Love & Sex

Maggie Mayhem Wants to Hack Your Orgasm

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"We all have our own pattern of data production. We have our own special snowflake orgasm."

Maggie Mayhem, self-proclaimed indie queer anarchist adult film star and HIV prevention specialist, runs the sex nerd site MeetTheMayhems.com with her husband, Ned. She recently wrote an incendiary blog post, Tales of Kink.com, spearing the employer practices of well known BDSM hub Kink.com. When she's not crusading for sex worker's rights or screwing on camera, she and her husband are working on the PSIgasm project, which aims to create technology that can provide scientific data about our orgasms and arousal.

Maggie presented the PSIgasm in a panel at a SXSW event this past weekend in Austin. We sat down to speak to her just before she headed to SXSW to find out why she wants to write lab reports about people getting off what really went on behind the closed dungeon doors of Kink.com.

You're presenting a project called the PSIgasm at this year's SXSW. Tell us more about that.
PSI stands for pounds per square inch. It's based on the Masters and Johnson research on the orgasm from the 1970s. I don't know if they were married, but they were banging. They essentially mapped the orgasm for the first time. The orgasmic arousal and climax cycle. I did lots of research on them as a sex educator. Their research helped me find my own orgasm. But this was all done in the '70s and nobody has done anything else since. It also means the only research we have on the orgasm comes from people who are able to have orgasms in a sterile lab, people with clipboards and lab coats staring at them. To me, that's not a very round depiction of the human orgasm.

I'd say that's a pretty shallow pool.
It is! These are people are the ones having consistent, sturdy orgasms and those are the minority of people having sex. We're all kind of scrambling and doing our best. So, I was like, hey, technology has advanced a lot. Let's add to this. I had the early conceptual design. I badgered Ned [her husband] for a year because he knew the finer details about circuit coding. The first version of the PSIgasm was 100 dollars to make, totally open source. We used a Clone-a-Willy kit, we used a female condom, which was a pressure gauge on the inside, a few bytes of data. It was rudimentary. It's improved now. It's wireless. It tracks everything Masters and Johnson did with about ten more measurements for data.

What physiological responses is it sensoring?
This version has about 14 sensors. It has all the pressure gauges in various places throughout the device and they're detecting the pounds per square inch exerted by the muscles of the pelvis floor. It also picks up pretty much everything a lie detector test would get. That's all the vital data: blood pressure, heart rate, respiration—these are all major parts of the orgasm cycle. It also two photoplethysmographs—a light reader, it shoots light out and sees what is acting on a graph. The PSIgasm also measures the amount of blood that is flowing into the region.

When a sex organ gets hard, that's because the blood is flowing and becoming congested. It also has an accelerometer which allows you to determine flex per minute or second, what is the actual nuance of the motion that one uses to get off. It has temperature gauges for the body and what is released by the skin. The PSIgasm is supposed to be used anally, and that's because everybody has an anus. It's getting to a more consistent place—what is it that we have in common with a cisgender male or a cisgender woman or someone who is trans—it evens the playing field.

What's the data showing you? Can you look at female data and male data and see a difference?
I was actually looking between female data and male data and quite surprised that there was little difference. Every individual has their own fingerprint. Orgasms might be bigger or smaller, but we all have our own pattern of data production. We have our own special snowflake orgasm. We have fewer barriers between us biologically. We speak about the male orgasm and the female orgasm as if they're two completely different things, but that's really not true. There's the human orgasm and the individual way that we all reach it.

What's the application for your data? Can it serve other purposes?
The way that I can apply it is very well rounded—one of things with the PSIgasm was do an orgasm workshop with a live audience. I had a woman sitting in the front who was masturbating and had a projector screen showing four major data graphs. Watching the people in the audience look at it and say, "Oh my god, orgasms are real." Knowing it was scientifically real and understanding it is a way to get to a place to make their partners come, make themselves come more easily, just by virtue of seeing something concrete. Something to indicate that it was really there. That their orgasms are not an act of faith, but an act of biology. I hope it will open doors for people to become more comfortable with themselves and to explore themselves.

