The bizarre science experiments that revolutionized sex

From 17th century corpse fondling to the tragic experiment that created modern gender theory—and all kinds of weirdness in between.

Stoned out students usually get all the credit for sexual revolutions, but a lot of progress in the field of recreational whoopie-making has actually come thanks to the efforts of your boring old scientist. We have compiled key scientific developments in how we understand sex — none of which would make a decent porno.

Physical exertion and fear transformed into sexual desire

The fear and excitement you feel crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge (pictured) can be transformed into sexual desire.

AKA “science discovers one of the most potent dating tips of all time.” In the 1970s, Dr. Arthur Aron set up an unusual experiment involving an attractive woman and the Capilano Suspension Bridge dangling over the Capilano river in British Columbia.

He had the woman ask men who had just crossed the scenic bridge to write a brief story based on a picture given to them, gave them her phone number, and then waited for the next male bridge-crosser.

They then repeated the experiment — but this time used a normal, safer bridge nearby.

The results? 9 of 18 men who crossed the “dangerous” scenic bridge later called the woman, but only 2 of 16 who crossed the safer bridge did the same. There was also more sexual imagery in the stories from the dangerous bridge.

The scientists determined that the phenomenon is caused by “misattribution of arousal,” misinterpreting the cause of their heightened physical state as sexual interest for the woman they saw. “If you want someone to be attracted to you, you may want to arrange to do something that’s a little bit exciting or scary,” Dr. Aron concluded.

Zapping people’s crotches leads to the famous 1-10 scale

Of course it was a German scientist that would devote his life to shocking erogenous zones to measure pain. We don’t mean to stereotype Germans, but it’s like the Berlin Wall was a dam holding back a tide of domination porn. Wilhelm Reich was a German pioneer in the field of response and human sexuality.

By attaching electrodes to people’s crotches, Reich discovered that there was a general sliding scale of how much pleasure or pain a person experiences. This laid the foundation that still permeates today, from the Masters and Johnson studies (below) to the nurse who asked you to “rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10.”

In fact, Reich could have gone on to be the biggest pioneer of modern human sexuality, if not for one limiting factor: he was batshit insane.

Reich created devices (the booth and breathing apparatus are pictured here) to capture and administer “orgone energy” — an extension of Freud’s idea of the libido.

Reich believed that there was a cosmic energy flowing through us called orgone. Not in the hippie-dippy kind of way, but in the “I’ve isolated this energy under a microscope, and it’s blue” kind of way. He claimed he had seen orgone when he injected his mice with “bions,” another kooky discovery of his that he claimed was a rudimentary form of life halfway between life and non-life.

He also insisted his psychotherapy patients strip to their undies and sit right next to Reich. Hey, the guy used to run with Freud, so we’re lucky modern sexology isn’t based on how big of a cigar one can fit in their mouth. He was fined and eventually jailed in the 1950s.

Pavlov’s sex drive

The jackets. Photo courtesy of study co-author Gonzalo R. Quintana Zunino.

Lingerie is a thing for humans — but for rats? Scientists decided to let virgin male rats have sex with female rats, but added one oddity of a parameter: the female rodents were all dressed up in tiny rat jackets.

Later on the male rats would again be given opportunity to have sex with both clothed and unclothed female rats — and it turns out would strongly prefer the female rats wearing the jackets. The scientists had found that even rats can associate the look and feel of an article of clothing with sex.

In previous studies, the same scientists trained rats to associate a particular odor (almond) with having sex, and sure enough, male rats now lusted after females bearing that scent.

The “would you go to bed with me tonight?” experiment reveals different sexual attitudes of men and women

Even if you’re a 10/10 approaching a 5/10, you can’t just ask people for sex. Well, only if you’re a man, that is. Read about this counter-intuitive experiment via Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese:

Imagine that it’s 1978, and you’re a young man walking across the campus of Florida State University. A beautiful female stranger approaches you and says these exact words, “I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?”

If you were that man, you might have thought you had just gotten incredibly lucky. But not really. You were actually an unwitting subject in an experiment designed by the psychologist Russell Clark.

Clark had persuaded the students of his social psychology class to help him find out which gender, in a real-life situation, would be more receptive to a sexual offer from a stranger. The only way to find out, he figured, was to actually get out there and see what would happen. So young men and women from his class fanned out across campus and began propositioning strangers.

