The Orgasm Button: Is technology making sex as we know it obsolete?

What if it were possible to give yourself an orgasm simply by pushing a button?

It would mean having special simulators implanted in your hypothalamus, but this could be done in seconds without surgery, involving only a relatively painless injection. This orgasm button could be something you carry with you at all times, perhaps available as a standard feature on a futuristic smart phone. You could download an orgasm app and use it whenever and wherever it happened to be convenient for you.

It doesn’t seem all that unrealistic, does it? If such technology existed, most of us would be very enthusiastic adopters of it.

However, if it were possible to give yourself an orgasm by simply pushing a button, would you be willing to give up sex? Most of us would say not a chance. Brain-induced orgasms couldn’t possibly be an adequate replacement for sexual intercourse. But what if, just for the sake of argument, you had to?

Recall that scene in the 1994 science fiction comedy film, Demolition Man, in which Sandra Bullock asks Sylvester Stallone if he’d like to have sex. He answers in the slightly surprised but definitely enthusiastic affirmative, as yet unaware that he has woken up in a time when a series of increasingly devastating sexually transmitted diseases have caused traditional sex to be banned by the government. Therefore, having sex in this version of the future involves using a kind of orgasm brain-stimulation helmet.

After Stallone insists that they nevertheless do it the old-fashioned way, Bullock’s character reacts with horror and goes on to explain that “fluid exchange” and similar behaviors almost ended civilization. This lead to the outlawing of everything determined to be unhealthy for the individual or society, including smoking, drinking, eating meat, even using profanity. Though draconian, such measures were deemed necessary in order to prevent mankind from destroying itself.

In this fictional scenario the prohibition of traditional sex leads to the development of technology designed to enable people to get around the problem of not being allowed to touch one another. Yet, this is certainly not a new idea. The 1973 Woody Allen film, Sleeper, features a similar orgasm-inducing device called the “Orgasmatron.” How it works is not explained in the film but it’s essentially an orgasm booth; one simply steps inside it and comes within seconds.

It has replaced sex entirely in a future where, as Diane Keaton’s character explains, “everyone is frigid.” One can see hypothetically how the Orgamsatron device could have been developed in order to solve the pervasive frigidity problem. Then again, maybe it actually caused it. Perhaps people had been using the device for so long they lost their ability to have sex the old fashioned way. Or maybe they forgot how.

After all, high tech manufacturers of today know that we’re basically goldfish when it comes to new technology, and they frequently dangle shiny objects in front us, which we are told we absolutely must have or else our friends will think of us as uncool. With this in mind, if such a device existed today it’s easy to see it becoming as standard a piece of household equipment as a vacuum cleaner.

Furthermore, if it worked as efficiently as portrayed in the film, then one can see it entirely replacing sex. If one’s Orgasmatron happened to break down it would be as just as aggravating as losing one’s internet connection. Whether the over-use of such a device would cause us to lose our natural ability to have sex is another question entirely, but it seems unlikely. Maybe we just wouldn’t want to anymore, since using the device would be much more efficient and convenient than doing it the old-fashioned way.

The idea of a sex-free future may seem far-fetched, but it’s entirely plausible. Woody Allen certainly thinks so, and he isn’t the only one. Despite its deliberately tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the future, Allen wanted the film to be as scientifically accurate as possible, while still maintaining its comedic tone. In fact, while he was working on the screenplay for Sleeper, he consulted with science fiction icon and futurist Isaac Asimov, as well with the leading science fiction writer Ben Bova, and confirmed the “scientific feasibility” of his futuristic predictions

But how far away are we, really, from this sex-free future? From our perspective, light years away. A biological crisis necessitating the development of bodily fluid free sex-replacement technology has not yet occurred. Thankfully, sex is safe (provided one uses protection) and science-fiction is not the same thing as science. Moreover, if one takes a quick look at some of the devices currently available, then it’s abundantly clear that we won’t be abandoning sex any time soon. In fact, we’re still pretty excited about it. This is demonstrated by the myriad of devices and toys on the market that were obviously never meant to replace sex. Rather, they substitute for it and enhance it, as such devices have always done.

One invention that has gotten a lot of attention over the past year is the Japanese “French Kissing” machine. It was developed for couples in long distance relationships who wish to do something a little more intimate than just chat online, but a little more innocent than engaging in cybersex. The concept seems so sweet and almost quaint, until one learns how it actually works. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t really imitate kissing. Using it involves fellating a little plastic straw like thing, while the movements of one’s tongue are recorded by a computer. Later on, one’s long distance partner puts their own straw, hopefully inside their mouth, and plays back in reverse their partner’s previously recorded tongue swirlings.