What's the most exciting thing the PSIgasm has taught you?
I'm  amazed that the PSIgasm can pick up reactions during nontraditional ways of having sex. To actually see when I have  video camera on someone's face when their lover whispers in their ear. You can see that dirty thought take on a quantitative form in a graph. I'm hoping to document a pain orgasm, I know people who come from spanking or caning, and people might say that's not real, but I beg to differ. I want to document it in a legitimate way.

It's really hard to get funded to study sexuality. We put up directions on how to make the PSIgasm. We don't think information should be sold to people; it should be free. Information about sexuality has been locked behind closed doors and accessibly to very few. I have no idea where it can go, and that's why it's important that it can be open source. This project cannot go forward without a person I haven't met yet that looks at it and says, "Have you tried this?" It's research that I feel strongly we all have to do collectively, I'm hoping to make versions where people can anonymously upload their biodata. I'd like to make a collective living document that's always evolving and everybody is participating in. We are all researching. It's people exploring themselves.

So, your whole world has been blowing up since your blog post about Kink.com. In your post, you said you got into porn because you wanted to commit social suicide. Can you explain what you mean by that?
I think it's because once you do porn, you kind of cross a river. And they don't really let you integrate back get into "civilian" society. It's sort of hung over your head for a very long time, and it's a card that's always pulled out. It is something that is so caging and liberating at the same time. I majored in literature in school. I used to say if this whole becoming a writer thing doesn't work out, I can always teach English in high school. I don't really have that fall back anymore.

How would you describe the type of porn you make?
It's actually in many ways the anti-porn. A lot of it is being honest and open with where we're at. It started with a shoot on a discarded video camera that we fixed up. We literally put zero dollars into it. It's always been more artistic and intellectual than a site to create traffic. We steer clear of the tropes of porn. We also try to play with what we can get away with. A lot of the things we put on that site can be a little more graphic and hardcore than what you may see on a couples site. Because we're constantly saying, "I love you," it doesn't come off that way. We have so much dirt and grime on each other and we've seen each other at our worst and still love each other. It changes the way the sex looks. A lot of it is an examination of porn. Taking a stand and saying these are the challenges you will face.

Speaking of your subversiveness, let's talk about that post on Kink.com. You told of the presence of guns in the workplace and work conditions such as being chained by the neck for six hours without a break and being made to pee in an off camera bucket. Is there anything else you'd like to take the time to air?
There was a new writer and journalist called Kate Conger who didn't realize that just giving a quote about what is was like in the Kink workplace could result in somebody being blacklisted. She wrote this big feature story. Kink.com is totally going to declare war on her. She had no idea what she stumbled into. She was getting back in touch with Nikki Blue, who was the young girl who did the virgin shoot back in 2011

It was a virgin sacrifice in that it had nothing to do with the hymen, it had everything to do with someone who could not discern between right or wrong because of her mental health. Her mental state now is positively devastating. At the start of the new year, one of my friends that entered the industry at the same time who worked as a slave on The Upper Floor, the things that she said could get me in a lot of trouble to repeat. She attempted suicide at the start of the new year. After she left her Upper Floor contract, she couldn't work. She lived right down the hallway from Peter Ackworth [CEO of Kink] where he was housing models in the armory illegally. He didn't have any of the permits to do that, but he wanted to have their 24/7 Stanford Prison reality show experiment with porn. It was a 24/7 party.

Kink.com doesn't seem to be in trouble from any of this.
There will be people that will say, "Well, it's an armory." But, it's decommissioned. The staff includes janitors and cleaning staff that already come in the middle of the night and clean up the dirt of people who don't think they're as important as they are. I have no opposition to people doing coke, this is not me saying don't do drugs, this is me saying don't bring cokes and guns to work. I knew they were exactly the wrong people to be shooting guns in the workplace. There are accidents behind the scene all the time. They settle out of court very often. But they're absolutely out to destroy anybody who talks about it.

Has there been a reaction or retaliation from them since your blog post?
You know, I've been left alone. It's harder to blacklist me at this point. I'm an anarchist performer, I've never worked in Los Angeles. I don't care if Los Angeles or a studio ever hires me, that's not why I do what I do. My source of income mainly comes from other sites. There's no check I would sign to be quiet about something that violated my ethics.