Dr. Wise first pinpointed this brain region as the one that gets activated by stimulating the clitoris, vagina, cervix, or nipple in a 2011 study using fMRI scans (the genital sensory cortex was only identified in people with a penis before that). And to take Dr. Wise’s brain crotch orgasm metaphor home, its location within the somatosensory cortex—which is located horizontally across the head, where a headphone band would go—is literally crotch-like: It’s nestled right in the center of the two brain hemispheres.
To zoom out a bit: The somatosensory cortex is what represents, registers, and processes all touch sensations, from pain to tingling to pressure. “Nerves pick up the touch feeling in whatever place in the body, and then send signals through the spinal nerves, up to the thalamus in the brain and onto that sensory cortex,” says Dr. Wise.
“We know that when we think about things, we feel things. If I said to think about being thirsty and then to imagine a juicy lemon in your hand, it wouldn’t be unusual if your mouth watered.” —Nan Wise, PhD
So, when you stimulate various erogenous zones, like the clitoris or the cervix, you’re basically sending waves to the part of your brain that makes you feel some type of way—and the more zones you stimulate, the more waves get sent, and the bigger the magnitude of pleasure you’ll experience. That alone could have you well on your way to an orgasm, but in order to take your climax to whole-body-quaking heights, it’s essential to actually focus your mind on the sensations you’re feeling—something Dr. Wise calls stimulating your M-Zone. “We know that when we think about things, we feel things,” she says. “If I said to think about being thirsty and then to imagine a juicy lemon in your hand, it wouldn’t be unusual if your mouth watered.”
The same likely goes for thinking about sex and feeling aroused: Dr. Wise’s small follow-up 2016 study explored whether imagining erotic dildo stimulation of the nipple and clitoris would activate the genital sensory cortex (aka brain crotch) in the same way as actual stimulation. Spoiler art: The fMRI brain scans of the 11 participants showed that it did.
What’s more is that the scans showed that just imagining erotic stimulation also lit up other parts of the brain, like the thalamus (which integrates various sensations) and several components of the reward-pleasure system, aka “pleasure hotspots.” While more research is needed given the narrow scope of the study, it’s worth noting that the scans looked very similar to how they do in people having an orgasm—which suggests that some people may actually be able to generate the big O via imagery alone, in the absence of any physical touch. Yes, the M-Zone is that powerful.
But to get those neural pathways really kicking and activate the brain crotch, you need to learn how to strengthen your mental-arousal muscle, and that starts with prioritizing pleasure. To do this, Dr. Wise suggests masturbating as a means to get in touch with what you authentically like, sexually speaking. “You’ll boost the neural pathways through repetition,” she says. Over time, these pathways will become more accessible, allowing you to tap into your M-Zone more readily, whether in a solo sesh or partnered sex.
Of course, there are other strategies you can use to activate the genital sensory cortex. Below, Dr. Wise shares her best tips.
Here are 3 ways to arouse your mind and achieve a full-body brain crotch orgasm.
1. Alternate between touch and thought
To make sure your head’s really in the game, try an exercise where you tap or touch the clitoris or the nipples, and then pause and just think about the sensation. Then go back to touching, switching between the two for a few rounds. “When you activate the neural pathway by touch and then by thought, what you’re doing is improving the connection between these different neurons,” says Dr. Wise. “And neurons that fire together, wire together.”
2. Keep it moving
Some people with a vagina have a tendency to freeze up when they’re chasing a sensation or an orgasm during sex, says Dr. Wise. She advises continually pulsing or rocking your pelvis during partnered sex or while masturbating to bring blood flow and sensation to this region (or to keep it there).
3. Tune in to your breath
If you’ve ever tried to have sex while preoccupied, stressed, or self-conscious—or, been walked in on, and then felt totally out of the mood—you know just how powerful any distractions can be in taking a sexy moment from wow-worthy to womp womp. To recenter your focus on the sexual task at hand when you notice yourself not feeling present, focus on your breathing. Taking slow, smooth inhales and exhales helps return your body and mind to the moment and the positive physical sensations you’re feeling.
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