Between the Screens: Brain Imaging, Pornography, and Sex Research

Anna E Ward


This essay focuses on the use of brain imaging technologies to understand sexual arousal and orgasm and the issues that this practice raises for feminist theories of embodiment, visuality, and gender. In the first section, the paper examines the use of brain imaging technologies to measure the brain’s role during sexual arousal and orgasm and its circulation in popular culture, with a particular focus on fMRI and PET technology. The second section examines the interplay between brain imaging technologies as the means of measurement and film pornography as the means of arousal, bringing together scholarship on pornography studies, visual studies, and science and technology studies. By interrogating the technology behind research into the neurology of sexual response and critically examining the use of one representation of sexuality to produce another, the paper investigates how gendered difference is manifested in this research and how the body is produced as a site of intervention.


brain imaging; sexual arousal; orgasm; pornography

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