Endorphin Orgasm

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April 1996

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1996 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I've heard people talk about "endorphin orgasms." What is an endorphin orgasm, what does it lead to except more endorphins, and how do you get one?

<A> I've never heard of an endorphin orgasm, so if there is such a thing I won't be able to enlighten you. But it's possible that you're referring to what I've heard called an "SM orgasm," which I can describe, and it's also possible that the orgasm you're referring to is really endorphin shock, which is a very different thing and which I can also describe.

What some people call an SM orgasm is what Wilhelm Reich called a "full-body orgasm," in which the whole body is felt to be an erogenous zone. When the body's many nerve and energy centers are aroused (as they might be, for example, through a long, sensuous whipping), and not just those of the genitals and reproductive system, the tension in these centers is built up until it culminates in the same sort of explosive release people commonly associate with genital orgasm or, more prosaically, with sneezing.

A person in the throes of an SM orgasm may find his or her whole body shaking rhythmically and to some extent uncontrollably as various muscle groups – especially those in the belly and abdomen around the diaphragm – pulse through a series of cataclysmic contractions. When the contractions subside some people seem to feel calm and serene, while others feel invigorated – rather the way people feel after a genital orgasm, but moreso. Some people like to have a genital orgasm after a full-body orgasm and some don't seem to care very much, but very few people I've ever spoken to who have had the experience of an SM orgasm have found it is less pleasing than a genital orgasm, and some clearly seem to prefer it.

Some yoga practices describe a life-force energy known as the kundalini (KUHN - dah - LEE - nee). In most people the kundalini is said to lie coiled in an energy center called a chakra (SHOCK - rah) approximately at the base of the spine. This energy is also called "snake energy," because when it is stimulated enough to be "awakened" it is said to rise up the spine like a snake uncoiling, arousing other energy centers that lie in its path along the spine as it goes. People who have experienced the kundalini rising have described their feelings in terms very similar to those Reich used to describe a full-body orgasm, and which people in the SM world use to describe an SM orgasm.

Unlike the various forms of orgasm, endorphin shock is not a pleasant experience. Instead, it's very much like any other sort of chemical overload that produces an experience of shock in the body. I'm not a medical doctor, so while I believe the information that follows to be accurate, you might check with your physician or other health care provider before relying on it. (This announcement was brought to you in part by the contemporary American legal system.)

Endorphins are hormone-like chemicals released when the body has been under stress, including pain, for a prolonged period – about 45 minutes is the number I've heard bandied about most. Some athletes talk about experiencing an endorphin high if, after they hit "the wall" when their energy sags, they keep on going: then they talk about feeling suffused with bliss, and finding it easy to keep on in their physical endeavors. This sort of high is apparently rather different from various depletions the body also experiences with long, strenuous exercise.

Endorphins seem to have opiate-like properties that don't so much dull pain as make us care less about it, so that we can put up with more of it for a longer time than we might otherwise be able to do. If we remain under stress for a very long time, however, and we keep producing endorphins, we become overloaded with them as we also become overloaded by adrenaline and some other sorts of chemicals, and then we go into endorphin shock: our hands become clammy, we sweat, our eyes become glazed, we breathe shallowly, and altogether we don't feel well.

The first-line response to endorphin shock is to stop as much stress and other physical input to the shocked person as possible, make sure he or she is warm (e.g., put a blanket over him or her), and give the person sugar, for instance in the form of a honeyed or a sugared drink. The person may sleep for awhile, and is most likely to be all right if a little groggy afterwards. If any signs of distress persist, have them checked out by competent medical personnel.

It is plausible that what you mean by an endorphin orgasm is the experience of being so very high on endorphins that you trance out – a state many masochists seem to enjoy – but if not, keep searching and let me know what you find out. I've given you what I can, but I'm always willing to learn more.

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