I'm in Newark, New Jersey, in a small room dominated by a large conference table. There are no windows, and no sounds except for the whir of the ventilation system. "This is going to be great," says my host, Rutgers neuropsychologist Barry Komisaruk, grinning. A woman walks in with a large black duffel bag and shuts the door. "This is my graduate student Janice Breen," Komisaruk says. Breen opens the bag, unpacks a few electromechanical components, and begins to assemble them using a screwdriver.
"So what do you call this?" I ask. The device looks like a tampon attached to a hefty electric toothbrush, which is in turn wired to a box with a glowing red digital readout. "It's the, um, contraption," Breen answers distractedly, hunting for an outlet.
"Actually, it's called the calibrated vaginal stimulator," Komisaruk tells me. "It's a modified tampon attached to a transducer for measuring the force that women apply to the vaginal wall."
The tampon looks big enough to be in the supersize range and is connected at a 45-degree angle to the metal handle, which houses the transducer. Scores of women have inserted Breen's contraption into their vaginas (the tampons are disposed of after each use). As I fiddle with the tampon, the pressure from my fingers registers as a few grams of force.
"Women self-stimulate," Komisaruk explains, "and we use fMRIs to look at which parts of their brains respond." I stare at the instrument in my hands.
"Basically," Komisaruk concludes, "it's a dildo."