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She Did What In An MRI Machine? For Science?

February 16, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Oh, my. Here’s an article in CNN’s online “Health” section that starts: “Let me just get this out of the way upfront: I had an orgasm in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.”

The author, Kayt Sukel, originally wrote about the experience last year for New Scientist. The brain scan was part of a Rutgers University study about the mechanisms of sexual arousal. It also constituted research for Sukel’s new book, Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships.

Sukel’s Web site includes a witty promotional video for the book that, among other things, explains how you, too, could have fun in an MRI machine (“remain very, very still”). There’s also a blurb from the writer’s mother:

You sure did a lot of research. It was an absolutely fascinating read, honey, even for someone who knows nothing about the science. But will any of it help improve your taste in men?

Yes, Sukel is funny. But she’s also a serious science journalist with a master’s degree in engineering psychology. And what surprised and disturbed her about the public reaction to her contribution to the advancement of human understanding was not the joking but the outrage. As she revealed in the CNN article:

“Commenters wrote things like, ‘If only researchers were as interested in finding a cure for cancer,’ and, ‘I can’t believe my tax dollars are going to pay for such useless research.'”

Useless? “Human sexuality has direct influence over so many aspects of day-to-day life,” she wrote. “Understanding such a universal phenomenon is never useless.”

While working on the book, she wrote, she asked researchers about the greatest challenges involved in studying human sexuality. She did not get the responses she expected:

Unanimously, the scientists I talked to said their greatest challenge was finding research grants and financial support for their work.

Researchers in lots of other fields—maybe almost all fields—could say the same thing. As we move into an era of budget tightening, the scientific and medical communities need to find ways to communicate to the public the importance of basic research to the daily lives—and health—of everyone.

Not all knowledge is sexy. But it always beats ignorance.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging

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One Response to “She Did What In An MRI Machine? For Science?”

  1. Ruperto S on February 25th, 2012 at 4:58 am

    As did Master and Johnson for the name of science.