Orgastic Loss of Consciousness: Is This Normal?!
I have to say, for this Weird Science Friday, it was a tough call between this one and the other paper I found about the effects of Prozac in salmon. I mean, who gives Prozac to SALMON?! Are our teleosts depressed? Enquiring minds apparently want to know.

Anyway, here we go: Weird science and Classic science.
Needles, W. “A note of orgiastic loss of consciousness” Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 22(4) 512-8, 1953.

If you’ve taken any intro psychology course, or even if you haven’t, you probably know that Freud, the great founder of psychoanalysis (and great believer in the uses of cocaine to aid his digestion…) was a little obsessed with sex. Phallic symbols, vaginal symbols, it all boiled down to sex. If you had difficulty with men, liked older men, hated men, you must have had some underlying sexual issues with your dad. If you liked popsicles, you really must have a phallus thing, and if you were a woman, you probably had penis envy. Apparently there was no correlate with vaginal envy. But the sexual issues went on and on, I don’t think Freud believed in issues that were not related to sex.

Well, Freud’s psychoanalysis obviously became very popular, and future psychoanalysts remained pretty well fascinated with sex (I think it must have been really fun to be a psychoanalyst…) Today’s post concerns a sexual phenomenon that apparently no psychanalyst ever really solved: the orgiastic loss of consciousness. If you ask me, I think it may all boil down to a mis-interpretation.

Psychoanalysts were very concerned (they may well still be around, so maybe they ARE still concerned) with attaining “maturity in the process of psychosexual development”, and to them this meant the attainment of full sexual potency. But there was a great deal of debate about what “full sexual potency” actually MEANT.

“One investigator prescribes a certain number of coital thrusts, another specifies a minimum and maximum duration…others take exception to these rigid limitations.”

It is impossible to be too immature with that quote.  Heh…rigid limitations…heh…  and how do you PRESCRIBE a certain number of coital thrusts?  “All right, Mr. Doe, let’s try 10 coital thrusts tonight, and call me in the morning.”  But my favorite definition of full sexual potency would be the one from Freud himself, who writes “the fleeting but unmistakable loss of consciousness, which can be observed at the climax of every intensive sexual gratification.”  Say it with a Viennese accent and it only gets better. 

But loss of consciousness?  In this article, Dr. Needle explores what exactly that means.  He states, and I agree, that an actual loss of consciousness at the moment of orgasm is probably not very healthy.  And I don’t think anyone would say that it is common.  In fact, the famous Kinsey report has some data on it.  In one group of people studied, the orgasm culminates in

“…extreme trembling, collapse, loss of color, and sometimes fainting of the subject.  Sometimes this happens only in the boy’s first experience, occasionally it occurs throughout the life of the individual, regularly in one a few (three percent) of adolescent males.”

Needles notes that this is probably pathological rather than normal.  It is possible that some of those who experienced trembling, collapse, etc, during orgasm had severe narcolepsy.  Narcolepsy in it’s true definition is a loss of hypocretin in the brain, and when the subject gets excited, they lose all skeletal muscle tone, resulting in collapse, though usually they don’t actually lose consciousness.  Of course, this also makes it very hard for them to *ahem* achieve full sexual potency, ’cause if you can’t get excited, well. (You know they have hypocretin knockout mice who have this form of narcolepsy.  Normally, mice breed like…mice.  But the males are really hard to get to breed.  The females breed very easily, though, I mean, it’s not like they can run away from their pursuer).

But for those who were Freud’s disciples, loss of consciousness should be a necessary part of orgasm.  In fact, Kaiser says of a masochistic patient that the reason they are masochistic is because they cannot attain loss of consciousness, and so can never have a full orgasm.  Apparently the loss of consciousness is necessary to acheive true relaxation.

But regardless of whether or not we are achieving “true relaxation”, it’s very obvious that most people don’t lose consciousness when they orgasm.    Needles, in the end, doesn’t really solve the problem.  He revises the definitions.  A loss of consciousness was not passing out, blacking out, fainting, or anything else.  It was more of a swoon, a loss of SELF-consciousness, the person “withdraws interest from perception of the external world” and focuses entirely on “absorbing pleasure stimuli”.  Which is good, because I’m pretty sure that trying to faint during orgasm just to attain “full sexual potency” would make for some pretty unhappy sexual experiences.  And, given my previous post on hyperventilation causing decreased cortical blood flow, it seems much more likely.  And it’s good for psychoanalysts too. “…the analyst who fails to have his patients achieve it in the course of analysis may, on that score at least, remain free from anxiety.”

Needles, W. (1953). A note on the orgiastic loss of consciousness. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 22(4), 512-518.

6 Responses

  1. Once I regain consciousness (I faint at the sight of Needles), I will be interested in Prozac and salmon. There is a lot of stuff on Prozac and lobsters and crayfish, but I have not read anything about salmon.

  2. […] if you do, I hope it was enjoyable! And edifying, of course. Kind of science that is amenable to experimentation at home. Read the […]

  3. Sweet! Prozac and Salmon it is! I think it’s just locomotor effect in young vs old salmon, and studying the serotonin system, really doesn’t appear to be too different from that of mammals. I would be interested to see depression testing in fish, though…

  4. I wonder if it matters if you are a “farmed” salmon, and therefore subject to the usual stresses of over-crowding etc., or a wild salmon, who is free of the overcrowding issues, but paranoid about nets and fly-fishermen?

  5. If Simon’s concern is valid, does this mean we’ll start psychoanalyzing fish? A new adaptation of Freud! “You swim upriver because you have issues with your…”

  6. believe it or not, this is an important study, and its because of environmental pollution. Not all drugs are metabolized by the body, and some find their way in marine ecosystems, in surprising concentrations, due to the increasing frequency of prescription.

    I made an old blog entry about it, actually:

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