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This article is the author's final published version in F1000Research, Volume 11, 2022, Article number 1015.

The published version is available at Copyright © 2022 Newberg AB et al.


Background: The relationship between sexuality, or the libido, and spirituality or religion has long been debated in psychiatry. Recent studies have explored the neurophysiology of both sexual experiences and spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer. In the present study, we report changes in cerebral glucose metabolism in a unique meditation practice augmented by clitoral stimulation called, Orgasmic Meditation, in which a spiritual state is described to be attained by both male and female participants engaged in the practice as a pair.

Methods: Male (N=20) and female (N=20) subjects had an intravenous catheter connected to a bag of normal saline inserted prior to the practice. During the practice, men stimulated their partner’s clitoris for exactly 15 minutes (he received no sexual stimulation). Midway through the practice, researchers injected 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose so the scan would reflect cerebral metabolism during the practice. Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging was performed approximately 30 minutes later.

Results: In the female participants, the meditation state showed significant decreases in the left inferior frontal, inferior parietal, insula, middle temporal, and orbitofrontal regions as well as in the right angular gyrus, anterior cingulate and parahippocampus compared to a neutral state (p<0.01). Male subjects had significant decreases in the left middle frontal, paracentral, precentral, and postcentral regions as well as the right middle frontal and paracentral regions during meditation (p<0.01). Men also had significantly increased metabolism in the cerebellum and right postcentral and superior temporal regions (p<0.01).

Conclusions: These findings represent a distinct pattern of brain activity, for both men and women, that is a hybrid between that of other meditation practices and sexual stimulation. Such findings have potential psychotherapeutic implications and may deepen our understanding of the relationship between spiritual and sexual experience.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.