Orgasm: the highest high

Submitted by Frank on
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I've been debating in my mind for the past month about whether orgasm is really the most pleasurable experience that a person can have or not.

What role does dopamine play in what we normally call happiness? What I mean is, when a person wants an orgasm, is it fairly correct to say that he/she is really under a false impression, that the dopamine is an illusion and is not really the happiness that we humans strive for? What is the neurochemical that has been identified with lasting happiness as opposed to the temporary high? Are pleasure and happiness really different from each other (not considering the differences in duration)?

What is the highest pleasure-giving activity discovered so far (natural or artificial)? (i.e., drugs, orgasm, etc.) I mean, is it possible that eating something really delicious could somehow be more pleasurable than even an orgasm? From my experience, orgasms have really been pathetically short in duration... I'd say 5 seconds max, although the time spent in getting aroused is also somewhat pleasurable, but still, overall, it gets to only about 5-7 minutes maximum. Eating something delicious, on the other hand, has not been as pleasurable as an orgasm, but has longer duration (especially when there are is a variety of delicious foods available).

I've read on this site that orgasm is much more pleasurable if it is done with a partner, but does it involve, say, penetration or is it just the company of the partner that adds to the pleasure?

Let's say that just before an orgasm, a person has a certain level of dopamine. When he/she has orgasm, the dopamine jumps to 2x. Later the dopamine supposedly drops to lower than what was when he was just fine (i.e., the person is not in the two-week cycle, he's having the orgasm after a very long time). My question is: why does the dopamine have to drop so low? I mean, couldn't it return back to where it was before the orgasm without having first to drop so low?

Thank you for your attention.

Alternate perspective

Just for fun, I'm going to play devil's advocate and argue that orgasm isn't pleasurable...AT ALL. It just feels attractive or satisfying because it's scratching an itch.

Think about this. When you're in the middle of an orgasm, can you even stop and smile to yourself or think "mmm, this is nice?" Not really. You're probably too busy panting like someone who just ran a mile, and contorting your face into something that looks more like someone enduring incredible PAIN. Can you look back at that moment with nostalgia and think, "Oh, I was so happy then?" Probably not.

If you were famished with hunger and someone put a gourmet dinner down in front of you, you
would wolf it down with enthusiasm, and feel very satisfied after. But did you actually enjoy the food? Could you say afterward, "Ah, that salad had such lovely, subtle flavors!"?

I'm also going to argue that orgasm with a partner feels no different. It might be more intense, or not, but it's exactly the same TYPE of feeling. The real difference with a partner is that you get to cuddle afterwards, which IS genuinely pleasurable.

Mostly agree

From my male perspective, I wouldn't go so far as to say that orgasm isn't pleasurable at all. It's definitely "attractive," especially if you get too close to the edge. And it is quite intense. I can see how some people might find it too intense and want to avoid it for that reason. For those people, it might be like getting tickled. Tickling can make one laugh uncontrollably, and a tickling contest can be fun as a form of play, but the actual tickling sensation isn't pleasant.

Making love, with orgasm, is like a chocolate pudding with a maraschino cherry on top. The cherry is like the orgasm - tasty, but gone in an instant. The pudding is the penetration and the cuddling - longer lasting and yummy!

And if the cherry leaves us with a "let down" feeling immediately after consuming it, and gives us feelings of craving hours or days later... well, it's not much of a hardship to give up the cherry, is it?

The "scratching an itch" analogy is also very good. Having an orgasm is like scratching - momentarily satisfying, but soon we want to scratch some more. Karezza and the bonding behaviors are like a soothing lotion - it may not provide the dramatic, instantaneous relief we can get from scratching, but the overall effect, over time, is much more satisfying. (Speculating somewhat, based on my limited experience with karezza.)

You ask a good question

There's not a simplistic answer to it, neurochemically. Without sufficient dopamine you can't feel good...but too much (as when something triggers an erotic cue, and your dopamine surges from the pits to the peaks - like zero to sixty in 3 seconds) can make you feel anxious and reckless.

But there are many feel good neurochemicals. Oxytocin is one (warm satisfaction when induced by caring touch, trust, etc....those bonding behaviors). Bliss is probably related to the body's natural opiates.

A UK author called William Bloom writes about behaviors people can use to tap these at will. Unfortunately, I don't think he gets the sexual hangover piece. Here's his book, in case you want to check it out. I haven't read it.


Endorphins are the miracle hormones. Found in everyone, they kill pain, provide the foundation for good health and create the physical sensations of pleasure. They are responsible for the euphoria of athletes and the pleasure of lovemaking. In THE ENDORPHIN EFFECT Dr William Bloom, Britain's leading holistic teacher, presents a major breakthrough in the field of healthcare and personal development. He reveals a revolutionary method that enables you to produce endorphins for vitality and a positive mood whenever you want, even when exhausted or in a crisis. Discover how to use THE ENDORPHIN EFFECT for an easy and effective programme of healthcare, healing and self-improvement. Use it to boost your enjoyment of life, build good health, improve your relationships at home and at work, and enhance your performance in every aspect of your life.

I sense that karezza is another path to this same goal - and a powerful one, as it cuts off a major cause of anxiety in the form of the orgasmic roller coaster.

There is no single

There is no single neurochemical for happiness, though several classes of opioids that the body makes are considered the final reward for food, water sex, bonding, accomplishment, etc.
In rats they can block dopamine so that the animal has no desire to drink a sugary solution... yet when force-fed the solution they like it (they can tell by the little rat smile on its face - no joke).
"Wanting" something appears to be primarily dopamine, the "liking" is opioids.
Other neurochemicals associated with pleasure, good mood, include norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, with a whole lot more minor players yet to be found.
The complexity of it all can be seen in cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. High levels can make one feel euphoric - at least for a while, chronically low levels make one depressed. Yet chronically high levels are also associated with depression.
No simple answers.
Every hormone and neurotransmitter has multiple effects.
The effects of each are altered by the levels other neurochemicals and hormones.
Not only do levels matter but timing of release: 3 surges per hour of a hormone will have a different effect than 10 surges.
As a hormone rises it may inhibit the same function it activated at low levels. Oxytocin is necessary for erections to occur, yet evidence points to it also causing post-ejaculation flaccidity. Go figure.

Maybe not the highest high

A friend who had wrist surgery reported about the anesthetic that was used, "Forget about sex, this stuff was much better." "Where can I get some of that stuff," he asked the doctor.

5 seconds for orgasm matches my experience. But my lovemaking sessions typically lasted 20 to 30 minutes. Sometimes I would enter her (from behind, with both of us on our sides), I would drift off to sleep, wake up an hour or two later with me still inside, and I would have my orgasm then. I spent so much time, because I enjoyed the journey, much more than the destination. Having an orgasm was something I did to try to avoid feeling uncomfortable cravings between lovemaking sessions. Who'd 'a' thunk the orgasms were actually causing the cravings?!!

Slow down, enjoy the journey. Forget about the destination. It's not very interesting.