By Frank Swain 24 March This month, news outlets worldwide issued breathless reports of a wondrous implant that causes orgasms at the touch of a button. The Orgasmatron, patented by Dr Stuart Meloy, is a small box wired to the spine that can send out waves of pleasure signals whenever the user desires.
Dig a little deeper though, and it turns out this technology has a strange and fascinating backstory. His confusion is justifiable. Recent news reports about the device are based exclusively on a year-old story in New Scientist magazine which recently appeared on web powerhouse Reddit, a user-curated repository of interesting things. In the long interim, Meloy has been trying to attract interest and funding for his device, without success. Meloy is a physician and co-founder of Advanced Interventional Pain Management , a clinic that treats patients suffering from chronic pain.
Through this centre, he began working with electronic implants. Attached to nerves in the spine, these devices send out continuous, low pulses to dull chronic pain. But following an operation to install an implant, one patient reported an unusual but not undesirable side effect: Meloy realised that he had a powerful technology in his hands, one that he thought might be used to treat men and women suffering sexual dysfunction.
Stuart Meloy That was over a decade ago, and while Meloy has enjoyed a successful career as a physician, progress on the Orgasmatron has stalled. Then there is the issue of who pays for such an implant. Although Meloy has fitted hundreds of patients with the devices for pain management some of whom reported experiencing its famously positive side effect , implanting it specifically to treat sexual dysfunction would be a breach of regulations.
Despite the headlines, the device still has not been shown to be an effective treatment for sexual dysfunction, and anyone thinking of faking a painful condition in order to get one risks disappointment.
Heath wanted to develop something that was as effective as a lobotomy — still relatively common in that day — but was far less destructive. He achieved this with electrotherapy, using dentistry drills to cut tiny holes in the skulls his patients, through which thin metal probes were pushed, so that pulses of electricity could be administered directly to the brain.
Heath discovered that by activating the septal region, he could induce a rush of pleasure that subdued violent behaviours in by some of his patients.
And when given their own pleasure switch, patients were able to manage their mood swings. One patient clocked up 1, doses in a three-hour period, but overall, they showed surprising restraint. Unlike rats that underwent the same procedure, which self-administered to the point of exhaustion.
Heath threw the man out of his lab. He also paired electronic brain stimulators with radio transceivers, effectively putting the subject under remote control. Famously, Delgado was so confident in his tech that he leapt into a bullring opposite one of his experimental animals.
As the bull charged at him, Delgado was able to make it stop, bellow and turn it in circles with a flick of his remote see video, below. View image of This video is no longer available However, the public mood surrounding brain implants soured with the publication of his book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society in , in which Delgado somewhat naively downplayed the Orwellian prospects of the devices and encouraged people to embrace the technology.
If everyone would consent to implantation to mediate their tempers and traumas, the world would be a better place, he claimed. Funding dried up, and with the advent of effective drugs to treat mental illnesses, electrical brain stimulation fell into obscurity — and with it, the joy boxes.
He is hopeful though that the renewed interest in the Orgasmatron might give it a second chance at becoming a reality. As for those who do decide to go the technological route, just make sure you know who is pushing your buttons.