The results were predictable. Seventy-five percent of guys were happy to oblige an attractive female stranger. The few who said no typically offered an excuse such as, “I’m married.” But not a single woman accepted the identical offer of an attractive male. In fact, most of them demanded the guy leave her alone.

At first the psychological community dismissed Clark’s experiment as a trivial stunt, but gradually his experiment gained acceptance — and eventually praise — for how dramatically it revealed the differing sexual attitudes of men and women. Today it’s considered a classic. But why men and women display such different attitudes remains as hotly debated as ever.

The first G-spot was found on a corpse

Scientists in the 1600s had nothing better to do than sit around and speculate about sex. After all, it wasn’t that long after people injected mercury into their urethra for gonorrhea, drank ground-up beaver testicles to not get pregnant, and whacked their spouses because they wouldn’t conceive a son (we’re not naming any names, but…).

So it was only natural that scientists would want to instill some order into the wacky universe of sexual education. Sure, they could go pick up loose woman after loose woman, investigating the sexual parts of each in painstaking detail until the morning light. Or, actually, maybe they couldn’t… did people even have sex way back then? Either way, our point is obvious: Corpses. Scientists would examine corpses to learn about the human sexual anatomy.

A Dutch physician was feeling up corpses, for science or course, when he discovered a batch of nerves that deflated upon death. Working in a laboratory 300 years later, gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg discovered that the spot could be used to help women achieve seriously monstrous orgasms. Thus the Gräfenberg spot, or G-spot for short, was found.

Electrocuting the gay away is kind of possible

In 1970, Tulane University’s brain man, Robert G. Heath, decided to test whether electric stimulation of the “feel-good” septal center of the brain could be used to zap the gay away. He inserted Teflon-insulated electrodes into the septal region of his homosexual subject’s brain (subject was codenamed B-19) and then gave him the jolts. When B-19 reported that the electrical stimulation gave him sexual pleasure, Heath rigged up a button to allow him to control the stimulation on his own.

But something happened that Heath should have known about. You see, he got the septal jolting button idea from a rat experiment where rats would bang the button up to two-thousand times an hour in an explosion of debilitating pleasure. Sure enough, B-19 pressed the button so maniacally — in one three-hour session he hit it 1500 times — that “he was experiencing an almost overwhelming euphoria and elation and had to be disconnected.”

Robert G. Heath founded the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1949, and studied the pleasure and pain centers of the brain with surgically placed electrodes.

But the experiment was about giving B-19 the gift of heterosexuality, not just pleasure. The room where the final phase of the experiment was to take place was “blacked out with curtains. In the next room we had the instruments for recording his brain waves, and he had enough lead wire running into the electrodes in his brain so he could move about freely,” Heath wrote in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

Heath then introduced, with permission from the state attorney general, a willing female partner in the form of a 21-year-old prostitute paid $50 to have sex with B-19. The idea was that Heath would strategically press the septal pleasure button to help a homosexual perform, and appreciate, a heterosexual encounter.

Related: 5 scientific ways strangers can tell you’re gay (even if you’re in the closet)

After B-19 did nothing to the prostitute for an hour, she finally took the initiative — and he “achieved successful penetration, which culminated in a highly satisfactory orgiastic response, despite the milieu and the encumbrances of the lead wires to the electrodes,” Heath wrote.

Heath considered the treatment at least partially successful — B-19 would later go on to have a 10-month affair with a married woman — but actually he returned to his homosexual ways. Heath never tried to convert any more homosexuals, and the American Psychiatric Association’s 1987 removal of homosexuality from the DSM makes it unlikely we’ll see much more research in the field.

Freud’s erection strength meter catches out chomos


For being the founder of modern psychology, Freud had a lot of weird-ass views on sexuality. For instance, he pretty much thought every time you dream about a vase, it’s really you wanting to sex your own mother. At least, we think that’s right. Nobody really pays attention in psych class.

But one area where Freud was right, rather than just alternative, was the field of identifying homosexual response. Freud firmly believed the homosexuality was a biological response, rather than a spur-of-the-moment choice after a few drinks. So he began building devices that measured the arousal of the penis.

