Psychologists at the University of Glasgow in Scotland organized a recent study that found people’s orgasm faces could actually have an “accent” — not literally, of course, but in the sense that orgasm faces in the West don’t necessarily resemble orgasm faces in East Asia.
That idea emerged because, in the study, when test subjects were asked to point out which faces were “orgasm faces” on photorealistic models showing various facial expressions, they had consistently different takes.
The study initially set out to examine the counterintuitive idea that people’s “pain faces” and “orgasm faces” are one and the same, and it did so with a data-driven approach. The researchers indeed proved that notion incorrect, but also sparked this idea that orgasm faces vary around the world.
In the study’s own words, it found that “representations of pain and orgasm are distinct in each culture,” and also “that pain is represented with similar face movements across cultures, whereas orgasm shows differences.”
It turns out that a person’s culture in effect shapes his or her orgasm faces.
Forty participants from the West and 40 from East Asia participated in the study, during which each had to look through thousands of facial animations and label each one as indicative of “orgasm,” “pain” or other and also rank the intensity of each.
According to the study, here’s how Western and Eastern orgasm faces differ:
These cultural differences correspond to current theories of ideal affect that propose that Westerners value high arousal-positive states such as excitement and enthusiasm, which are often associated with wide-open eye and mouth movements, whereas East Asians tend to value low arousal-positive states, which are often associated with closed-mouth smiles.
There are, naturally, a few face movements that are cross-cultural in most people: namely, raised eyebrows and closed eyes. But in Western people you’re more likely to see the upper eyelids raised, the jaw dropped and the mouth stretched. In East Asian people, it’s reportedly more common to see the corners of the lips pulled upwards.