Above his desk at Rutgers University, psychology professor Barry Komisaruk has a framed image of what female brain activity looks like during orgasm. It looks like a sunset. Every major region of her brain ignites at the height of climax. He is the first to record such an image, and in recent years has used his research to improve women’s lives.
It started with hormones and doves. Back in the 1950s, Komisaruk, a behavioral neuroscientist and an author of The Science of Orgasm and The Orgasm Answer Guide, was looking at what he called “invisible forces that act at a distance” or, more specifically, at how neurons produced consciousness. He was anesthetizing doves, clamping them down, and drilling minuscule holes in their skulls to then implant hormone crystals into their brains. He was studying how hormone production stimulates behavior, and how behavior stimulates hormone production. This was his initial claim to fame, and the beginning of a long series of sexual behavioral studies that eventually revealed important facts about women, pleasure, and pain.
What followed were even more studies that included rats, dildos, MRIs and masturbation. It sounds a bit crazy, like a juicy episode of Masters of Sex, but what Komisaruk learned from subsequent experiments laid the foundation for what he is able to do to help people with sexual pathology today.
As a graduate student, Komisaruk, who was raised in the Bronx area of New York City, studied with Elizabeth Crosby, the famous neuro-anatomist who wrote the three-volume Comparative Anatomy of the Nervous System of Vertebrates.
“I took a chance writing to her for help with identifying the structures of the dove brain, and she answered me,” he told me. “She had been doing work on pigeon brains. She was five feet tall, and in her 90s, and sharp as a tack. I brought my brain slides and she went through and identified the structures of the dove brain for me.” This research led to his doctoral dissertation that showed where in the brain progesterone acts controlling aspects of reproductive behavior.