We live in a world of growing crises, growing trauma, and growing anxiety. We’re desperately in need of solutions, a way of turning back the rising tide of emotional distress. It turns out that—surprise, surprise—nature has a win-win solution for this. It’s called the ‘orgasm reflex’.
Studying schizophrenia in the 1960s, psychologist R.D. Laing wrote: “When our personal worlds are rediscovered… we discover first a shambles… genitals dissociated from heart; heart severed from head; heads dissociated from genitals.”
In The Politics of Experience, Laing describes a devastated emotional landscape with little difference between the insane and the supposedly sane: “What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience… our collusive madness is what we call sanity.”
The more we experience trauma and anxiety, the more we retreat from our feelings and our bodies, worsening the “shambles.”
We are like Lego figures—detachable heads, torsos and legs, made of plastic, unfeeling and imperishable. We live in a Lego world where plastic faces with fixed smiles grin inanely at each other. Everyone pretends that, like Lego figures, they have no genitals.
Why do so few attempt to heal the shambles?
A hero’s journey
Because it’s a long, slow, painful emotional slog—what philosopher Joseph Campbell calls a hero’s journey.
In The journey from the genitals to the heart I describe the stages of my odyssey to reunite my unconsciously shamed genitals with the rest of my being in one balanced, cohesive, self-regulating whole.
But despite major breakthroughs, I never had—until recently—a sense of answering the exam question. What’s the end point of the journey from the genitals to the heart?
Early psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich devoted his life to answering this question. He came up with an answer that’s almost unknown today. In The Function of the Orgasm, first published in 1942, he writes: “The unity of the life function became clinically comprehensible in the form of the orgasm reflex.”
What that means is that the orgasm reflex—whatever that might be—is the unifying force of head, heart and genitals. It’s what finally heals R.D. Laing’s “shambles.”
What is the orgasm reflex?
I’ll let Wilhelm Reich answer that. He writes:
“The orgasm reflex consists precisely of the fact that a wave of excitation and movement runs… over the head, neck, chest, upper and lower abdomen, to the pelvis and then to the legs.”
What Reich describes is a whole-body muscular pulsing that ripples like a series of waves from the head down to the tips of the fingers and toes. It occurs at the point of genital climax—in both women and men, according to Reich—and can be experienced during both sexual intercourse and masturbation.
Unlike a genital orgasm—particularly for men, which is often localised in the penis—the sexual feelings are distributed over the whole body.
The orgasm reflex leaves in its wake a feeling of complete sexual gratification. This is regardless of whether it happened solo or with a partner, regardless of the partner’s physical or emotional desirability, and regardless of how many positions of the Kama Sutra were mastered during the conjugal act.
(Rest assured, dear reader, that I’m currently compiling a statistically valid sample of experiences to confirm these findings.)
Releasing trauma and anxiety
The biological purpose of the reflex appears to be to discharge trauma and anxiety stored as tension in our body. It’s the human equivalent of the way animals shake to release trauma.
The biological purpose of the orgasm reflex appears to be to discharge trauma and anxiety stored as tension in our body. It’s the human equivalent of the way animals shake to release trauma.
As such, it’s fundamental to our wellbeing. Reich writes:
“Harmony and motility is dependent upon the uniformity, totality, and freedom from disturbance of the impulses of the body… Psychic health depends upon… the degree to which one can surrender to and experience the climax of excitation in the natural sexual act.”
The orgasm reflex provides two vitally important keys to a balanced and self-sustaining life: (1) it releases trauma and anxiety, and (2) it provides every person with permanent access to a fully gratifying sex life.
It provides full gratification because it releases trauma and anxiety.
So why has most of humanity lost the ability to experience this?
Because of sexual shame.
In The mother wound – “the dreadful has already happened” I describe how long-term drought, desertification and famine in the equatorial belt from the Sahara through the Middle East to Central Asia gave rise to violent patriarchy.
Something else—much deeper, much less visible—also happened. Damage from the famine extended right down to the cellular level, inhibiting the cells’ ability to function correctly. This decreased motility—to use Reich’s term—led to physical and emotional rigidity that Reich calls ‘character armouring’.
“The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture, is typified by… armouring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This… armouring is the basis of isolation… fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness… Man has alienated himself from, and has grown hostile toward, life.”
Outcome: unconscious muscular tension inhibits our ability to experience the orgasm reflex.
Our current sexual paradigm, largely focused—for men at least—on achieving climax, is an unconscious quest for the healing balm of the orgasm reflex. Yet because of our character armouring, the release of trauma never happens.
Restoring the orgasm reflex
Restoring the reflex became the goal of Reich’s therapeutic work. He focused on three areas: releasing emotional neuroses, freeing muscular inhibitions (‘bound energy’), and breathing:
“The most important means of freeing the orgasm reflex is a breathing technique… There is not a single neurotic person who is capable of breathing out deeply and evenly in one breath.”
Breathing is only one of many tools in our healing toolbox. Emotional, physical and breathing inhibitions are all held in place by shame. Releasing shame is an essential component of restoring full emotional and physical health.
The work of restoring health is the journey from the genitals to the heart, the healing of the “shambles”. Be prepared for a long, hard slog.
Reich was much maligned and persecuted for his unflinching conviction that distorted sexuality lay at the root of humanity’s disease and madness. My own personal recovery of the orgasm reflex leaves me in no doubt he was right.
The notion that healthy sexuality is essential to restoring humanity to wellness sounds like a porn-ogling schoolboy’s wet dream. I’ll let Reich answer that:
“It will no doubt require the work of many generations before sexuality is taken seriously by official science and the laity, probably not until the social questions of life and death bear in upon us the absolute necessity of comprehending and mastering the sexual process.”