Headset That Zaps Your Brain into Arousal May Soon Hit the Market
Forget Viagra. A sexual biotech company wants to boost your sexual motivation with neuroscience.
Could we one day enhance our sexual responses at the touch of a button? That’s what independent research center Liberos hopes to accomplish with it “brainstim” headsets, which zap the brain with electrical currents to stimulate sex motivation.
Liberos is a biotech company in California that was established in 2015 by neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Prause, an expert in sexual behavior and arousal. Frustrated with prohibitions on sexual research at educational institutions, she left a senior research position at UCLA and founded Liberos to conduct her scientific inquiries with more freedom.
The center currently focuses on three main research areas: brain training to promote attention to sexual stimuli; the measurement of orgasms, using an anal probe that records contractions; and, of course, direct brain stimulation to manage sex drive or, as Prause prefers to call it, sex motivation (since “drive” implies something that can build up or be depleted).
Prause gives particular emphasis on the potential of her brainstim device to help women, whose sexual experiences are “more linked to their brain response than their genital response.” As she also points out, low sex drive is the main complaint of women in sexual health clinics, and pills supposed to rev up female sexual motivation have so far proven disappointing with minuscule effects.
What if the real Viagra for women isn’t a pill that causes a physiological response, but a way to directly stimulate arousal in the brain?
We’ve seen devices designed to activate sexual arousal before, in both popular culture and the medical industry. In science fiction, there’s the “orgasmatron” from the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, an electromechanical cylinder that gives people instant orgasms. And in real life, there was the claim a few years back by, Dr. Stuart Meloy, a physician in North Carolina, that his spinal cord stimulators could perform the same function.
The Liberos brain stimulator is quite different, however. For one thing, it doesn’t induce orgasms. Rather, it buzzes the brain with electrical stimulation to influence sexual motivation. It also comes in two types: transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can both increase and decrease sexual responsiveness, and direct current stimulation designed to enhance it. The main focus is the latter.
The center’s research builds on a study led by Prause exploring the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation on people’s sensitivity to sexual rewards. Researchers discovered that applying different patterns of stimulation to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with reward conditioning, could either inhibit or excite a participant’s sensitivity to sexual rewards.
The team measured the test subjects' responsiveness by monitoring their brain waves while they received stimulation from customized vibrators strapped to their genitals. This turned out to be correlated with the number of orgasms participants reported the following weekend.
The Liberos Center has faced some resistance. Prause claims she has been the victim of repeated attacks due to her area of research, particularly from anti-pornography activists upset over her stance on sex addiction.
In a 2013 study, Prause and colleagues monitored the brain waves of people who had trouble regulating their viewing of pornography and found that they didn’t show the usual signs of addiction. On the basis of these results, Prause has argued that pornography addiction isn’t a real disorder:
“There's a tremendous treatment industry that needs this to be a disease—a thing they can charge people to treat,” she told the American Psychological Association. Her view has enraged those who argue that pornography addiction is a real social and moral problem.
Liberos will soon offer brainstim treatment at the center. A normal treatment is between 10 and 20 sessions. Electrical currents are run through two stimulators placed against the head. The device is still in testing, but the only known side effect so far is skin irritation.
As for your own personal brainstim, Prause wants to do more testing before commercializing. But she’s open to the idea. One day, users may be able to stimulate their own brain for 20 minutes, and then enjoy a half-hour window of increased sexual motivation. Thanks to Prause’s work, such devices could be on the market in the near future.
Image sources: Dr. Nicole Prause