The idea was that, by showing a subject images of sexy women and men, Freud could prove that gender-based arousal was a not a matter of choice, but inborn. It’s kind of like a reverse Clockwork Orange, if you will.

Today, the field of sexology often overlaps with criminology. Hoping to stop child diddlers, law enforcement officials and scientists are hard at work trying to figure out ways to predict when people will get nasty. A 1998 study of sex offenders found that getting a chub when seeing a picture of a child was the number one most accurate predictor of whether they would commit another sex crime. Mind-blowing stuff, I know.

Masters and Johnson’s giant “key party” unveils real sex to science for the first time

It’s hard to know exactly what was going on in the 1960s, as all records from that era were used to roll up giant doobies. But from what we can tell, it was totally cool to just boink strangers completely at random. Not only does this explain our lineage, but also an excessively sexy series of studies conducted by the Masters and Johnson research team at WashU, who formed an independent institute in 1964 (we like to think the studies got so raunchy they got kicked out).

Masters and Johnson pioneered modern sexual research, now more commonly referred to as “sexology.” Before this dynamic duo, things were so remedial in terms of sexual knowledge that people couldn’t even agree about whether or not most guys could ejaculate multiple times in a short span of a few minutes.

To fix this dearth of general knowledge, Masters and Johnson got strangers together, paired them up randomly, then observed them having sex while covering them with all sorts of creepy wiring.

Picture someone on top of Frankenstein, and it’s how we see this experiment.

This pretty shocking test revealed lots of things. It defined multiple orgasms, and found that most women were capable of achieving them. We are shocked that most women could achieve orgasm by having sex with a stranger with a bunch of electrodes on their junk… we’ll have to try that, sometime.

Also, the studies found that really old people could still be sexually active, which probably wasn’t as fun to observe as the other stuff.

Dr. Money invents modern gender theory and pioneers transgenderism by molesting boys and driving them to suicide

“Before, you had male animals and female animals, and that was it,” says Dr. Gregory K. Lehne, assistant professor of medical psychology at Hopkins and a protege of Money. “[Dr. Money] taught us gender is much more significant.”

We have saved the biggest revolution for last. Dr. John Money is dryly described by LA Times as “a leading sex researcher who pioneered the study of gender identity,” but he is the reason most people in academia now take for granted gender spectrums and gender fluidity and advocate sex change surgery at the drop of a hat. If transforming understanding of gender from a male and female binary to 50+ genders as fantastic as “aporagender” and “two-spirits” is not a revolution, then what is?

There is, however, a big asterisk next to Dr. Money’s achievement.

It all resulted from Dr. Money’s experiment, which came in the form of a boy named Bruce (later David) Reimer. Bruce had sustained severe damage to his penis from a botched circumcision, which caused his parents in early 1967 to take him to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to see Dr. Money.

Dr. Money decided that Bruce would be an ideal candidate for an experiment confirming his gender theories. The boy was too young to know what was to happen to him; his parents agreed that everyone around him would tell him he was a girl; and what’s more, Bruce had a twin brother who could serve as a control. Finally, this would be proof that gender is all fluid and environmental and not tied to naughty bits or pesky chromosomes.

It was agreed, and little Bruce was sent to surgery to completely remove his testes and penis and transform it into a pseudo-vagina. He was then raised as a girl named “Brenda” who would unknowingly become poster girl for the gender revolution.

The Reimer case was, and in some cases still is, held up as science’s seminal proof that gender is entirely environmental and can be changed at will. The experiment revolutionized science’s and academia’s view of gender in the West generally, and opened the door for the surgical creation and affirmation of hundreds of thousands of transgenders as we now know them.

But there was a problem. Neither girly dresses nor female hormones ever made “Brenda” feel like a girl. Despite what everyone around him told him, and despite the pseudo-vagina they had created in his crotch, Bruce knew he was actually a boy.

Brian and Bruce Reimer.

What’s more, Dr. Money was a pedophile who had forced Bruce and his brother, Brian, to have incestuous sex.

By the age of 13, Bruce told his parents that he would take his own life if they made him see Dr. Money again. They finally told him the truth about the sex change surgery, and he went back to identifying as a boy — albeit with no penis and now going by the new name David. The scars from the rapes and the mind- and gender-bending experiment weren’t easily healed, however. Brian died from a drug overdose and Bruce (David) committed suicide.