Back in 1954, scientists Peter Milner and James Olds famously identified the septal area as the ‘pleasure zone’ of the brain. Electrical stimulation of the pleasure zone causes an intense feeling of sexual arousal in the subject. They exhibited their findings by inserting electrical wires into the septal areas of rats brains and demonstrating that upon realising that they could self-stimulate by pressing a lever, the rats would manically bash away at the lever up to two thousand times per hour. The randy rodents’ sole concern immediately became ceaselessly pressing the pleasure lever again and again at the exclusion of all other behaviours, forgoing necessities like food and water until they died of starvation rather than stop pressing the lever for a moment.
Flash forward to Tulane University - 1970, and enter American psychiatrist Robert G. Heath. Heath believed that mental illnesses were curable by physical means. He also believed that homosexuality was a mental illness, and in keeping with his beliefs this mental illness could be cured with deep brain stimulation (DSB) electrodes targeting the pleasure zone to transform a homosexual man into a heterosexual man.
Heath had a volunteer for the treatment, a gay man code-named B-19. B-19 was characterised in Heath’s notes as a 24 year-old overt homosexual with a drug habit who had repeatedly been hospitalised for chronic suicidal depression (he had attempted suicide several times). He had also been kicked out of the U.S. military on a medical discharge due to homosexuality.
Taking a page out of the Milner-Olds playbook, Heath inserted Teflon-insulated electrodes into B-19’s septal area and began to administer stimulation in controlled amounts. B-19 reported an increase in sexual desire. Next Heath rigged B-19 up to a device which allowed him to self-stimulate at his own leisure. Just like the rats before him, B-19 quickly became dangerously obsessed with the pleasure machine, banging his own lever 1500 times in one three hour session. He experienced such overwhelming euphoria that Heath and his assistant had to unplug him. He tried to fight them off.
And so it went on. B-19 would sit for three-hour sessions, self-stimulating voraciously, at which point Heath and the assistant would intervene. B-19 would vigorously protest, always pleading for just a few more presses, just a few more presses.
When B-19 had finally been whipped into a frenzied, animalistic state of hyper sexuality, Heath played his trump card: a 21 year-old call girl whom Heath had hired was introduced into the room. B-19, who had never fancied a girl in his life engaged in sexual relations with the young woman, culminating in what Heath’s paper deems ‘a highly satisfactory orgiastic response’. Heath considered his experiment a success. As for B-19, not much is known of his movements after the controversial experiment but he was known to have carried on at least one relationship with a woman later on.
The following short film entitled “Boys, Beware!”, gives an idea of education on “Homosexuals” during the era.