Core Concepts Series V: The Orgastic Function – Part 1

The Biomechanics and Electrophysiology Thereof

When Wilhelm Reich referred to “the function of the orgasm,” he was not talking about the purpose or meaning of the orgasm but simply about what happens in it. As we saw in the fourth installment, the orgasm reflex is chiefly characterized by the complete discharge of accumulated sexual tension. In other words, there is no libido-quantitative difference between cathexis and catharsis that can be allocated to the production of neurotic symptoms such as perversion. This cyclic investment and divestment is referred to in Reich’s oeuvre as the orgastic function, the orgasm formula or the tension-charge formula. Reich described the orgastic function as having four distinct phases: mechanical tension, electric charge, electric discharge and mechanical relaxation. However, it is illuminating to consider the two halves of the cycle as individual phases: one characterized by mechanical tension and electric charge, and the other by electric discharge and mechanical relaxation.

In the sexual response, the genital blood vessels dilate and the male and female erectile tissues become filled with fluid. Fluid exerts a mechanical pressure in the corpora cavernosa clitoridis, the bulbo vestibuli and the corpora cavernosa of the penis during the tumescence of these tissues. Moreover, genital muscles such as the ischocavernosus and bulbocavernosus are excited by parasympathetic nerves, whereupon muscle tone is increased (1). All this mechanical tension has a reciprocal relationship with bioelectricity. The sexually aroused, tumescent erogenous zone can be shown by an electrogram to exhibit a high electric potential with respect to the unaroused erogenous zone or other parts of the skin (2). This implies some polarization in the body fluid’s electrolytic charge distribution. Supporting this is the fact that “pressure of any kind reduces the charge of the [skin’s] surface. If the pressure is removed, the [potential] returns exactly to its original level (3).” Moreover, the tonus of the genital muscles coincides with the release of ionic calcium in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Since ions are the charge carriers in bioelectric systems (4), this must necessarily mean that static electricity has transformed into electric current, the same electricity that all our machines run on.

The orgasm reflex itself is an electrophysiological discharge, according to Reich (5). He asserted that the surfaces of male and female genitals act as electrodes (6), but this cannot be correct because both are of more or less the same voltage (in orgastically potent characters, that is). If the space around a charge distribution has a high potential, this must mean that cations predominate in solution and each penetration must rather produce repulsive forces which, I hypothesize, excite the nerves.

Observing that the vaginal mucous membrane secretes an acidic, electrolytic colloid (7), and that the contacting surface area is greatest during complete penetration, Reich surmised that during these instances, “the difference in potential between [the] two charged surfaces in contact with each other will equal itself out” (8) and that the subjective perception of pleasure originates from this resolution of electrical tension. However, this claim cannot be correct because the skin of the penis does not seem to permit the passage of ions so, theoretically, no significant electric current can go between the genitals. The satisfaction of complete penetration must then depend on electrostatic phenomena, on maximal coulombic repulsion.

Therefore, so my theory goes, in each penetration, cations are pushed away from the contacting surfaces into the interior of the genitals and towards the electronegative nerve cell bodies (-60 to -100 milivolts) (9) which are so by virtue of a predominance of anions in solution. If the nerve cell’s ion channels are open, cations will be pushed and pulled into the cell, resulting in that nerve’s depolarization and the transmission of an action potential. Many nerves will have this reaction and some will produce twitches in the motor units of the genital musculature. Orgastically potent characters report that this twitching occurs with each penetration (10) and that it feels good.

By as of yet unknown means, excitation escalates in the “phase of involuntary muscle contraction.” This is characterized by involuntary contractions of the pelvic and genital musculature which are rhythmically related to the union and separation of the genitals (11). Eventually, the entire muscular system convulses in the orgasm reflex (12). We are of the opinion that electric potential energy is transformed into mechanical energy and transferred out of the body by the orgasm reflex: work done by the system on the environment. This is corroborated by several facts. First of all, the potential difference on the recently satisfied person’s genital is insignificant. Second, in orgastic impotence, wherein this reflex is absent or reduced, catharsis is diminished. Third, in vitro, the mechanism by which the “contractile protein system” (the sliding filaments) relaxes “was established to be the removal of calcium,” (13) to wit, the removal of electric charge (calcium cations). Thus we have the phase of electric discharge and mechanical relaxation.

This infant field which may be called electrosexology was only studied for a brief span of about four years. As Europe was electrified by Hitler, Reich was repelled from Germany to Sweden, Denmark, Norway and finally America where, by 1940, he for some reason became convinced that all the bioelectric processes he observed were really epiphenomena of a mysterious, more fundamental energy: the orgone. As for the orgastic function, we will see that it is recapitulated in all expression and that when it is precluded, it can adopt a number of perverse forms.

