Bright Lights, Big Or­gasm

For a long time, our cor­re­spon­dent has been see­ing things when she has an or­gasm. When she in­ves­ti­gated what was go­ing on, she was in for a sur­prise…

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Some­times when I or­gasm it's blue.

It’s a lit­tle hard to ex­plain… I don’t feel any of the moods as­so­ci­ated with the colour blue, such as sad­ness or melan­choly. Nor is it a vis­ual hal­lu­ci­na­tion where the world takes on a blueish tinge. In­stead what I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is blue — an aqua­ma­rine or turquoise blue. The emo­tion is the colour, or maybe the colour is the emo­tion.

Well, I told you it was hard to ex­plain. On other oc­ca­sions it’s a rich, royal pur­ple or an iri­des­cent green. Some­times there are bursts of light; some­times there are no colours at all. Hell, some­times when I have sex there’s no or­gasm ei­ther, but let’s not dwell on that.

In all the years I have been sex­u­ally ac­tive, I never paid much at­ten­tion to this. It’s fleet­ing, and I as­sumed most peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enced some ver­sion of this or­gas­mic light-show them­selves. A few weeks ago, how­ever, I men­tioned it to my bet­ter half, who in­formed me, quite ca­su­ally that I prob­a­bly had some form of synes­the­sia.

My brain, like the newly dis­cov­ered con­ti­nent of Zealan­dia, is a mys­tery even to me…

Synes­thetes ex­pe­ri­ence the world slightly dif­fer­ently to most peo­ple. They have cross-sen­sory per­cep­tions. My part­ner is a synes­thete him­self — num­bers and words have colours for him. This is known as ‘grapheme-colour synes­the­sia’. It’s a mouth­ful and the most preva­lent kind. Other synes­thetes may as­so­ciate words with taste, or sounds with colours or tac­tile sen­sa­tions. The neu­ral path­ways don’t work as the way they do for most peo­ple. Es­sen­tially, the wires get crossed.

Find­ing out I was a synes­thete was a bit like get­ting an in­vi­ta­tion to Hog­warts or Xavier's School for Gifted Young­sters, al­beit with a slightly use­less su­per­power. But I was cu­ri­ous to see how many other peo­ple had the same colour­ful or­gas­mic ex­pe­ri­ences and if any­one had ever stud­ied it. And lo and be­hold, I was not dis­ap­pointed be­cause, of course, they had!

In 2013 a team of re­searchers from the Han­nover Med­i­cal School in Ger­many re­cruited a bunch of synes­thetes to check how this con­di­tion af­fected their sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences. Only around two per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion ex­pe­ri­ence colours, flavours or other un­ex­pected sen­sa­tions dur­ing sex. This means their study group was pretty small — just sev­en­teen women and two men.

Given the small size of their study it is im­pos­si­ble to draw ir­refutable con­clu­sions, but what they found was re­ally in­ter­est­ing and a lit­tle un­ex­pected.

The re­searchers used two ques­tion­naires to mea­sure sex­ual re­sponse. The first mea­sured sex­ual func­tion and dys­func­tion; the sec­ond looked at the oc­cur­rence and ex­tent of sex­ual trances. They also used a con­trol group of 36 reg­u­lar folks to com­pare with the synes­thetes.

There was both good news and bad news for the synes­thetes. First, the good news!

The team found that the synes­thetes had sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter over­all sex­ual func­tion­ing. In fact, they found no ev­i­dence of sex­ual dys­func­tion at all among my fel­low X-Men. In plain English, the synes­thetes did not ex­pe­ri­ence any is­sues with arousal, in­ter­course or or­gasm. De­spite the strange sen­sory per­cep­tions that ac­com­pa­nied their sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences, they had no phys­i­o­log­i­cal sex­ual prob­lems at all.

There was more good news for the synes­thetes. They also ex­pe­ri­enced much higher lev­els of sex­ual trance, which the re­searchers po­et­i­cally termed “oceanic bound­less­ness”. A sex­ual trance is es­sen­tially a sense of to­tal ab­sorp­tion in the sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence gen­er­ally ac­com­pa­nied by feel­ings of in­tense arousal and well-be­ing or one­ness with the world.

Maybe synes­the­sia is not such a use­less su­per­power af­ter all…

If you are not a synes­thete and be­gin­ning to feel a lit­tle hard done by, don’t. Here’s the bad news… Over­all, the synes­thetes were less sat­is­fied with their sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences than the con­trol group.

This sur­prised the re­searchers. They had as­sumed, as you would, that in­tense arousal fol­lowed by colour-pop­ping or­gasms would mean far greater sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case.

For one thing, an in­tense feel­ing of arousal does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to a sim­i­larly in­tense feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion. And for an­other, be­ing un­able to share their feel­ings of oceanic bound­less­ness left the synes­thetes feel­ing iso­lated.

The re­searchers reck­oned that all the fire­works and sex­ual trances could not make up for the fact that the synes­thetes felt dis­con­nected from their part­ners. This put a mas­sive downer on the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. In a way, this makes sense. Af­ter all, if you are a de­cent per­son, you’d like to feel that your part­ner was en­joy­ing him or her­self as much as you were. If they weren’t, you’d feel like you had let them down or failed them in some way.

Hmmm… it is prob­a­bly a good thing that I never men­tioned my colour­ful or­gasms un­til I was loved up with a fel­low synes­thete. If I had known that I was alone in feel­ing the blue, the green and the pur­ple, I would def­i­nitely have felt bad about it, even though an­other per­son’s or­gasm is al­ways go­ing to be some­thing of a mys­tery any­way.

Sci­en­tif­i­cally, we know ex­actly what an or­gasm is – but de­spite that we can never truly know what our part­ners are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dur­ing sex. If we could, no­body could ever do a con­vinc­ing fake.

It’s not just our part­ners — what I un­der­stand by the term “or­gasm” and what you do, may well be dif­fer­ent things. In fact, they al­most cer­tainly are.

Google de­scrip­tions of the fe­male or­gasm and you’ll find ref­er­ences to waves, to but­ter­flies, to a feel­ing of melting or tin­gling or ex­plo­sions. Look for male de­scrip­tions of or­gasms and you’ll find just as much va­ri­ety — a feel­ing of clar­ity, spir­i­tu­al­ity, a sneeze and “some­thing akin to the most plea­sur­able piss ever taken.”

We may be all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent – but there is noth­ing wrong with that. Whether you ex­pe­ri­ence colours, tex­tures, the mu­sic of the heav­ens, a feel­ing of re­lief or a sense of well­be­ing, it seems or­gasms are as var­ied as the peo­ple who have them.

And dif­fer­ence, like or­gasms, ought to be cel­e­brated!

"Google de­scrip­tions of the fe­male or­gasm and you’ll find ref­er­ences to waves, to

but­ter­flies"

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