Orgasm is sometimes experienced so intensely that the desire to live almost succumbs to the death drive and the person wants to get rid of this endless tension-relaxation cycle. That’s why the French call it “little death”, la petite mort…
Orgasme in French, orgasm in English, orgasmus in German means the highest point of sexual arousal and pleasure, satisfaction. The stem of orgasm, orgasmos, means intense arousal in Ancient Greek. The verb form of the word means to covet, to overflow, to ache to. Alfred Kinsey defined orgasm in 1950 as the relaxation/peace that comes after the sudden cessation of the movements and tensions of sexual activity. The female orgasm committee of the World Health Organization (yes, there is such a committee) defines it as follow: “Orgasm, a variable and transient peak sensation of intense pleasure, creating an altered state of consciousness, usually with an initiation accompanied by involuntary, rhythmic contractions of the pelvic striated circumvagional musculature, often with concomitant uterine and anal contractions, and myotonia that resolves the sexually induced vasocongestion (the filling of the veins with blood) and myotonia, generally with an induction of well-being and contentment.” However, orgasm is not just a versatile bodily phenomenon or function, it is a lived experience and a feature of personal experience.
If a person experiences orgasm alone, it is called solo orgasm or auto-orgasm. That is, the subject and object of the action, the person who experiences it and the person who triggers it are the same. It is also referred to as hetero-orgasm when experienced by two or more people, but here is not meant two heterosexual people. The orgasm experienced by the partners at the same time/simultaneously is called duoorgasm, which is a goal that Hollywood and the porn industry have brought into our lives and that its desired frequency and its necessity are often disputable.
The basic principle of being able to have an orgasm is to be able to rationally let go of control. Each time it should be a great and unique experience, as if it were happening for the first time, it should astonish and stun one again and again. For this reason, person is constantly chasing a new one; the more satisfied she is, the more she wants a new one.
For some it is just a relief, a kind of freedom from drives and impulses; for others, it is an experience on the border of the transition to metaphysical dimensions. It is sometimes experienced so intensely that the desire to live almost succumbs to the death drive and the person wants to get rid of this endless tension-relaxation cycle. That’s why the French call it little death, la petite mort…
Orgasm is actually a cocktail of different emotions in a short period of time. This is exactly what makes it unique. Desire, enthusiasm, happiness, ambition, passion, lust, joy of life, cheer, warmth, blessedness, peace, oceanic joy for some… It is actually a short period of time, when many emotions are intertwined and one after the other. Blessedness refers to spiritual balance, harmony between often conflicting spiritual components, inner peace. This is the feeling post-orgasm offers; relief, reward, and contentment.
So, how can orgasm be evaluated from an evolutionary point of view?
All life forms have had to reproduce for millions of years, so sexuality has been one of the most fundamental lines that have proceeded from the path of evolution. So why is there an orgasm? Because it is quite possible to reproduce without it. The quickest answer would be “because it gives pleasure; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t reproduce”. Then the second question immediately comes to mind, do animals enjoy sex, if yes, from what stage of development does this happen?
Primates experience closest to orgasm and show physiological reactions similar to those of humans, such as muscle contractions, tachycardia-tachypnea (increased heart rate and respiratory rate), and increase in blood pressure. Among primates, bonobos have a special place. They live in large groups of up to 120 members, dominated by female bonobos, nevertheless they generally maintain a horizontal hierarchy. They show signs of being sympathetic, for example, hugging their injured group mate and mumbling, or expressing their feelings by making noises and using pouts/mimics. Bonobos, who engage in all kinds of sexual activities such as touching, caressing, rubbing, oral sex, kissing, usually engage in sexual intercourse face-to-face and most of them are bisexual. As it is described, it would not be wrong to say that bonobos care about satisfaction/pleasure and strive for it.
Let’s say that for any kind of reproduction, the male’s sperm reaches the female body and for this (let’s) one orgasm is enough, more than that would be a waste of energy. Then why is there a woman’s orgasm? The first of the three theories on this subject is that orgasmic contractions help the sperms to be absorbed and weed out the good ones among them; the other is that the woman will not be willing to copulate without high expectation of pleasure, and the last one is that it helps to find the right mate with which to have a good intercourse. If a woman cannot orgasm, the man is the wrong person. Does it matter that it has not been clarified which of these theories is the truth? Or is it possible to turn this biological asymmetry in our favor by thinking that it exists only to please women in life?
