Psychological researchers wanted to test the previously validated idea that o-faces look indistinguishable from painful expression faces. They wanted to see if facial expressions of pain and pleasure are the same around the world.
So they had 184 heterosexual people — split evenly between Westerners and Asian people — observe 400 computer-animated faces. Each face made a slightly different reaction, and participants had to choose whether each face looked more like an o-face or a pain face, rating their intensity on a five-point scale from very weak to very strong.
The results showed that Westerners and Asians both interpreted similar facial reactions as indicative of pain: reactions like lowering eyebrows, raising cheeks, wrinkling noses, raising upper lips and widening lips.
But Westerners and Asians differed when it came to o-faces. Western participants associated orgasmic expressions with facial features like wide open eyes, dropped jaws and open mouths, whereas Asian participants associated orgasms with widened smiles, closed eyes and raised eyebrows.
Though it’s not exactly the same (or as scientific), in 2003, a multimedia art project called Beautiful Agony started collecting videos of young adult’s faces while masturbating. The project wanted to explore whether people’s faces during sex were more of a turn-on than the uninspiring shots shown in mainstream porn.
We can’t say which ones we enjoy more, but there’s something truly pleasing about watching a partner’s face in ecstasy as they achieve new heights. Phew — is it getting hot in here?