As can be expected, the reception for this kiss transmission machine has been mostly chilly. People are finding it anything but sexy, and many of the articles written about it have been derisive and dismissive. Yet, the “bi-lateral control” technology used in this device is simply amazing. There are so many applications, both sexual and not, for a machine that records movement in real time. Doctors could record surgeries, for example.

However, the kissing machine inventors have something far more superficial in mind. They’re thinking that pop stars could record their “kisses” and such recordings could be downloaded onto people’s home devices for a small charge. Just imagine being able to buy a kiss from somebody famous. Then again, one could never be absolutely certain that the downloaded kiss actually came from Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. And of course there’s the inevitable problem of illegal kiss downloading.

However, this still leaves the question of the orgasm button. There actually is one, or at least there was about sixty years ago. In 1953 Dr. John C. Lilly , who was then working for the National Institute for Mental Health, did an experiment in which he implanted electrodes into the orgasm centers of the brains of monkeys. He then gave the monkey a button to stimulate itself every three minutes. When the monkey wasn’t sleeping, guess what it was doing all day?

Of course, we’d like to think that our brains are slightly more sophisticated than those of our lower primate cousins, but, come on. Our lives are definitely more complicated. We’ve got jobs and yoga classes and deadlines.

But if we didn’t have other stuff to do, you just know we’d be pushing that button all day long.

Bibliomania: In Pursuit of the Book

I’ve always been a bibliophile.  I love reading.  I love walking into libraries and book shops, browsing endless rows of books, stacked from the bottom of the floor to the top of the ceiling.  I fear that one day I will be killed by a bookshelf falling on me, but what a death that would be!  Alas, they will say, “he loved books and they killed him.”  I can think of no better epitaph than that.

Recently, I’ve taken up the obsession of book collecting, a noble pursuit, and one that is filled with many mysteries.  Few creatures are as misunderstood as the book collector, and especially the ones of the antiquarian kind.  They have their own language, and not many understand their bibliomania.  Most are not in it for the money, but for the passion, for the pursuit of that elusive book that haunts them late at night.  Is it a first edition they seek?  Is it a signed copy?  Is it just the name of the author that drives them to despair?  They must possess this treasure at seemingly any cost or detriment to their mental sanity; like a CERN scientist chasing neutrinos with chalked hands and a collider.

No doubt you are thinking, “well what book do you seek, good Sir?”  I shall tell you, it is a signed first edition of Damn Rare: The Memoirs of an African-American Bibliophile by Charles L. Blockson.  The irony is not lost on me that I’m searching for a rare book written by a rare bibliophile with “rare” in the title.

 Damn Rare: The Memoirs of an African-American Bibliophile



In my first attempt to locate this book and read it, I scoured my public library, but to no avail.  Not even through an inter-library loan could a copy be found.  The nearest library that actually has a copy is in Champaign-Urbana, a good 45 minutes drive away, and this being an academic library I can not check it out without being a student or faculty of the university − for shame!  Searches on AbeBooks and Amazon give me prices ranging from $30 to $130 dollars should I wish to purchase a copy.  This cements my theory that  the book is a rarity indeed, for why else would it be so expensive?  I must now commit my time and energy to tracking down a copy of this book and I will keep you posted on my progress.

WOTD: intelligence quotient (IQ)

Today’s word is a number. More accurately it’s the score determined by one’s performance on a series of standarized tests designed to assess intelligence. The higher one’s IQ the more intelligent one is considered to be, at least according to the tests. Whether or not the IQ scale is an accurate or useful way of measuring actual intelligence is certainly debatable. There are many factors that make up intelligence and IQ tests assess only some of these.

Interestingly, the words idiot, imbecile, and moron were once associated with the IQ scale and were used by psychologists to describe those whom they considered to be “feeble-minded” or mentally retarded to varying degrees. The word “moron” for example, used to be the clinical term for someone who was “mildly-retarded,” and had an IQ of between 50 and 70.

Furthermore, the word “moron” is also strongly associated with the American Eugenics movement. Eugenics is the belief that certain characteristics can be intensified through “selective breeding.” Hypothetically, if a musically-proficient man and a musically-proficient woman have a child, then this child will be according to eugenics, a musical genius. However, it was also believed that certain negative characteristics could be eliminated using often draconian methods. People determined to be “morons” were discouraged from having children to prevent the creation of further morons. In some extreme cases, these “morons” were forcibly sterilised.

The Eugenics movement is a dark time in our history and the ideas and theories associated with it are now considered to be extraordinarily flawed, not to mention highly immoral. Thus, words like “moron” are no longer used by psychologists to describe people of low intelligence. Instead we use words like “dull.” Although, ironically the word “moron” actually means “dull” in Ancient Greek.