The pelvis of female homo erectus is not wide enough to support large heads due to their large brains, so the baby is born before the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and therefore needs intensive postnatal neonatal care. Perhaps this is why evolution has developed emotional attachment in addition to reproductive function. Thanks to this attachment, we can say that the very troublesome caregiving function was undertaken, and this ensured the survival of the newborn.
Although the products of evolution initially focus on the continuity of the species, over time they become independent and exist on their own. Orgasm for humans is such an independence in the evolutionary course. Because it was not limited to the reproductive function; it has become humanized by turning into a spiritual, intellectual, symbolic, social and cultural phenomenon. In other words, it has come out of its reproductive function, its biological component, and has become truly vitalized, socialized, politicized.
Cindy Meston and David Buss, in their book titled Why Women Have Sex, investigated the motivations for women to have sex and listed 237 different reasons. Among them, reasons such as relieving and facilitating falling asleep, aiding bowel movements, relieving boredom, increasing concentration, improving communication, rejuvenating, being a great birthday present, giving birth to a new life, warming in winters, killing the pain better than aspirin, burning calories, relieving writer’s block, forgetting the jet lag, preventing overwork are listed. If we were to interpret orgasm, especially women’s orgasm, from a purely evolutionary point of view, where would we put these 237 separate reasons?
Masters and Johnson are two revolutionary researchers who discovered human sexual behavior and the sexual response cycle in the 1960s. We owe much of what we know today to their curiosity, courage and hard work (If you haven’t watched it, the American TV series based on their stories, Masters of Sex, is available in all known media, it can also be said to be good). Even before they taught us the human sexual response cycle, sexuality has been a subject of curiosity and interest for humans throughout history. The statuette depicting a couple in each other’s arms in sexual intercourse, Lovers of Ain Sakhri, was made more than 11,000 years ago and the Lovers of Valdaro was laying hugging each other in a 5,500-year-old tomb. While the statue, Ecstasy of St. Teresa, made by Lorenzo Bernini, showed us orgasm, the prayer conveyed from her mouth in the Bible was as follows:
“The pain was so great that it made me moan. But at that very moment I felt such an infinity that I wished it would last forever.”
There is also Teiresias from Greek mythology. According to the legend, Teiresias once had seen two snakes copulating, had taken a stick and killed the female snake and then had become a woman. Seven years later, she had seen the same copulating in the same place, this time she had killed the male snake and had become a man again. This incident had reached the gods, and while Zeus and Hera had been arguing about whether the man or woman enjoyed sex more, they, of course, had turned to Teiresias to find an answer. Teiresias had commanded that “If a man feels pleasure, a woman feels nine times as much.” Glad to win the argument, Zeus had given Teiresias a long life with his soothsaying ability, while Hera had blinded him for revealing the secrets of womanhood. Thus, the knowledge that a woman’s orgasm is more intense has been told until today. Masters and Johnson, on the other hand, objected to this, saying that “the way to go is different, but the pleasure is the same”. They showed that the difference between the sexes is that women can orgasm repeatedly and one after the other. Still, the share of women remained to be accused of immorality and witchcraft and to be accused of being in league with demons.
Simone de Beauvoir described the difference between man’s and woman’s sexuality as follows: “The appearance of lust for men and women is not the same at all. One thing is certain, it is that intercourse has a definite biological purpose for men, such as ejaculation. Of course, this goal is aimed through a multitude of very complex other orientations, but once realized, it is seen as a result, if not satisfaction of desire, at least its disappearance. On the contrary, for a woman, the target is not clear at the beginning and it has a psychological rather than physiological character. Woman is in pursuit of excitement, lust in general, but her body does not design any definite consequences for the act of love. That’s why for her the intercourse never ends completely, she has no purpose. Man’s pleasure rises at full speed, is completed when it reaches a certain threshold and is extinguished with a sudden orgasm. Woman’s pleasure, on the other hand rather than a real orgasm, spreads to the whole body, it is not always focused on the genitals, and even so, the contractions in the vagina are more like a system of fluctuations rhythmically born, withdrawn, re-formed, peaked at some moments, then decreased in its frequency and melting away without completely disappearing. Pleasure pursues eternity, since it has no definite consequences. It is often the fatigue of the nerves or the heart, or a psychological satiation, rather than absolute satisfaction, that limits a woman’s erotic opportunities.”
