Saturday, September 28, 2013

Science and Orgasms

If there is anything that Tantra is popularly known for, it's bigger and better orgasms.  We love orgasms, but what are they?  How do they happen?  And what makes some of them different from the others?

Before we go into the science of Tantra, I think it would be helpful to answer some of these questions, particularly to describe the different types of orgasms and to take a look at the physiology of the male and female orgasm.

Fortunately, some pioneers have been here before us.  Alfred Kinsey, in his pioneer studies of sexuality (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948, and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953), and William Masters and Virginia Johnson, in their hugely influential study, Human Sexual Response, 1966, laid the groundwork by documenting and making the public aware for the first time of the range of different phenomena known by the word “orgasm.”  And William Hartman and Marilyn Fithian studied multi-orgasmic men and women in the laboratory in the 1970s and 1980s, extensively documenting these phenomena for the first time.

Orgasm Basics

Wikipedia provides a good paraphrase of the general scientific definition of an orgasm:  “The sudden discharge of accumulated sexual tension during the sexual response cycle, resulting in rhythmic muscular contractions in the pelvic region characterized by sexual pleasure. Experienced by males and females, orgasms are controlled by the involuntary or autonomic nervous system. They are often associated with other involuntary actions, including muscular spasms in multiple areas of the body, a general euphoric sensation and, frequently, body movements and vocalizations are expressed.”

Most people discussing the sexual arousal process follow Masters and Johnson’s four-phase description of the physical symptoms:

Excitement phase:  increased heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure; tumescence (in varying degrees) of nipples and genitals; possible initial flushing.
Plateau phase:  further increases in circulation, heart rate, and tumescence, normally including full erection of the penis or clitoris; increased flushing (if present); male urethral sphincter closes off the connection to the bladder; both sexes produce genital fluids.
Orgasmic phase:  Heart rate peaks, usually around 120 beats per minute or more; rapid muscular contractions in the pelvic muscles surrounding the genitals and anus; female may have contractions in vagina or uterus; male usually has ejaculatory contractions of the urethra, prostate, and associated areas; other muscles may spasm; vocal cries may occur.
Resolution phase:  detumescence; lowering of blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration; relaxation of tensed muscles; fading of flush.

To these physical events, we can now add a cascade of chemical events that help trigger and control the physical ones.  We’ll discuss the biochemistry of sex and orgasm in more detail in later posts.

In discussions of Tantra, we generally lump the first two phases together into one long “arousal phase,” paying careful attention to the degree of arousal throughout.  Instead of splitting it into just two parts, we think of the arousal phase as a long curve that may have multiple ups and downs over time before reaching its final peak.

We also often refer to “the pre-orgasmic phase” or “the point of no return,” as if it were a separate (very brief) phase between arousal and orgasm.  Although many authors describe it as being the very last part of the arousal process, it’s important to realize that this is actually the first part of the orgasmic phase.  What we are feeling at that point is the onset of the orgasm in the brain and the nervous system, which actually precedes the physical symptoms of orgasm by several seconds.  You’re at “the point of no return” because in reality the orgasm has already begun. 

Understanding this is especially important for men who are trying to learn to have an orgasm without ejaculation.  As I’ll describe later, paying attention during the one to three seconds between the onset of the orgasm (“the point of no return”) and the start of ejaculation can help a man learn the difference between the two.

Extending the Arousal Phase

A key point that is not often recognized, but has been well documented and is critical to understanding Tantric sex:  extending the duration of the arousal (or “plateau”) phase increases the duration and intensity of the orgasm and may significantly change the way the orgasm is perceived.

During the three to ten minutes of the typical sex act, only the immediate genital tissues are involved and there is little opportunity for anything but the most basic events leading up to orgasm.  During the 30 to 60 minutes of a typical Tantric massage or a typical yab-yum/maithuna session, however, there is an opportunity for tumescence and hormonal saturation to occur in many other areas of the body, including the anal and pelvic regions adjacent to the genitals and extending with time to other areas, including the abdomen, breasts, chest, skin, ears, lips, and more.

When orgasm finally does occur after a prolonged arousal phase, the release of sexual tension that occurs (and the accompanying rush of pleasure) then feels like it is coming from a much larger area of the body, as well as being much more intense. By consciously employing meditation and attention control as techniques for increasing the rate at which recruitment occurs, Tantric practitioners actually enhance this increase in orgasmic area and intensity even more.

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