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…
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