What Is Orgasm?
In Indian languages, orgasm is called sukun (happiness), nasha (stupor-high), sukh (happiness), shanti (peace-tranquillity), samadhan (satisfaction), kamatrupti (sexual satisfaction), etc.
The orgasm is difficult to describe in words as each person perceives it differently. However, the feelings that one experiences after orgasm are easier to describe and understand. During sexual intercourse, the desire for sex increases in a crescendo and reaches its peak just before orgasm. During the 8 to 15 second orgasmic stage, both men and women report experiencing spasmodic jerks of the body along with feelings of extreme happiness and euphoria. Then, the desire for sex suddenly dips (unless a person is multi-orgasmic), and a unique type of trance sets in. The mind and body become totally relaxed and satisfied.
These events are quite ‘natural’ and with a few exceptions, the majority of men and women report a comparable feeling after an orgasm. However, some persons are never able to experience orgasm. Often, they slowly lose interest in sex and their desire for sex can drop down to zero. Frankly, how many men and women would say yes to sex if there were no such thing as ‘orgasm’?
Hence, Orgasm remains one of the prime motivators for men and women to indulge in sexual activity.
Sathe’s Orgasm Hypothesis
Why does one experience orgasm? What is the function of Orgasm? Why do events described above occur in a specific sequence in a majority of us? Since 1994, I decided to focus my attention and conduct research on orgasm. As a result, in 2001 my hypothesis and joint research (with Dr. Alice Ladas, Dr. Barry Komisaruk, and Dr. Shreerang Godbole) were published in the May-June issue of the Journal ‘The Archives of Medical Research.’ In the same year, I presented our original research paper at the 15th World Congress of Sexology in Paris.
In order to understand the orgasm, I focused my attention on various neurotransmitters of our bodies. These are chemical messengers and they help to transmit signals at lightning speed to and from the brain to all the parts of our body. Dopamine, oxytocin, anandamide, prolactin, endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, phenylethylamine, nitric oxide, estrogen, testosterone, vasopressin, etc. are some of the numerous neurotransmitters that have an important role in sexual function. Scientists believe that even ‘falling in love’ is determined by three important neurotransmitters – phenylethylamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin.
To initiate a desire for sex, communication with the aid of these neurotransmitters is vital. Their super-fast interaction is critical to increase and maintain sexual arousal. They are responsible for us to feel romantic, our heart to beat faster, the penis to become erect, the vagina to become moist and for many other feelings, you experience when you are with a person you love. Of all the neurochemicals, ‘Endorphins’ (discovered in the 1970s) became the center of my attention because of their very special properties. Recently ‘Anandamide’ (discovered in the 1990s) has also grabbed my interest and will also perhaps prove its importance in sexual matters.
Endorphins were so named because they are produced by the body and have properties that are similar to morphine or opium. (Endo = inside, orphin = from morphine) Endorphins play a major role in all pleasure and happiness feelings that we experience. They are responsible for the pain-reward mechanism in the mind and body. Endorphins are believed to be released when we eat, drink, exercise, play, etc. Drinking alcohol, consuming tobacco, using recreational drugs also has its basis in endorphin action. When we experience severe physical pain or emotional trauma that makes us cry, endorphins are released in our body, and that perhaps is what makes us feel better.
Plenty of research has been done to study the role of endorphins in the sexual behavior of rats. In humans, this is not possible because of the ‘addiction potential’ of endorphins. It is also not possible to use morphine for the same reasons. However, because morphine and opium have been extensively used in medicine, we know of many of its properties.
The following are some very interesting facts about morphine.
It is observed that when morphine is injected very quickly in the vein ……….
- One experiences euphoric happiness.
- One feels mentally relaxed and satisfied.
- Reduces body-ache and pain.
- Induces deep sleep.
- If injected very fast and in larger amounts, the person gets trembling and spasms.
- When injected into a sexually aroused man, it reduces sexual desire and erection of the penis.
Anandamide (N-Arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA) is an Endocannabinoid neurotransmitter. Its action within our body is that of producing joy and happiness. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who identified the endocannabinoid (N-Arachidonoylethanolamine i.e. AEA), from the extract of Cannabis Indica plant (Ganja or Bhang plant), decided on this name as ‘Anand’ in Sanskrit means ‘Happy’ or ‘Bliss’. Endocannabinoids are called so because they too are produced inside the body (Endo) and exert (Cannabinoid) like action. Its exact role in sexual arousal and orgasm is yet to be fully researched. Recent studies suggest that in low doses Anandamide enhances sexual arousal and in high doses, it has the opposite effect.
Also, it is interesting to note that both men and women report their orgasmic experience that is almost similar that is extreme pleasure, body spasms, and mental calmness followed by intense drowsiness. Therefore, I proposed a hypothesis to define the orgasm in a truly scientific manner in 1996.
My hypothesis in its current form states that:
Under favorable circumstances and with adequate mental and physical stimulation by means of visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and other sensory inputs, the release of sexual excitatory neurotransmitters like Dopamine, Oxytocin, Anandamide, and others initiate and maintain high Sexual Arousal State. Release of pro-sexual neurotransmitters and simultaneous suppression of anti-sexual neurotransmitters notably the Endorphins also probably contribute to increasing Sexual Arousal.
With sustained pro-sexual sensory input for a certain time duration befitting the individual, along with a rush of Dopamine and Oxytocin, large amounts of Endorphins & Endocannabinoids are suddenly released in a massive surge & this could play a pivotal role in the ‘blissful euphoric pleasure rush’ … a Sexual Climax … an EjaculatoryOrgasm … as reported by humans. During such an ‘EjaculatoryOrgasm’ finale, along with Endorphins & Endocannabinoids, other neurotransmitters such as Prolactin, Serotonin, Cortisol, Melatonin, etc. are also probably released. They too could contribute in their own way towards ‘satiety’ ‘no-more-desire’ & ‘drowsy’ feelings of the Refractory Period.
Endorphin action could well explain the mental ecstasy, body spasms, hypnotic trance, and subsequent analgesia, heavy-eyed drowsiness followed by a lack of sexual desire (Refractory Period). Endocannabinoid action could explain the happiness of arousal, the bliss of orgasm that is followed by a transient lack of sexual desire (Refractory Period).
What are the implications of Sathe’s Orgasm hypothesis?
The hypothesis could also explain as to why a person reports the variation of intensity of orgasm at different times. The intensity is perhaps proportional to the number of endorphins are released which means that a less intense orgasm is experienced if a smaller quantity of endorphins is released. Also, if for some reason, their release is blocked, or they are not released due to any reason, then the person does not experience an orgasm at all.
My belief is that just as each musician in a large orchestra plays his/her instrument at exactly the right moment using the correct cords, each neurochemical has a role to play in a perfect ‘symphony’ during the entire sexual act. Even if one neurochemical becomes ‘out of sync’ with the others, the entire process can get adversely affected or fail completely. During the sexual act from start to finish, many neurochemicals tide and ebb to play an important role leading to the finale of the sudden release of the endorphins and that’s orgasm.