We may be drowning in advertising nudity and explicit film imagery, but when it comes to understanding the cosmic bliss of orgasm, North America is strictly Victorian. Western science has barely a clue about whether sexual ecstasy has health implications.
What we are sure of is that this wondrous spasm increases the heart rate, blood pressure, circulation and respiratory rate and produces a flood of neurotransmitters and other compounds that increase your sense of well-being and relaxation. In other words, orgasm is an excellent anti-stress happening.
Wilhelm Reich was one of the first to point out that when we come, we drop habitual tensions and defensive patterns in our muscles, opening ourselves to new possibilities.
The eastern inhabitants of the planet seem less hung up; consequently the Taoist and Tantric schools of the sensual arts have much to say about sex and health. In fact, China's Taoist doctors once prescribed lovemaking in certain positions as part of the treatment protocol for certain ailments.
The key concept in the Orient is "energy." Think of it as mojo. In sex, say these schools of thought, you can lose your mojo -- even if you're not Mike Myers -- by pushing it down and out in a genital orgasm. Or you can pull it up and in, nourishing your whole self with the same powerful force that's behind baby-making.
It takes a little practice to learn how to keep your mojo through flexing of the genital muscles, visualization and breathing, but the eventual rewards, say its proponents, include whole-body orgasms, youthfulness and resistance to disease. There's not much science to back these claims, but in this harried society anything calming and centring is a force for good.
Personally speaking, I find that circulating my sexual energy through my body first thing in the morning is a superior wake-up tool. There's no crash, just a gentle and balanced buzz that continues through the day.
According to those same eastern sages, orgasm is positively draining for guys if it includes shooting your load each and every time. Save it, they say, for when you and your partner want a baby, and in the meantime learn how to come without wasting your vital fluids. Orgasm and ejaculation, they claim, are two separate reflexes. Tuning in to your body more is the first step for a guy who wants to learn how to enjoy the "big O" without spurting. The prize at the end of the night is multiple orgasm for men -- and a very satisfied partner.
There's no hardcore data, though, that spilling seed is depleting in any way other than inducing sleep. In fact, a British study based in South Wales (the Caerphilly Cohort Study) found that men who had more orgasms (presumably with ejaculation) were less likely to die from coronary heart disease and other causes.
The point is that any loving erotic bliss is better than none -- whether it involves sex with yourself or others, with cum or without, with orgasm or without.
"In Tantra, we say orgasm is the moment when human beings are fully present to life. If we could be fully present to ourselves and to life, more and more we would experience life as orgasmic. But the reality is that most of the time our bodies and emotions are turned off to the life force. During orgasm there's a huge amount of life force coming in, and the healthy body will distribute that energy through every cell of the body."
LUCY BECKER, Tantra teacher
"The man loses incredible amounts of energy through ejaculation. According to yogic research, one ejaculation is equal to 36 hours of mental work or 72 hours of physical work. To enhance sex, practise the inner smile. In your imagination, smile the sun's warm golden light into your third eye, and from there let a shower of golden light pour unconditional love into all your organs. This improves your body chemistry. Smiling inwardly also pulls up the sexual energy. If you smile to your heart, the sexual energy is going to come up, and you feel love -- you're transforming passion into compassion in your heart."
MINKE DE VOS, Universal Tao instructor
"Ejaculation itself is not detrimental to one's health. While the process of ejaculation (i.e., the contraction of muscles and glands) does expend energy, so does the whole act of sex itself. Sperm and seminal fluid are made continuously, whether ejaculation takes place or not. I think the Taoist approach may be helpful for some people to understand sexual experience as a "whole body' experience, rather than just genitally oriented."
PAUL LAI, MD, Canadian Men's Clinic
"I don't think orgasms are essential for health. But sexual fulfillment in general is an important component in health -- expressing your wants, needs and desires, being present in your body. When people are shut down sexually, they're cutting a part of themselves off from themselves. This could lead to physical symptoms."
JOAN MARSMAN, registered marriage and sex therapist
"If you're able to have orgasms on a regular basis, they can be used to clear out emotional muck. When I'm really angry but can't scream, when I feel really sad but can't cry, then I use an orgasm to let it out. So often when we get aroused, all our muscles tense and we stop breathing. Take deep breaths all the way through and you can have more interesting sensations."
CARLYLE JANSEN, sexuality educator, founder, Good For Her
"You'd expect orgasm to be well researched, but we do not have good data in terms of specific connections between orgasm and health, whether physical or emotional. Orgasm can serve as a source of body pleasure, it certainly can be used as a way to control anxiety and as a sleeping pill, and it certainly can enhance intimacy."
JOHN LAMONT, MD, gynecologist and sex therapist