The modern IQ scale looks something like this:

Over 140 – Genius or almost genius
120 – 140 – Very superior intelligence
110 – 119 – Superior intelligence
90 – 109 – Average or normal intelligence
80 – 89 – Dullness
70 – 79 – Borderline deficiency in intelligence
Under 70 – Feeble-mindedness

On a final note, someone who possesses a high IQ and multiple university degrees can still be stupid. The following is an exchange between a doctor testifying as a witness in a court case, and the lawyer questioning him. Keep in mind that in order to become a lawyer one must study for many years, and then one must pass a very difficult exam.


  • Lawyer: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “Did you check for breathing?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”
  • Witness: “No.”
  • Lawyer: “How can you be so sure, Doctor?”
  • Witness: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
  • Lawyer: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
  • Witness: “Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”

WOTD: intoxicated

Yesterday at an after-work barbecue party, myself and a few colleagues were trying to come up with as many slang, figurative, and colloquial phrases we could think of for the adjective “intoxicated,” which is the most proper and clinical way of describing someone who has had too much to drink. Some of us were sightly intoxicated when this discussion came up and I found out that it’s difficult to pronounce “intoxicated” when one is intoxicated.

So I’ll have a go:


Full som en kastrull (strange Swedish expression that translates to “as drunk as a saucepan.”)




(And my personal favorite:)


Of course there are more. Many many many more. But I don’t want to have all the fun. What amusing phrases can you come up with?

WOTD: California

I very rarely choose a proper noun as a featured word, but this article over on about the origins of the state name California really caught my eye. California is a Spanish word so I probably assumed the state was named after some Spanish missionary. However, the story behind the California name is actually quite fascinating.

Apparently, when the Spanish began exploring the Pacific Coast they mistakenly thought California was an island. In fact, some of the earliest maps of this region depict California as separated from the mainland. “This is considered one of the greatest, albeit short-lived, cartographic errors.”

Not only that, they decided name the newly-discovered “island” after the mythical island of California from the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián, “The Adventures of Esplandián,” written by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

In the book, the mythical California is ruled by Queen Califa and populated only with female warriors who brandish gold weapons. They even harness their animals in gold because it is the only mineral on the island.

The legend of Califa and her island was well known among New World explorers. In 1536 when Hernán Cortéz arrived in Baja California, he believed he had landed on the legendary island.

Labeling it “California” on the charts led to future explorers thinking this was the actual island from the story, inhabited with Amazon-like women almost drowning in gold. Of course 300 years later gold was discovered in California which led to the Gold Rush, statehood, and the state’s nickname, “The Golden State.”

The State of California's bizarre flag.

Until next time…

WOTD: “bed gravity”

Now this is a phrase that really speaks to me. According to the Urban Dictionary, “bed gravity” is defined as: “an irresistible force that draws you back to bed, or toward any mattress, couch, or other soft horizontal surface. Usually stronger when one or more persons are already on said furniture.”

Mom: Time to get up for school! 
Son: Must! Fight! Bed gravity! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

This phenomenon is basically the same thing as the made-up disorder “dysania,” which was discussed in a previous post.  However, the phrase “bed gravity” is much better because it’s scientifically accurate. The main reason people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, or off the couch, etc., is due to Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

It’s a freakin’ law of freakin’ physics, dude. And we’re powerless to overcome it.

Bye for now…

WOTD: the “birds and the bees” and other animal-related phrases

The jury is still out on whether or not a bee is an animal. (It’s an insect.) Anyway, we all know what the phrase “birds and the bees” means, right? Well, it’s sex apparently. It’s a way for adults to talk to children about sex without having to speak openly and technically about the subject. The “bees” fly around the “pollinate” the “flowers”, you see. Therefore, to be told about the “birds and bees” is to be told in so many words (at least if you’re a girl) that you shouldn’t let any “bees” into your “flower” otherwise you might get “pollinated.” (wink wink nudge nudge) I never got that speech, though. Instead my mother got out the anatomy book and showed my brother and me diagrams and descriptions of the male and female reproductive systems.

(By the way, where do the “birds” fit into all of this?)

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play.” It means that when no one in authority is present, the subordinates will do as they please. Parents and teachers of small children are undoubtedly familiar with this phenomenon. You turn your back for about a minute and return to what must have been a frantic mad rush to see how much damage they could cause in your absence.

When something is described as a “dog and pony show” then it’s probably an elaborately staged event or performance designed to sell you something.  The phrase originated with the small traveling circuses that toured the small towns of rural America, which often featured performing dogs and ponies as their main attractions. TV commercials are a modern-day version of them. A lot of production value goes into getting you to buy the newest variety of deodorant.

