Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Orgasms – yay or nay?

As most of you already know, last week David Carradine died during a masturbation session gone awry. He was into autoerotic asphyxiation which, if you don’t know, involves choking yourself during orgasm. Apparently this causes a rush that intensifies your orgasm – a rush so great that it’s worth risking the obvious risk that you’re taking by tying a rope around your neck and hanging yourself for several minutes, while alone. I’m no prude, but I don’t understand how the risk of death is worth it to make your wank more enjoyable. But I’ve never tried it… you know, mostly because I don’t understand how the risk of death blah blah blah.

Orgasms are held in high regard, considered by most people to be the best thing in the world. In fact, when we want to explain how utterly fantastic something is, we compare it to an orgasm. “Dessert was so good, my mouth had an orgasm.” Undeniably, they’re pretty great things, but I’d give them up before giving up other things I enjoy, no doubt.

Are orgasms really the greatest thing we can experience? Is there anything you enjoy more than an orgasm? Is something like autoerotic asphyxiation a risk worth taking for the ultimate orgasm? Could you live without them?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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85 Comments

  1. @davew: Mmmm cookies. COTW:
    In my humble opinion if you have to almost kill yourself or in some cases you do kill yourself to have a great orgasm, I don’t think you are doing something right cause I have them all the time and not once have I died from it, although I thought I needed Oxygen one time.

  2. Could I live without orgasms? Sure. But why on Earth WOULD I?

    Are they the greatest thing we can experience? No, they aren’t. There are plenty of long term things that are more pleasurable and rewarding than a fleeting orgasm.

    But they are great for what they are: an extremely safe, brief, intensely pleasureable experience that doesn’t harm you or anyone else, and doesn’t leave you impaired like other cheap “highs.” You can have a wank at home and then drive without risk of killing people.

    And of course, they make a great gift!

    Also: I’d say that it’s not worth the risk to try autoerotic asphyxiation, simply because there are so many ways to increase the pleasure of an orgasm that DON’T involve STARVING YOUR BRAIN OF OXYGEN. Seriously.

    By the by: It’s going to be very hard NOT to picture everyone in this thread having an orgasm. I apologize, both for mentioning it and because no one should have to imagine me in that situation :-P

  3. Are orgasms really the greatest thing we can experience? The greatest? I dunno. I’ve never gone skydiving or scuba diving or been to outer space. But I think orgasms are pretty darn great. Mostly because they’re so much better when you’re in lo-ove and communicating with your partner. I’m a fan.

    Is there anything you enjoy more than an orgasm? I don’t usually compare my sex life to my non-sex life, so it’s hard to judge. I mean, I reeeeeeeeally like mashed potatoes, but are they better than orgasms? I really like riding in my husband’s Corvette, but it is better than orgasms? I’d try all three together and see if my brain explodes, but I’m not allowed to eat in the car…

    Is something like autoerotic asphyxiation a risk worth taking for the ultimate orgasm? No. Because even if it works out okay the first time, you’ll just want to go further and be riskier next time and eventually it will end poorly.
    Now, I can understand bondage and choking and whatnot, to an extent. But these things are much better practiced with a spotter. Never, ever, ever almost die during sex without a partner, that’s what I say.

    Could you live without them? Sure. People do it all the time. But I’d probably be a lot more drained and aggravated and tense all the time. Nothing like a good “right there, right there” to help you sleep or cure a headache or get you revved to start the day.

  4. I quote Fry, talking to Dr. Zoidberg: “So you’ve got to chose between a life without sex and death? Tough call…”

    I wouldn’t want to try choking myself almost to death to make the orgasm better for the same reason I wouldn’t inject heroin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure heroin feels great…

  5. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): Pretty much what VH(E) said.
    I’ve read a couple of law enforcement death reports involving teen age boys dying in similar circumstances over the past twenty years. Perhaps holding your breath as long as you can could be good enough.

    @sandmanlogan5: That’s for sure…,

    “Get Thai’d! You’re talking to a tourist
    Whose every move’s among the purest
    I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine”


    @justncase80: My wife had half of her Com. 101 students evaluate that speech. Amusing stuff.

  6. Can I live without them? Sure. I find them to be highly overrated, but I’m willing to accept I might have faulty wiring, and that others might experience something more like professional style fireworks compared with my child safe firecrackers.

    Okay, “child safe” was a very poor choice of words.

  7. Elyse, I don’t think the risk is necessarily as big as you say. Like of of things, its about knowing the risks, how to prepare for them and acting appropriately. While I don’t practice it, I can see where autoerotic asphyxiation could be done responsibly.

    For myself, I don’t think orgasm is the top of the experience, but its certainly near tops with some sorts of experience. I could live without them, but I’d really hope the libido goes at the same time!

  8. I would say asphyxiation during masturbation is at worst an exercise in poor judgment purely due to the safety risk. Otherwise, to each his own. People do risky things for thrills all the time.

