From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
An orgasm (sexual climax) is the conclusion of the sexual response cycle, and is experienced by both males and females. Orgasm is characterized by intense physical pleasure, controlled by the involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system. It is accompanied by quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvic muscles, which surround the primary sexual organs and the anus. Orgasms are often associated with other involuntary actions, including moaning and muscular spasms in other areas of the body, and a general euphoric sensation.
From Greek, from orgaō, to swell with moisture. The word entered English around 1763.
The orgasm has been widely represented in the literature over the centuries. In antiquity, Latin literature addressed the subject as much as Greek literature: Book III of Ovid's Metamorphoses retells a discussion between Jove and Juno, in which the former states: "The sense of pleasure in the male is far / More dull and dead, than what you females share." (maior vestra profecto est, / quam quae contingit maribus.) Juno rejects this thought; they agree to ask the opinion of Tiresias ("who had known Venus/Love in both ways," having lived seven years as a female). Tiresias offends Juno by agreeing with Jove, and she strikes him blind on the spot (Jove lessens the blow by giving Tiresias the gift of foresight, and a long life).
The theme of orgasm survived during Romanticism and Homoeroticism. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), "a translator of extraordinary range and versatility", in FRAGMENT: Supposed to be an Epithalamium of Francis Ravaillac and Charlotte Cordé, wrote phrase "No life can equal such a death.", that has been seen as a metaphor for orgasm, and that was preceded by a rhythmic urgency of the previous lines "Suck on, suck on, I glow, I glow!", alluding explicitly to fellatio. For Shelley, orgasm was "the almost involuntary consequences of a state of abandonment in the society of a person of surpassing attractions." Edward Ellerker Williams, the last love of Shelley's life, was remembered by the poet in "The Boat on the Serchio", which is seen as probably "the grandest portrayal of orgasm in literature":
- The Serchio, twisting forth
- Between the marble barriers which it clove
- At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm
- The wave that died the death which lovers love,
- Living in what it sought; as if this spasm
- Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling,
- But the clear stream in full enthusiasm
- Pours itself on the plain....
Again, Shelley, in this poem, related death to orgasm when he writes "death which lovers love". Curiously, in French literature, the term la petite mort (the little death) is a famous euphemism for orgasm; it is the representation of man who forgets himself and the world during orgasm. Jorge Luis Borges, in the same vision, wrote in one of the several footnotes of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" that one of the churches of Tlön claims Platonically that "All men, in the vertiginous moment of coitus, are the same man. All men who repeat a line from Shakespeare are William Shakespeare." Shakespeare himself was a knowledgeable of this idea: lines "I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes" and "I will die bravely, like a smug bridegroom", said respectively by Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing and by King Lear in the homonymous play, are interpreted as an option to die in a woman's lap to experience a sexual orgasm. Sigmund Freud with his psychoanalytic projects, in "The Ego and the Id" (1923), speculates that sexual satisfaction by orgasm make Eros ("life instinct") exhausted and leaves the field open to Thanatos ("death instinct"), in other words, with orgasm Eros fulfills its mission and gives way to Thanatos. Other modern authors have chosen to represent the orgasm without metaphors. In novel Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), by D.H.Lawrence, we can find an explicit narrative of a sexual act between a couple: "As he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm there awoke in her strange thrills rippling inside her...".
- Human sexual behavior
- Female ejaculation
- Female orgasm
- The little death - French translation of "la petite mort," an euphemism for orgasm
- Nocturnal emission
- Two-orgasm theory
- Premature ejaculation