We've all heard of the "runner's high" (operative words being: "heard of").This is a euphoric state that some runners experience as their bodies flood with either endorphins or endocannabinoids (sounds like cannabis for a reason!). For those of you who simply do not have the taste for extended cardiovascular exercise, you're possibly in luck—that is, if you have the taste for abdominal and other "core" exercises.
Orgasms resulting from non-sexual activities are not entirely new. "Muscle eroticism" was discussed in works as early as the late 1800s. I place "sexual" in quotes because while we all have a pretty good idea of what "sexual" means, there really is no one clear definition, especially the closer you look at it. This is also true for "orgasm." I know what it is, and I bet you know what it is, but if you're going to get all scientific about it, there are so many exceptions to the rule, that there really stops being a rule. Both men and women can have orgasms without ejaculating or even without muscular contractions. Is orgasm defined by the flood of particular hormones? A full-bodied, immersive psychological state mixed with quickened breath and increased heart rate? A discharge of built up sexual tension? In the journal Clinical Psychology Review, there are 26 different definitions of orgasm. In other words, everything we know about orgasms is based on subjective experiences, including the research conducted for the article, "Exercise-induced orgasm and pleasure among women."
In this article, Debby Herbenick and J. Dennis Fortenberry survey over 500 women about exercise induced orgasm (EIO) and exercise induced sexual pleasure (EISP). While the research could not accurately determine the percentage of women who experience EIO or EISP because of their particular recruitment methods, the fact that 124 women reported experiencing EIO and 246 women reported experiencing EISP within a five week period, definitely demonstrated that this phenomenon is not rare. Out of women who have experienced this phenomenon, a sizable majority experience these "spontaneous" orgasms on several occasions (upwards of 11).
So what are these winning fitness activities? For exercise induced orgasm, it was abdominal exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and Captain's Chair (sitting on a chair and lifting your knees up to your chest), followed by climbing, and then biking/spinning. For exercise induced sexual pleasure, the winner (by a slimmer majority) is biking/spinning, followed by weight lifting, and then dedicated abdominal exercises. Nevertheless, there were plenty of other exercises in the running including, but not limited to, aerobics, dancing, swimming, pull-ups, step-class, and yoga.
What, specifically, is it about these exercises that could induce such pleasure? Well, there's no distinct answer—only well-educated theories. Pelvic floor muscles have a lot to do with it, though. Your pelvic floor muscles are part of your "core" muscle group that is engaged during various abdominal exercises (ideally most exercises engage your core if done optimally), and these pelvic floor muscles surround–or are, in some way, connected to- much of our erectile tissues. Therefore, when repeatedly engaged, they not only tug at these erectile tissues, it also increases blood flow to the area. Combine engorged genital tissue with quickened breath (which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system) and increased heart rate, it sounds like an orgasm in true form to me!
Of course, it's more complicated than that. If it wasn't, we would all be experiencing orgasms every time we exercise (If that happens to you, contact me!). And really, this particular research and research conducted just like it, leave a lot more questions than it answers. For example, are people who experience EIO and EISP more motivated to exercise because of these experiences? Or do they have these experiences because they exercise a lot? In either case, out of the women who have experienced EIO, 82.2 percent have worked out their abs in the "past 90 days" (from the time of the survey), versus 74.8 percent of women who have experienced EISP, versus 65.8 percent of women who experienced neither. Reminds me of that quote, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working" –Picasso
What are the practical implications/applications of this? Much of sex therapy for people who are unhappy with the absence of or infrequency of orgasms in their life, relies on masturbation and/or sensate focusing. This is a term coined by Masters and Johnson describing the exercise of being present and non-judgmental to one's own physical sensations without a goal of any kind, such as orgasm. Really, it's just a form of contextualized mindfulness. And it's a great practice for absolutely everybody, not just for those who may feel orgasm-challenged. But with the possibility that orgasms can be produced by repeatedly engaging certain core muscles or by otherwise recreating physiological happenings that are often correlated with orgasm (increased heart rate, quickened breath, tensed pelvic floor muscles, etc.) doing leg lifts while having sex might just be a great addition to bedroom therapies. Form follows function. Function follows form. Something like that? If nothing else, it will definitely add some variety to your sexual routine!
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. She is passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her milling around her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St., (888) 874-6588.