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(1) Reich, Wilhelm – The Bioelectric Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety – 1. The Orgasm as an Electrophysiological Discharge pg. 9-10

(2) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IX – From Psychoanalysis to Biogenesis, Part 1. The Bioelectric Function of Pleasure and Anxiety pg.370

(3) Ibid. pg. 373

(4) Plonsey, Robert & Barr, Roger C. – Bioelectricity, a Quantitative Approach Second Edition – Chapter 3. Bioelectric Potentials and Currents pg. 40

(5) Reich – The Bioelectric Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety – 1. The Orgasm as an Electrophysiological Discharge pg. 13

(6) Ibid. pg. 13

(7) Ibid. pg. 14

(8) Ibid. pg. 14

(9) Plonsey, Robert & Barr, Roger C. – Bioelectricity, a Quantitative Approach Second Edition – Chapter 5. Action Potentials pg. 98

(10) Reich – The Bioelectric Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety – 1. The Orgasm as an Electrophysiological Discharge pg. 11

(11) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV – Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 3. Orgastic Potency pg.106

(12) Ibid. 107

(13) Endo, Makoto Physiological Reviews Vol. 57 No. 1, January 1977 – Calcium Release from the Sarcoplasmic Reticulum from the Department of Pharmacology, Tohoku University School of Medicine, Sendai, Japan pg. 72

Core Concepts Series IV: The Orgasm Theory – Part 2

The Orgasm Reflex

Part one dealt with the development of the orgasm theory, gave a brief description thereof and gave an account of its reception. This part will describe the orgasm reflex and the sexual intercourse between orgastically potent men and women.

Sex between orgastically potent lovers takes on a certain form not because it is a practice or a performance, but because it is governed by uninhibited biological instincts. It does not take place because one wants to prove his “potency” or her “sexual liberation,” to invoke jealousy, anesthetize oneself, act out oedipal wishes, fulfil a tradition or receive some kind of compensation. To the orgastically potent man or woman, this conjugation is part of a primordial life process and functions to guarantee psychic and somatic vigor, equilibrate libidinal economy and afford some of the highest pleasures in life. All the perversions described herein diminish the magnitude of catharsis in the orgasm. From an economic standpoint, this is ultimately perversion’s raison d’être; it consumes libidinal energy, precluding the extreme accumulation of excitation and rapid, complete discharge that characterize the orgasm reflex.

If the orgasm reflex is to occur, several conditions must be satisfied and all precluding factors must be absent. “Anxiety, unpleasure, and fantasies” (1) must be entirely absent from the experience. Wilhelm Reich explicitly delineates from “onanistic coitus,” the fantasy-ridden, masturbatory sex which Lacan assumed to be the only kind of sex possible. There can be no uncertainty or contradictory impulses. The lovers must be genuinely well-disposed towards each other, meaning they are neither lying to themselves nor lying to themselves about lying to themselves and so on. As we will later explore, such dishonesty has a major physiological component: the chronic rigidification of the muscular system. For now, understand that it is this rigidity which prevents the body from involuntarily convulsing in the orgasm reflex.

Reich describes the reflex in great, clinical detail in chapter four of The Function of the Orgasm (pg. 85-116), but I will reproduce what I think are the most important takeaways. Of great significance is the wave propagated along the body’s longitudinal axis. The pelvis rotates inwardly toward the head and independently of the lower back. As the pelvis reaches the fullest extent of its rotation, the upper body begins to curl forward while the relaxed head and neck fall backwards with gravity. Reich remarks that it is as if the organism attempts to bring together “the two ends of the trunk (2).” Meanwhile, the pelvis has begun to fall, and, by the time the upper body has reached its most inwardly curled position, the pelvis has more or less straightened out whereupon it begins to rotate inwardly again while the upper body falls. This whole cycle repeats several times and is entirely involuntary.

“Orgastic potency is the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the dammed-up sexual excitations through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the body.”

Wilhelm Reich – The Function of the Orgasm pg. 102

It is also noteworthy that, leading up to the reflex, excitation is evermore concentrated in the genitals and that the orgastic convulsions coincide with the rapid flow of excitation from the genitals into the rest of the body. This is experienced as the resolution of tension. The steeper the descent from excitation, the more satisfying the orgasm. Moreover, whereas the pleasure at the beginning of such intercourse is of a voluntary, sensory virtue, it assumes an involuntary, primarily motor virtue by the time of the climax. Psychoanalytically speaking, this coincides with the momentary dissolution of the ego and the total surrender to the instinctual.

Above all, what distinguishes orgastic potency from orgastic impotence is the complete discharge of sexual excitation in the orgasm reflex. Below are two graphics from The Function of the Orgasm (pg 111):

In neurosis, extreme excitation and deep relaxation are impossible. The organism cannot tolerate a high degree of excitation or relaxation because of an inability to surrender to involuntary somatic processes.
Orgastic potency is characterized by the capacity to tolerate, accumulate and completely discharge extreme excitation.

The fact that excitation is completely discharged in the reflex is of greatest importance. Reich writes: “the energy source of neurosis is created by the difference between the accumulation and discharge of sexual energy (3).” As I said in Part 1, the neurotic symptoms serve to metabolize the libidinal energy that is not exhausted in expressions such as the orgasm reflex. Among these symptoms is the aforementioned somatic rigidity which prevents the convulsions. Thus orgastic potency is established when this pathological rigidity is eliminated and vice versa. It is the motor convulsions which equilibrate sex-economy, possibly through the transfer of mechanical energy from the body into the environment.

The concept of orgastic potency is an indispensable component of clinical orgonomy. Without this goal, therapy is pointless because the patient will not establish a self-regulating sex economy. It will remain in a state of congestion and, since the stases of libido are preserved, the neurotic will always struggle uphill against his or her symptoms. Thus neurosis is identical to orgastic impotence; “not a single neurotic is orgastically potent (4).”

(1) Reich, Wilhelm – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV. The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 3. Orgastic Potency pg. 102

(2) Reich – Character Analysis – Chapter XIV. The Expressive Language of the Living, Part 2. Plasmatic Expressive Movement and Emotional Expression pg. 367

(3) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV.The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 4. Sexual Stasis – The Energy Source of the Neurosis pg. 111

(4) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV. The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part 3. Orgastic Potency pg. 102

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