Spinal Device Yields Surprise Orgasm

A woman who was being treated for chronic back pain experienced a sexy side-effect when an electrode was placed in her back to relieve the aches and pains

In the middle of the operation, the woman’s ecstatic groan startled her doctor.

“It’s not uncommon for a patient to say “ohhh” or “ahhhh” but this lady exclaimed, and when I asked her what was the matter she said 'you have to teach my husband to do that,'” said Dr. Stuart Meloy on today's Good Morning America.

The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based anesthesiologist and pain specialist discovered — quite by accident — that a device which he used to treat chronic back pain may also produce orgasms in patients. He has just patented this unexpected use of the device and is trying persuade the product manufacturer to market the device to help women who have trouble reaching orgasm.

"We were granted the patent on January 2nd of this year," said Meloy. "Right now we're looking at establishing a study protocol and then looking for funding for it."

Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist and co-author of For Women Only, A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction and Reclaiming Your Sex Life told GMA that it is possible the device could help women who have difficulty reaching orgasm.

"Forty-three percent of women experience sexual dysfunction; orgasmic disorder is one dysfunction," said Berman. "We have noted anecdotally enhanced arousal and orgasm in women and are gearing up for a clinical trial along those lines so there is definitely merit to this theory."

Device Gets Under Users’ Skin

Manufactured by Minneapolis-based Medtronic, the spinal cord stimulator device has been around since the 60’s and Meloy emphasized that it was created to treat back pain. It is still unclear as to the degree that the company wants to get involved in the alternate use.

But one thing is clear: the public is all ears.

After the story hit the news, Meloy was bombarded with questions and completed more than a dozen press interviews.

His hope is that it will generate interest in funding for research into using the device to help women with orgasmic dysfunction.

The device is made up of three parts: the set of electrodes which are implanted inside the spinal canal, a connecting cable and a pulse generator, which is about the size of a beeper.

The generator is implanted in the upper buttocks, so all three pieces are under the skin. The patient is then given a hand-held remote so that he or she can stimulate the electrodes, changing the pulse and the frequency.

A Surprise Reaction

Meloy was treating the female patient for leg and back pain in 1996 when he discovered the device’s alternative use. There was nothing unusual about the operation.

He threaded the electrodes through a needle, inserted the needle into her spine, as in an epidural, and then used an X-ray machine to pinpoint exactly where the electrodes were.

Though doctors usually have a good idea of where the needle should be, everyone is different and since the patients are awake, and just get local anesthesia, they do not feel the needle. Therefore, doctors simply apply pressure after the needle is inserted and ask patients what they are feeling.

When his patient got the surprise sensation, it was because he applied power to the electrodes in a certain position, and it caused genital stimulation.

More Research Needed

At that point, this was just a “guess what happened at work” story, Meloy said. But he told a friend who was a gynecologist, and the friend told Meloy about the prevalence of orgasmic dysfunction in women. Another woman, who apparently had the same reaction to the device, initially refused to let Meloy adjust it when the device dislodged from her spine, even though it was no longer providing relief from her back pain.

When he first presented the news to the company, Medtronic, in 1998, it said it was necessary to secure a patent. A reporter read the patent news, and wrote a story, opening the news up to the public.

At medical conferences other doctors have similar stories about the device, but Meloy is the first to suggest that the device could be a potential solution for women who have orgasmic dysfunction.

He stresses that it is very early in the process and that women with the problem should see their gynecologist for other treatable solutions before contemplating the device.

On the other hand, the market for such a product could be huge, Meloy acknowledged. But he stressed that it should be used to restore normal sexual function, not to provide supernormal stimulation.