It’s hard to choose a horse-related idiom that really speaks to me. Mainly because most people just don’t ride or keep horses like they used to. I do like the phrase, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!” just because it’s so weird and offensive. So you’re a bit pissed off at the chap riding the horse, but what in the world did the horse do to you? All he did was carry the bastard. According to the Urban Dictionary it’s an insult that can be lobbed at a person of authority, since presumably this person is on their “high horse” (another horse-related idiom) and needs to be put in their place.

There are literally thousands more animal-related phrases, but I think I’ve made my point. Brevity is the soul of wit.

WOTD: pundit, and other loaned words…

The English language is one of the largest languages in the world. Not only is it one of the most commonly learned languages both as a first and second language, it also has an extraordinarily large amount of words. One of the reasons for this is the amount of loaned words (aka loanwords) from other languages. The word smörgåsbord (discussed in a previous post) is an example of a word borrowed from the Swedish language. According to the Oxford Dictionaries website:

The Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.

That adds up to over 230,000 words, which is huge compared to the number of words in, say, the Swedish language. (Estimated to be around 40,000) Learning English, particularly as a second language, is a monumental undertaking.

Other words loaned from Swedish include: moped, ombudsman, gauntlet and tungsten.

One might be surprised to learn that the word pundit is loaned from the Hindi language. While we think of a pundit as a kind of pompous talking head on the Fox network, the original Hindi word pandit means “learned scholar or priest.” Bill O’Reilly is good example of a pundit, although I don’t think he’s particularly scholarly nor very priestly.

Here are a few other loanwords of interest:

From Arabic: admiral, alcohol, coffee, guitar, lemon, magazine, sofa

From Chinese: ketchup

From Czech: robot, pistol

From Dutch: bazooka, aloof, bluff, coleslaw, cookie, golf, landscape

From French: abandon, bastard, and calorie to name a few. There are approximately 80,000 words of French origin in the English language due to a minor incident that occurred in the year 1066 near the town of Hastings.

From Hebrew: behemoth, canister, jubilee.

From Italian: balcony, figurine

From Turkish: balaclava, lackey, vampire

From Welsh: flummery (the pudding, that is)

Of course there are many (ten of thousands) more, but I think this is a good sample.

Bye for now.

The Four Hour Reading Pledge

By Arvind Jain originally posted to Flickr as "Match on TV"

According to a Nielsen study, Americans spend an average of four hours a day watching television.  I first thought that sounded like an awful lot, until I realized how much the television is on in my own household.  I generally watch the news in the morning if my youngest one is not watching The Jungle Book for the millionth time.  During my lunch hour I usually catch the news again, and in the evening my wife likes to watch The Biggest Loser or American Idol, and we both like PBS and some of the crime dramas.  It seems every time we are home, our television is on.  I can imagine it’s the same in every American household.  Pretty soon four hours does not sound like so much.

But it is a lot.  It is a lot of time that is wasted.  Time that could be better utilized.  Time that could be spent with your family.  Time reading perhaps.  I’ve got nothing against television.  Like I said, we do a lot of television watching in our household.  I just think it’s time for me to expand my brain and fill it with something useful.  Reading stimulates the brain, it’s an active thing.  It requires thinking.  Watching television does not really require much thought, and it really does depend upon the program you are watching whether or not it stimulates your brain.

I propose the following, a Four Hour Reading Pledge.  Instead of turning on the box with moving pictures, perhaps we should spend those four hours on reading instead?  Who is with me?  Let’s try this and see.

Word of the Day: nostalgia

Interestingly, today’s word was once upon a time considered a medical condition.

Back in 1668, German Physician Johannes Hofer coined the word and defined it as “severe homesickness.” It is derived from the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain). I never really thought about it before but the word nostalgia does look and sound like some kind of disease or disorder.  (See: myalgia)

The more modern definition of nostalgia as a sort of wistful longing for the past was first recorded in 1920. Nowadays however, the word can also be defined as not necessarily a desire to return to the past, but simply an appreciation for it.

Naturally, this means that the nostalgic tend to look at their particular favorite time in the past through rose-colored glasses, seeing only the good things and disregarding the bad. For example, many people these days long for the simpler times before cell phones and broadband internet connections, but of course they tend to forget how much harder life was back then.

Somehow I got through high school and most of college having used actual books, magazines, and microfiche/film as research material for reports and papers. I remember typing high school homework assignments on a Smith Corona typewriter. Sure, the internet was around in the mid-90s when I started college, but it was all as new and wild as an Old West frontier town. Many of my professors and teachers did not entirely trust the content on the internet (and rightly so) and therefore they simply would not accept internet-based sources.

The young people of today tend to not appreciate how easy they have it, but it’s not at all their fault. Just as Generation Xers like me cannot remember a time when there was no television, the Generation Y kids cannot remember a time when there was no internet.

They were born into the information age.

Stay tuned…