Core Concepts Series: III. The Orgasm Theory – Part 1

Development and Overview

Wilhelm Reich’s orgasm theory shields the Queen of the Sciences from the vulgar, repulsing the vain fact collectors, the theoretical dabblers and those who would appropriate her principles for their own wicked ends. It is subject to ridicule at first and later the most vehement hostility. Nonetheless, it has furnished a physiological metric, orgastic potency, by which we can determine if a neurosis has been resolved, independently of culturally constructed ideas of health which rest on no biological basis.

During the 1920s, psychoanalysts classified as actual neuroses those monosymptomatic diseases relegated by orthodox medicine to the “psychosomatic” realm. Freud surmised that these were caused by the incomplete metabolism of sex-hormones and, in accordance with his libido-economic theory, sex and masturbation were prescribed. Psychoneuroses such as hysteria, perversion and masochism, on the other hand, required analysis. Despite this distinction, Reich recalls that Freud “was of the opinion that every psychoneurosis centered around ‘an actual-neurotic core’ (1).” In other words, a stasis of libido lies at the root of every neurosis.

Clinical experience led Reich to hypothesize that both actual neuroses and psychoneuroses were caused not merely by a libidinal stasis, but by a total disturbance of genital function. While none of his female patients were able to have orgasms, about thirty percent of his male patients were able to have erections and ejaculate. However, their sexuality, like that of his female patients, was characterized by symbolic fantasy and the absence of motor, involuntary, pleasure-oriented behavior. The economic function of such fantasizing can be nothing other than to withhold a quantity of libido and prevent its discharge in the sexual act. It is the ego’s defense against momentary dissolution.

Because their sexual characteristics handicap catharsis, it became necessary to classify the genital function of these neurotic males as pathological, despite their ability to impregnate. Meanwhile, it was observed that when a neurosis is completely resolved, to wit, when a patient’s sex-economy gains the capacity to regulate itself, a specific, involuntary reflex thenceforth appears at the height of sexual excitation. This orgasm reflex, a total convulsion of the body and temporary loss of consciousness at the climax of genital embrace (2), eventually became a metric signifying the resolution of neurotic illness. Why? because, it was found, that the orgastic convulsions discharge the libidinal stases that otherwise nourish a neurosis. When orgastic discharge is precluded, neurotic symptoms appear in order vent the stasis of libido and establish a sex-economic equilibrium, albeit a pathological one. At the same time, when the libido is invested in the production of neurotic symptoms, it cannot be exhausted in the orgastic discharge. The role of sexuality goes far beyond reproduction; it maintains the energetic hygiene of the organism. The capacity to allow the orgasm reflex to take place is called orgastic potency.

The orgasm theory, presented in 1926, was rejected by the psychoanalytic community. It implied that the analysts themselves were neurotic and sexually dysfunctional. The Freudians are still of the opinion that sexual repression is necessary if something bad is to be avoided. Sound familiar? Several testified that they encountered any number of female neurotics with intact genital function, but, as we shall explore in future installments, the essence of a neurotic’s disease is that he cannot tell he’s a neurotic, let alone anyone else. He interprets his symptoms to be parts of his identity and, if they are prevalent among the public, he will consider them to be normal. While operating the first public psychoanalytic clinic, Reich surmised that over eighty percent of people in interbellum Central Europe were orgastically impotent. After that sham of a sexual revolution in the 1960s and 70s, I estimate it is even higher today.

(1) Reich, Wilhelm – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV. The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 2. Supplementation of Freud’s Conception of the Anxiety Neurosis pg. 90

(2) Reich, Wilhelm – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV. The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 3. Orgastic Potency pg. 95-115

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