If we interpret the premise slogan of feminism “the personal is political” for sexuality, can we say “masturbation is also political”? Everyone masturbates. Old-young, men-women-queers-nonbinaries, in all cultures, all times… Although the evolutionary perspective is partially reproduction-driven, evolution also explains sexual activities that do not benefit reproduction, that is to say, masturbation. So much so that it cleans the body from stale sperm and ensures the continuation of sperm production. Yes, you know, this was the explanation of men’s masturbation. Why do women masturbate, Mr. Evolution?
Masturbation has many advantages; it enables the person to discover her/his own sexual characteristics, what/how she/he loves; it does not contain infidelity, sexual anorexia, jealousy; it is the cornerstone of freedom; it is impossible to be controlled by anyone and it is essentially unruly. Every person can do whatever she/he wants with herself/himself. Being free is a must for good sexuality. However, masturbation has been the target of religions or authoritarian tendencies throughout history.
As a Christian narrative, St. Onan was having sexual intercourse with his brother’s wife but was pulling out because he was worried about pregnancy. Masturbation was defined as onanism with reference to the name of this saint. Medieval Christianity, of course, rejected onanism, and all pleasures that did not directly serve reproduction were declared sinful and cursed. The Vatican called masturbation “a sick act”. As a result, masturbation was described as sinful, unnatural, raw and addictive. Talmudic Judaism was more concerned with the reproductive fertility of semen than masturbation itself. Generally, in Judaism, sexuality is restrained, the reproductive function is in the foreground, passion and lust are behind. There is even a joke made about it:
It is asked:
– Is dance allowed?
– No, it is too lustful.
-Well then, is sex allowed?
-Yes, people should reproduce.
-Is standing sex allowed?
-No, it can turn into dancing.
In the book titled Onanism, Diseases Caused by Self-Satisfaction, written by David Tissot in 1758, it has been said that masturbation, oral and anal sex cause illness, numbness in the limbs, weakness in the head, pallor in the face, faintness in the eyes and drooping of the breasts. It was only in the late 19th century that modern science began to show that everything said against masturbation was medically wrong. In this respect, I recommend the movie Hysteria, which describes the discovery of electric vibrators used in the treatment of women suffering from hysterical symptoms, entertainingly.
Sexuality has always been at the top of the agenda of humanity throughout history. However, a huge industry and an exaggerated discourse has developed around orgasm as a handicap of being a performance society. In cinema and on television, in newspapers and magazines, in the book market and of course on the Internet… It is a must to reach it, otherwise everything is in vain. It is the pornography industry itself that puts society in stereotypes on this issue. Orgasm is an indispensable element of pornography produced largely for men. Because a woman’s orgasm is less visible, the industry focuses on the man’s orgasm which is more apparent. The spokespersons of sexual liberation speak of pornography as being one-sided, that is, men-oriented, tending to be anti-women and demeaning women. For this reason, feminist pornography has emerged instead of mainstream pornography. You can consider looking at The Deuce series, which tells about the years when the first cores of this movement were thrown.
To sum it up (because I messed up too much), everyone has the right to experience their sexuality fully and in all its aspects. This is not just a cultural goal or norm, but a fundamental human right. In a world where female genital mutilation (in fact, genital crippling) which is the most concrete example of the suppression of female sexuality and which still exists in the 21st century, is not eliminated and LGBTI+s cannot exist as they are, neither our sexuality nor our orgasms will be free.
Let your orgasms be free.
Dorian Solot, Marshall Miller, I love Female Orgasm: An Extraordinary Orgasm Guide Claus Steffen Mahnkopf, The Philosophy of Orgasm
Julia Heiman, Leslie Lopiccolo, Joseph Lopiccolo, Becoming Orgasm: A sexual and personal growth programme for women
Cindy Meston, David Buss, Why Women Have Sex
Robert Muchembled, History of Orgasm
For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için
Translator: Gülcan Ergün
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan