Like most of you, I was taught from an early age that anything that concerned the geography between my legs was bad, dirty, forbidden, sinful, dangerous, harmful, and secret. That’s a lot to load on a little kid, but it was one of the first things my mother taught me when I was old enough to get the message. Keep your hands away from there. Don’t let anybody touch you there. Keep your knees together. Hide yourself. Shame on you. Now I know my mother was trying to keep me safe, and she wasn’t wrong about the societal dangers threatening children. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a conundrum. As adults we must hold two conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time: genital contact is dangerous vs. genital contact is healthy. Guiding a child across the chasm between those two views is probably one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. But at some point, if we want to be healthy mentally and physically, we need to embrace our biology, appreciate our genitals, and see orgasms as wellness.
When we think about orgasms we tend to focus on the Big Bang, but orgasms have myriad health benefits, starting with the experience of intimacy. We are emotionally complex beings that crave social acceptance. Intimacy is validation, a fulfillment of our desire for deep personal connection. The warmth and inner harmony of intimacy comes with the brain chemistry of security and comfort. Intimacy calms us. It relieves stress as kindness ripples through us. Whether you are intimate with yourself or a partner, whether you ultimately have an orgasm or not, allowing yourself the emotional tenderness of physical touch can strengthen your self-confidence and build your stamina.
But, of course, intimacy is also exciting. As our libido teeters on the brink of pleasure we become aroused by expectations for satisfaction. Excitement is nice if the body parts in play are all your own. But excitement is where the danger can become real if consent is an issue. When I was a teenager, my mother yelled at me for sitting on my uncle’s lap at a family picnic because she thought my body contact might arouse him. It was a moment of realization I’ll never forget because she saw a risk I had not considered. Her inference was that all men were dangerous, not just strangers. I put it in the same category as finding out there was no Santa Claus. The truth hurt, but it was also a rite of passage. The conundrum never goes away.
Orgasm is physical pleasure. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “An orgasm is the height or peak of sexual arousal when the body releases sexual tension and pressure. It involves very intense feelings of pleasure in your genitals and throughout your body. An orgasm usually lasts a few seconds and feels very good.”
Our bodies were designed for this. Why?
The biology of orgasm is essential to the survival of our species. Orgasms flush our bodies with the happy hormones — endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, diminishing our stress hormones with the surge of positive emotions. From an evolutionary perspective, orgasms are a way to create demand for intercourse that results in population growth. If it feels good, do it, and we have done it many billions of times. Pregnancy is the good news and the bad news about orgasms, the dotted line that connects sex with joy and shame, the reason government and religion can’t stay out of the bedroom. Pregnancy is the power to shape the future, a hot zone contested by zealots and autocrats whose might is measured in boots on the ground. To have an army of men, you first need an army of uteruses. Pregnancy has always been a way to conscript women into building someone else’s wealth. And yet, we love our children. The conundrum never goes away. But we can be better managers of our lives if we understand the biology of our bodies.
As we age orgasms become less of a threat to our freedom and more a means of self-expression. When my husband of 32 years died, I was 54 and it took me years to let go of the wish to be part of a couple again. But by the time I was 60 my favorite vibrator had a name and a strip of gaffer tape holding it together. I gave up on finding a new partner and started appreciating what my body could do on its own. Then a friend told me about tantric masturbation. Oh my god! I was already a meditator, so the mind-body connection was alive within me, I just had to redirect it toward orgasms.
Now I’m 68 and living with a man on a hill in the woods with a hot tub and no neighbors to hear my sonorous arias. Thus, my exploration of orgasms as wellness. I really hadn’t thought about sexual pleasure as a health kick. Honestly, sex was more like baking a cake. Sometimes it was perfect, other times it sagged. But it was cake. Dessert. Nice but not necessary. Now, I’ve completely changed my mind about this. Long past the fear of becoming a prisoner of my uterus, orgasms are the gift my body keeps on giving, my drug of choice, my meditation on myself. Orgasms as wellness.
But don’t take it from me. Ask Dr. Google. There are many books, magazine articles, healthcare advisories and research studies about orgasms as wellness. For example, orgasms can improve circulation, light up your brain with fresh blood, boost your immune system, build heart health, balance hormones, reduce stress, support a healthy prostate, modulate pain, regulate menstrual cycles, clear up blemished skin, thicken hair, buttress your pelvic floor, aid in bladder control, mitigate erectile disfunction, increase mental well-being, elevate your mood, enhance your body image, and lead to a better night’s sleep. And they’re free! Have as many as you like.
All these physical and mental benefits contribute to a stronger relationship with yourself and the people around you. Orgasms are one of the most beautiful things your body can do for as long as you live. It’s hard to think of a better way to relieve the symptoms of stress, menopause, and aging for adults of any gender. Like yoga, meditation and massage, orgasms are a modality with a learning curve that improves with practice, a form of self-care and kindness. Try it. You’ll like it. All you need is love. And maybe some lube.
~ : ~
February 2022 Vogue article with links to research: