Tuesday 24 April 2018

Reinventing the orgasm for Irish women - the hidden health benefits of a satisfying love life

At a time when just one in six Irish women say they reach the big 'O' every time they have sex - well, maybe it's time for a change

Stock image
Stock image
Women have found their voice - female desire is no longer taboo
Annie Sprinkle
Planet Orgasm

Suzanne Harrington

Yes, yes, yessssssssss!

Let's talk about orgasm. A pocket-sized new book, The Explorer's Guide To Planet Orgasm, tells us that "every person is an entire erotic universe just waiting to be explored." Its author, Annie Sprinkle, is a sex positive legend - who has spent the past four decades working at the forefront of human sexuality. She believes that the accepted definition of orgasm - muscular contractions in the pelvic region - is both limited and limiting. It's not just physical, she says, but spiritual, emotional, esoteric. And it comes in a rainbow of varieties, depending on who and how you are.

Sometimes it doesn't come at all, which makes us think that our sex is somehow invalid. "We are not socially programmed to have non-goal oriented, playful, euphoric sex," she says. "Instead we learn that sex is incomplete or unsatisfactory without an orgasm. We are told that when we 'achieve' orgasm, we achieve success. But sex is not a competitive sport. Making love is a dance, and if orgasm is the only goal, we miss most of the tango."

Sprinkle urges us to experiment with our breathing so that we can generate orgasmic response outside the traditional framework - energy orgasms, megagasms, nipplegasms, dreamgasms, crygasms, coregasms, minigasms, wavegasms, and whole body orgasmic states. We are all orgasmanauts, she says, exploring our inner universe of pleasure.

"There is no one definitive answer," she says of orgasm definition. "One paper in the Clinical Psychology Review included a list of 26 definitions." Extraordinarily, given how the human orgasm is central to the continued existence of the human race, it is not a particularly well researched subject. "Many professionals are unwilling to risk the shame and stigma of doing orgasm research," she says. "History has shown that researching pleasure can ruin a career."

Orgasm research began in the modern age with Freud, who gave us the idea of sex drive, suggesting that human behaviour is driven by our libido, both consciously and unconsciously. However, he did women a lingering disservice with his hypothesis that there are two kinds of female orgasm - vaginal and clitoral, respectively "mature" orgasm and "immature" orgasm. Today we realise that this is nonsense, but for decades, women were encouraged to chase the so-called "mature" orgasm instead of enjoying the authentic "immature" kind with which we tend to be more familiar.

William Reich, a colleague of Freud, wrote The Function of Orgasm, and gave the world the concept of "orgone energy", where you could sit in an "orgone box" - a telephone booth sized box - to accumulate esoteric sexual energy. Although dismissed by Einstein as scientific piffle, the orgone box was popular with mid-20th century writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, JD Salinger and Norman Mailer, and was the inspiration for the parodic 'Orgasmatron' in Woody Allen's film Sleeper.

It has also been referenced in popular culture in the work of writers Evelyn Waugh and musicians Kate Bush, Devo and Hawkwind. Reich's work was considered subversive, and he died in prison in 1957, after a dispute with the US Food and Drug Administration involving the distribution of orgone boxes. "The orgasm is no longer a mere biological function, nor the side effect of casual pleasure," he wrote before his death. "It is the very centre of human experience and ultimately determines the happiness of the human race."

Between the 1950s and 1980s, husband and wife team Masters and Johnson challenged Freud's female orgasm theory of mature and immature - by observing hundreds of women and men experiencing orgasm in their research laboratory - and offered a new definition of the sexual response cycle: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. However, their focus was largely on the physiological mechanics of orgasm (heart beat, blood flow etc) rather than what was happening in the primary sexual organ - the brain.

In 1979, sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan added desire to her three defined arousal states - desire, excitement, orgasm. Until then, desire had not been considered, which today seems unimaginable, until we remember that even still, around a quarter of women experience difficulty having orgasm, with one in 10 never experiencing it at all. Cultural and social influences play a part in this, as does gender injustice in the bedroom - until relatively recently, it was not considered unusual for women to fake it. In this more sexually liberated era, with easy access to a variety of useful sex toys, faking orgasm is no longer as routine as it was for previous generations. Especially as we have found our sexual voice, and female desire is no longer unacknowledged/taboo or both.

"Women have nearly as much erectile tissue as men," writes US sex educator Betty Dodson, who agrees with Masters and Johnson that the primary female sex organ is the clitoris. "However, most of ours is internal." Today, MRI and PET scans, ultrasound and sonography are being used in orgasm research studies, as the internet facilitates wide reaching online surveys. "The history of orgasm research is still being created," says Annie Sprinkle. Yes, yes, yessssssss!

* ORGASM - SOME DEFINITIONS

* Energy orgasm - a study by US sexologists Beverley Whipple and Gina Ogden explored how women could reach satisfying orgasm without genital stimulation. Learning to "think off" could be of particular benefit to those with spinal cord injury.

* Megagasm - the opposite of above. Everything is stimulated, and the orgasm, assisted and elongated by deep breathing, lasts longer and is super intense. So powerful it can cause teeth to chatter in its aftermath.

* Body-part-gasm - where the stimulation of an erogenous zone (nipples, anal area, neck, feet, toes etc) causes orgasm, without genital sex happening.

* Dreamgasm - or nocturnal orgasm, found by the Kinsey Report to affect 37pc of American women. They are an example of what Sprinkle calls "energy orgasms", in that they occur without sex.

* Crygasm - involuntary crying after orgasm, as tensions release. Quite common, but rarely portrayed culturally.

* Coregasm - orgasms which happen while exercising, particularly when challenging core abdominal muscles. One study showed how about 10pc of men and women experience it at least once. It can also happen during yoga.

* ORGASMIC HEALTH BENEFITS

ΩStress - the release of dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure, and endorphins, which create a sensation of well-being, are released during orgasm. Whether orgasm happens alone or with a partner, the results are the same - lowered blood pressure, and a sense of relaxation. Ashley Grossman, professor of endocrinology at Oxford University, points out how the hormone prolactin, released during orgasm and also released by the body during breast feeding, has a calming effect.

* Depression and anxiety - ditto (although obviously serious depression requires proper medical intervention). Serotonin - associated with anti depressants like Prozac - is released by the brain during orgasm. There was a leaflet aimed at students in England by the NHS suggesting that an orgasm a day kept the doctor away - that sexual release was important for physical and mental good health.

* Insomnia - nature's sleeping pill, again because of lowered blood pressure and endorphin release. Again the release of the hormone prolactin aids deep sleep.

* Longevity - in 1997 a Welsh study showed how men who had the most orgasms (two or more per week) enjoyed 50pc greater longevity than men who had the least (one a month). Again, no partner required. Another study from Israel showed how women who had more orgasms had fewer heart attacks - and vice versa.

* Physical pain - for instance, menstrual cramps can be alleviated by orgasm, due to the release of the body's own painkiller, dopamine. So can headaches. Dr Beverly Whipple, a certified sexuality educator, sexuality counsellor and sex researcher who discovered the female G-spot in the 1970s, reported that female orgasm increased pain threshold by 107pc. Another study involving 83 women with migraine found that more than 50pc experienced reduced pain levels after orgasm.

ΩImproved immunity ­- the antibody immonglobulin A is released during orgasm. A 30pc increased resilience to the common cold was reported in one study whose subjects who enjoyed orgasm several times a week

* Happiness - the hormone oxytocin has shown to improve pair bonding in couples, and increase fidelity in both parties, thus leading to deeper, more fulfilling relationships. Dr David Linden, a New York neurologist and author of The Compass of Pleasure, adds that only seizures stimulatew the brain more than orgasm; its pleasure rush is comparable to the effects of cocaine, heroin, alcohol, amphetamine or winning cash. Hence orgasm can be addictive.

* Better skin - the hormone DHEA, which repairs tissue, is released during orgasm. Afterwards, according to world-renowned dermatologist Annie Chiu, deep sleep in turn releases the antioxidant melatonin, which helps regenerate skin. So the more regularly you orgasm, the better you sleep, the younger you look.

* Improved memory - orgasm sends oxygenated blood to the hypothalmus, which a Canadian study showed improved ability to remember faces and abstract words. Psychology professor Jens Pruessner of McGill University explains how the hormones and neurotransmitters which signal reward in the brain are associated with memory and sexual activity. So the more sex, the sharper the memory.

Similar outcomes can be achieved by exercise, but orgasm is more fun.

ANNIE SPRINKLE Sex positive pioneer

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Annie Sprinkle
 

• Born Ellen Steinberg in 1953 Philadelphia, Annie Sprinkle is a ground breaking X-rated feminist. A former sex worker, stripper and porn star, she is now best known as a sex positive educator, author and artist.

• Long before the Internet normalised such ideas, Sprinkle performed in a one-woman theatre show, Public Cervix Announcement, where she sat onstage with a speculum and flashlight, inviting the audience to see up close what a vagina looked like on the inside. Non- titillating, informative and ground breaking, this led to a further series of educational films, such as 1992 film Sluts and Goddesses Workshop and How To Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps.

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Planet Orgasm

• Sprinkle has appeared in almost one hundred porn films, and more recently has released A Herstory of Porn, and Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm. Her books include Annie Sprinkle: Post Porn Modernist, Hardcore from the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance, and Dr Sprinkle's Spectacular Sex: Makeover For Your Love Life, as well as Planet Orgasm.

• Her photography has appeared in Penthouse, Newsweek, Spin, and American Photographer. She lectures widely in universities, and gives classes and workshops internationally.

• Sprinkle married her collaborator, art professor Beth Stephens in 2007, with whom she started the ecosexual movement, which urges us to think of nature as our lover, not our mother. She recently obtained a doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco - she is, says her website, "the first porn star in history to get a PhD." Her website is anniesprinkle.org (asm). Have a look. She's fascinating.

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