La petite mort  

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La petite mort, French for "the little death", is an idiom and metaphor for orgasm.

More widely, it can refer to the spiritual release that comes with orgasm or to a short period of melancholy or transcendence as a result of the expenditure of the "life force", the feeling which is caused by the release of oxytocin in the brain after the occurrence of orgasm. Literary critic Roland Barthes spoke of la petite mort as the chief objective of reading literature. He metaphorically used the concept to describe the feeling one should get when experiencing any great literature.

The term "la petite mort" or "the small death" does not always apply to sexual experiences. It can also be used when some undesired thing has happened to a person and has affected them so much that "a part of them dies inside". A literary example of this is found in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles when he uses the phrase to describe how Tess feels after she comes across a particularly gruesome omen and meeting with her own rapist:

"She felt the petite mort at this unexpectedly gruesome information, and left the solitary man behind her."


In art

'La petite mort' has been referenced in other art forms as well. In 1993 Jake and Dinos Chapman created a piece called Little Death Machine (Castrated). The sculpture is part of an installation at the Tate Britain gallery in London, which explores some of the overtly sexual views of the Surrealist movement. Surrealists such as Salvador Dali explored the links between sex and death through their art.

Popular culture

Further reading

  • Psychobiology of altered states of consciousness, Psychological Bulletin 2005, Vol. 131, No. 1, 98-127
  • Orgasmic aura originates from the right hemisphere, Neurology 2002;58:302-304

See also

postorgasmic illness syndrome, post-coital tristesse, refractory period (sex)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "La petite mort" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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