Study reveals how our faces react in an orgasm

‘Orgasm faces’ are different around the world: Western cultures favor wide-eyed expressions while Eastern cultures keep their eyes closed

  • Scientists presented participants with animated faces showing pain and orgasm
  • Participants agreed that facial expressions of pain and orgasm look different
  • But groups differed in what they saw as the face of a person having an orgasm
  • People from Western cultures chose wide-eyed expressions with gaping mouths, while Eastern cultures chose smiling faces with raised eyebrows and closed eyes

A person’s idea of what an orgasm looks like may depend on where they live. 

Researchers have found Western and Eastern cultures generally agree on what our face looks like when we’re in pain.

But when it comes to what our faces look like during an orgasm, that’s where the two cultures differ. 

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Researchers created a computer program that could mimic a variety of facial expressions, using a core set of 42 movements, like mouth stretching, eyelid raising and jaw dropping

HOW DID THEY DO THE STUDY?

University of Glasgow researchers created a computer program that could mimic a variety of facial expressions. 

For the simulated faces, the researchers used a core set of 42 movements.

These movements included things like mouth stretching, eyelid raising and jaw dropping.

They then asked 40 females and 40 males to judge whether the facial movements were expressions of pain, orgasm or something else.

Participants also rated the facial expression based on intensity, using a five-point scale ranking from ‘very weak’ to ‘very strong.’

For the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers modeled the facial expressions of pain and sexual pleasure in people from Western and Eastern cultures.

University of Glasgow researchers created a computer program that could mimic a variety of facial expressions, using a core set of 42 movements. 

These movements included things like mouth stretching, eyelid raising and jaw dropping. 

They then asked 40 females and 40 males to judge whether the facial movements were expressions of pain, orgasm or something else. 

Observers viewed the animations and if the face movements matched their mental image of what pain or orgasm looked like, they categorized it accordingly, the study noted. 

They also rated the facial expression based on intensity, using a five-point scale ranking from ‘very weak’ to ‘very strong.’ 


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Researchers found that the participants almost entirely agreed that facial expressions were different when the models were in pain or orgasm.

Almost all of the participants agreed that the typical expression of pain involved pulling the face inward. 


Western and Eastern cultures generally agree on what our face looks like when we’re in pain. When it comes to what our faces look like during an orgasm, that’s where the two differ

Expressions of pain also included lowering of the eyebrows and wrinkling the nose, the participants said. 

But the groups differed greatly in what they saw as the face of a person having an orgasm. 

Participants from Western cultures tended to choose wide-eyed facial expressions with gaping mouths. 

Researchers found that participants from Eastern and Western cultures almost entirely agreed that facial expressions were different when the models were in pain or orgasm

Meanwhile, participants from Eastern cultures chose faces that were smiling, with raised eyebrows and closed eyes. 

‘Together, these data show that mental representations of the extreme positive and negative affective states of physical pain and orgasm are distinct in the two cultures,’ according to the study. 

The researchers’ findings also contradict with conclusions made in previous studies on a similar topic. 

Prior studies have reasoned that facial expressions of pain and orgasm look alike. 

However, the researchers believe the study shows that this isn’t the case. 

The groups differed greatly in what they saw as the face of a person having an orgasm.  Western cultures tended to choose wide-eyed facial expressions with gaping mouths, while  Eastern cultures chose faces that were smiling, with raised eyebrows and closed eyes

‘Our results from modeling the mental representations of facial expressions of pain and orgasm show that they are distinct,’ the study notes. 

‘Specifically, we show in both cultures that mental representations of pain and orgasm comprise opposing face movements—whereas pain is characterized by those that contract the face inward (e.g., brow lowering, nose wrinkling, and cheek raising), orgasm is represented by face movements that expand the face outward (e.g., brow raising in both cultures; mouth opening and eyelid raising among Westerners).’ 

They believe that the differences could be explained by what cultural expectations are around expressions of excitement and contentment. 

‘These cultural differences correspond to current theories of ideal affect that propose that Westerners value high arousal-positive states such as excitement and enthusiasm, which are often associated with wide-open eye and mouth movements, whereas East Asians tend to value low arousal-positive states, which are often associated with closed-mouth smiles,’ the study explained.  

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