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the research subject

She sits demurely, legs crossed, pocketbook over her shoulder, trying not to notice the naugahyde chair sticking to her butt and to the backs of her thighs. Her toes are bent back so as not to touch Dr. Simonson’s big oak desk. The wall behind the white-haired neurologist is cluttered with diplomas and certifications.

“On behalf of ourselves and the Pipestone Institute, we thank you once again, Mrs. McMurtry, for your participation in this project, and also please give our thanks to Mr. McMurtry.” This is Dr. Forrester, sitting to the side.

“Yes,” adds Dr. Gray (though she isn’t really a “doctor”), in the chair next to Dr. Forrester. They are all well and fully dressed, in proper business suits, Dr. Gray in heels.

Which is not the only thing that sets Ethel apart here. She has done two sessions. They had waited while she knelt and said a short prayer, then got onto the little cot and Michael the technician attached electrodes to her nipples, and after she spread her legs, inside her vagina and anus. The room would be darkened and she would relax and then use her fingers. Soft music of her choice would be playing. She preferred church choir music, in German.

With Mark’s permission they kept her abreast of their findings. After the first session Dr. Simonson told her, “It is good to see that Kinsey’s report of the sexual capacity of women was not a fluke. I don’t believe we know of another case of nineteen full orgasms in a half hour span. An orgasm is too short to determine mental activity, but we believe brain waves would show a modification also.”

To their surprise she said, “Do you want my -- climaxes -- to be longer?” And on the second session, with EEG wires attached to her head, she gave them three long climaxes, the first one the longest.

“Your name is not to be given, obviously,” Dr. Simonson says today. “But we will report your age, marital status, and the fact that you experienced a climax of twenty-two contractions, lasting forty-five seconds. We will also publish the graph. We will call what you experienced ‘status orgasmus’, or the state of being in continuous orgasm.”

She feels her breasts flush; she is both complimented and embarrassed. She had no idea it lasted that long, or that she felt that many jolts.

“I’m very glad your husband responded to that mail-in survey last spring, reporting your capacities. That got the ball rolling.”

“Mark and I believe in . . . science.” After a moment she says, “I hope this research will help other women. Some can’t . . . climax . . . at all.”

“About fourteen percent of the population,” Dr. Gray says. Ethel is surprised at this.

Dr. Simonson says, “We will now make payment, as agreed. Again, thanks. This amount is hardly adequate compensation for what you have contributed.”

“Mark and I would like you to donate it to my church’s mission in Kenya. I have the address here.” She starts to reach into her pocketbook, breasts wobbling.

“It’s better if your husband deposits it, and he donates it himself.”

“All -- right,” she says uncertainly, as the envelope is handed to her. She has no idea of the tax implications, but she assumes Mark would know. Inside, the check is made out to Mark McMurtry. Although in a sign of their respect for her, she is the addressee on the envelope: “Mrs. Mark McMurtry”.

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