The real-life orgasmatron is named after that organ from the film Barbarella, because it essentially performs the same functions.
In the film, the main villain used the orgasmatron to torture the protagonist (Barbarella) with pleasure. Each note triggered a different erotic signal in the heroine's body, and a symphony was orgasmic – as well as being more than the body could physically survive.
Hopefully the real-life version is not going to get quite that bad before regulators step in, but the function is essentially the same.
It was discovered by complete accident, by Doctor Stuart Meloy, who was using an electrode stimulation device in the lumbar region of women, meaning to treat pain. Instead, he produced something a bit more potent than a painkiller – although it definitely overcomes pain.
The discovery came in 1998, in a North Carolina operating theatre, where Dr Meloy was implanting electrodes into his patient's lower back in order to treat chronic leg pain by essentially, overpowering the pain signals with artificially generated ones moving down the same nerves. Its a process known as spinal cord stimulation, and is a common procedure for last-ditch pain relief for neuropathic pain.
It is last-ditch because the process does overpower all the signals in the nerves travelling to the legs. This doesn't just include pain, but all of them. There have been some improvements since 1998, but essentially, the patient becomes paraplegic when the device is turned on, regaining movement, sensation, and pain when it is switched off again. The actual location of the electrodes varies from patient to patient and is up to the surgeon's discretion.
That's where we return to Dr Meloy, and his surgical procedure. In Meloy's own words, when the power was turned on, “the patient suddenly let out something between a shriek and moan.”
It was not the response he was expecting, to put it mildly. So, he asked her what was wrong, to which she replied "You'll have to teach my husband how to do that."
Needless to say, this wasn't the reaction he was looking for. He had accidentally overstimulated the poor woman's libido with a spinal prosthetic and triggered an instant orgasm that lasted for as long as the power was maintained – and the device was designed to go on for six months … continual.
Then swap out the battery and it carries right on going.
Dr Meloy did the right thing with that patient. He moved the electrodes from where he had put them, and repositioned them until they blocked the pain, instead of an eternal sexual high. Still, the possibilities began there, born from that original mistaken placement.
Things grew after that. By a second chance he mentioned the incident to his colleagues, and one, a gynecologist commented that one-third of his patients complain of orgasm dysfunction. There was a definite niche for such a device, albeit perhaps with substantually shorter bursts.
Meloy ran a formal pilot study of his modified version of the device, implanting it in the spines of 11 women, some of whom had never had an orgasm. The women, who were instructed to keep a record of all their sexual experiences, kept the implant for nine days, along with an external control for their use and the instruuctions to turn it on whenever they wished.
Meloy's study, published in 2006 in the journal Neuromodulation, reported that 10 out of 11 of the patients felt pleasurable stimulation from the device, including increased vaginal lubrication. Five of the women had previously lost their ability to have orgasms; four regained it with the device, and the fifth reported never actually having the nerve to turn it on.
However, none of the women who had never experienced orgasm were able to experience one with Meloy's device – trademarked the Orgasmatron for the first time following this pilot.
The results strongly hinted that these individuals' problem lay in their brain wiring rather than in their peripheral nerves or organs. Since the organs would have been sending the same signals the device did, albeit at a lower intensity, they were ruled out. Thus the device clearly could not help everybody, but it could help those whose sex organs had been damaged or rendered dysfunctional, as well as those whose bodies precluded normal sex for a host of other reasons, such as a steadily worsening physical disability.
The devices are still not on the general market. Electrode placement is still by trial and error to hit the right places, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all, and we still don't have a perfect understanding of the neural codes in the pudendal nerve and the inferior hypogastric plexus . These two nerve groups deal with all stimulation and muscle control in the female reproductive system – and all pleasure sensory data flows through them.
Therefore it is continued research into the codes of these two bundles, that Meloy and his team are concentrating on to a fair extent. Especially as the stimulation cuts both ways, and it is possible to feel your clitoris and vagina being manipulated via this method, since such manipulation is simply transmitted in neural codes along with all other data.
Meloy says he has also implanted two impotent men with the device. Both volunteers were able to achieve an erection, he says, and reportedly had powerful ejaculations, suggesting that the same pathways and similar neural codes are present between the genders – so itf it works for one, it will work for the other.
Along with the neural codes, work is under way to shrink the processing requirements, the overall size of the device, and the cost of the procedure. Further clinical trials are in the works, and the end result will be an implant for sexual function with quite possibly, even a remote control.
It is certainly something for other sexual enablement devices to build off of. Perhaps someone will even build an interface for an organ?
Wikipedia: Spinal cord stimulator (18th July 2011)