As I drive the five miles from my house in suburban New Jersey to Rutgers University Brain Imaging Center, I take a mental inventory of my data. So far, I have collected 13 self-stimulation orgasms but only 6 orgasms brought about through partner stimulation. The goal is to have an equal number of both.
I feel the familiar wash of anxiety about to launch me into the low-level panic typical of a graduate student in her dissertation year. Except I am no typical graduate student—I am a 56-year-old sex therapist turned cognitive neuroscientist whose day job is to study the human sexual response, and my dissertation is on genital stimulation and female orgasm.
Pulling into the parking lot, I brace for the day. There is much to do to prepare for the study scheduled for 1 p.m. The participant and her partner will arrive at 9:30 a.m. They will need to complete a stack of paperwork—consent forms, MRI safety checklists, and an additional form that verifies that the female participant is not pregnant—and then will have to be carefully trained in the protocol for the study.
I wear a number of hats in the lab. As a therapist with three decades of clinical experience, I am foremost a people-person. My job requires that I make our participants comfortable and keep them safe as they go about the unusual business of donating orgasms to science. My other role—as the principal investigator of my dissertation study—means that I am responsible for making sure that the technical aspects of the study are properly executed and all the details necessary for a smooth study come together simultaneously. And then I must be the one to analyze the data afterwards, a laborious, pain-staking process that has taken years to learn.