If this was all about control, I’d love my toaster, you know?”
Erika is now working as a tower crane operator and, hundreds of feet in the air, is slowly building a new relationship with her crane. “It took me a very long time to accept that maybe it’s OK to start another relationship,” she explains, echoing the sentiments of widows and divorcees across the world. “I thought I’d never fall in love again. But being a tower crane operator, no one can question or bar me from getting to know this object. I feel like the buildings we’re creating together are almost like children.”
Of course, a German tower crane is never going to replace the world’s most famous monument to romance. But maybe that all right. “Everyone has an ideal in their head, but if you only look for that ideal then you’ll probably end up being very lonely. It’s like always lusting after a blond with blue eyes, but you end up with a redhead who has green eyes. I’m still in a cautious stage with tower cranes because my heart is still broken. I can’t have the perfect relationship. I have to accept that.”
I can’t pretend to share Erika’s orientation. I am from a family that constructs buildings—not kisses them. I’ve nailed down plenty of rafters without once losing myself in a reverie of affection. Submarines may evoke terror, cooling towers may make my bowels tremble, and I may stand back and admire the engineering of a well-built key stone bridge, but it feels a stretch to call that a persuasion.
And yet, when it comes to her descriptions of love, attachment, and heartbreak—of losing intimacy and seeking comfort in old companions—maybe we’re closer than you think.
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4 Videos Below-Readings are only recorded at the request of the presenter.
Monica Day performance/reading two poems: The Fifth Year and This is My Body for January 2013 Erotic Literary Salon
M. Dante reading SKIN dedicated to the art and inspiration of Heide Hatry for December 2013 Erotic Literary Salon
Frances' reading,“Go the Fok to Sleep”
Dr. Susana Mayer’s NBC10 interview of “50 Shades of Grey”