Orgasm faces: They are different in the East and West, say psychologists

Computer generated images from the study, showing neutral faces (above) and how they show pain and sexual pleasure in Western and Eastern cultures.

A group of psychologists from Scotland have proved that Western and Eastern people make distinctly different facial expressions when they orgasm. 

The research, by University of Glasgow psychologists, contradicts earlier studies that suggested facial expressions of pain and sexual pleasure were indistinguishable across the two hemispheres.


The study, published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on Monday (October 8), saw the researchers model the facial expressions of pain and sexual pleasure from Western and Eastern cultures.

The researchers used a “data-driven approach to model the mental representations of the facial expressions”. They found that both cultures exhibited pain with similar facial movements. However, their expressions showed slight differences when it came to sexual pleasure.

Observers from both cultures were asked to view facial animations representing pain and sexual pleasure. They then categorised whether the animations matched their own ideas of features associated with pain and sexual pleasure.


Results showed that faces showing pain were almost identical between both cultures. The expressions included the lowering of the brows, raising of cheeks, wrinkling of the nose, and stretching of the lips.

‘Clear distinctions’ in orgasm faces

However, when it came to facial expressions for sexual pleasure, clear distinctions were identified. Western models included the dropping of the jaw, stretching of the mouth and raising of eyelids. On the other hand, in Eastern cultures, the expressions included the pulling back of the sides of the mouth.

The study said: “Specifically, productions of pain and orgasm share several face movements such as brow lowering, cheek and lip raising, eye closing, and mouth opening, and differ on others such as wincing, chin raising, and blinking. 

“This suggests that although produced facial expressions of pain and orgasm show distinctive features, mental representations are even more distinctive than their real-world displays.”

The findings of the study contribute to the understanding of the possible communicative role of facial expressions. It also raises the possibility that culture can shape the representation of facial expressions.

The research was conducted by Chaona Chen, Carlos Crivelli, Oliver G B Garrod, Philippe G Schyns, José-Miguel Fernández-Dols, and Rachael E Jack.

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