    I think I could have lives without orgasms if I had never experienced them, but being in a committed sexual relationship and being one of the lucky women who has them relatively easily, I would miss them if they were gone.

    But the greatest experience? I don’t think I can really rank that. It’s a “great” experience because it’s such a basic level of pleasure. But there are other great things. I dunno — to compare orgasms, a primal physiological experience, to anything else seems like comparing apples to oranges.

  9. Yes, one can live without orgasms. It’s not that hard. No! Wait– I didn’t mean it that way….

    I mean, it’s something anyone can pull off– Ahh! No! No, no, no, no. Erm….

    What I mean is,…

  10. @Endrju:

    I don’t know what the statistical risks are. What I do know is that I don’t hear about people accidentally killing themselves while whacking off to Saved By the Bell the College Years… unless they’re hanging themselves at the same time.

  11. “Dessert was so good, my mouth had an orgasm.”

    I’ve never actually said that. But I have said, “The sex was so good, it was like my penis was reading the Skepchick blog.”

  12. Hi there!

    Wow, this is something that I will never, never understand if I live to be 108. (at which point I will doubtlessly still have the maturity of an 18 year old)

    Are the rest of you still having orgasms in the same way that I am? Because if you do, then I am just plain befuddled. Here’s how it was with me …

    When I was little, my parents wanted to make sure that I was never afraid to ask a question about sex and sexuality. So every time I had a question about sex, I asked it. One time I asked my mom, “What ARE orgasms, anyway?”. After a few minutes to gain composure, she said:
    “Well … it’s the sound that two people make with their voices when they’re having sex … “.
    I thought for a minute.
    “Why do people make noises?”.
    “Well, because it feels so good that they can’t help it”. She replied.
    This last thought intrigued me. So, orgasms are something that feels SO GOOD, that not only are you forced to make these noises with your mouth whether you want to or not, but that there’s a specific NAME for these uncontrolled noises that burst forth unbidden from your vocal chords.

    Well jeez, how can anything feel THAT good??

    Several years later, I was making out with a girlfriend, (I never masturbated back then. It just sounded gross to me) and something just HAPPENED in my pants. It was the most unbelievable feeling that I had ever experienced. It made my eyes roll, it made my toes curl, and I could feel every single muscle in my body distinctly and individually as it suddenly tensed and released. The choir of angels that I heard singing from on high might not have actually happened, but when it was all over, I felt like I had touched upon some grand secret of the universe. I thought to myself: “How did our modern society come to be?”, for surely the first person to discover the orgasm must not have done ANYTHING ELSE for the rest of his life. Point of fact, why AREN’T human beings having orgasms all the time? Why do adults have cocktail parties where they keep their clothes on the whole time and make small talk? Why isn’t the birth control industry the leading global power? Why aren’t there rest stops on the Parkway offering 24/7 roadside orgasms, just so you can stop on the way to work? Why don’t people just have sex while they’re working on other projects, like a big brainstorming session/orgy on the conference table? Is there really any need to do anything else with your spare time?

    So whenever I hear someone say that “orgasms are overrated”, or when someone compares a hunk of double chocolate caramel cake to sex, or even when I see A FORTHCOMING EPISODE ON PENN & TELLER SAYING THAT ORGASMS ARE BULLSHIT!, I start to doubt that person’s sanity. (or perhaps my own) I just don’t understand people sometimes. :(

    But of course, the auto-asphyxiation thing is idiotic. It’s not a case of risking death for orgasm, it’s a case of risking “slightly better orgasm” against the chance that you will NEVER again experience the beauty and power of another again for the rest of time on account of you being dead.

    But as for orgasms themselves, best thing ever. [nods]

  13. Honestly, no, I couldn’t like without orgasms, but for some of the side effects. When I go a day without having an orgasm, I find it difficult to focus, and I end up checking out ever nice piece of @$$ that walks by, and imagine him bent over a table. It makes it much easier to focus, and when you have the attention span of a rodent, you need all the extra focus you can get.

    @Rav Winston: and @Rav Winston: COTW!

  14. Well I didn’t know how Carradine died only that he was dead. So now I’m a little disturbed. Orgasms are nice, most of the time they feel good, occasionally they feel very good and rarely they feel great. They are available on demand via masturbation. However to me foreplay and good sex are actually more enjoyable than the orgasm. After finally having them I have always slightly resented orgasm for the big pause they cause during sex.

  15. I used to hang out on some “Sex Q&A” boards and I was surprised at how many people were into this; or their partners were, and that was just fine with them; or that they or their partners were interested in experimenting with this — and they were all surprisingly resistant to the idea that this is *potentially fatal*.

    One of the well-respected sex guides (I think “Joy of Sex”) recommends as a safe and similar alternative getting your jollies with your head lower than your torso, e.g., head hanging over the edge of the bed.

    – – This has been a public service message – –
    In bed!

  16. There are safe ways to dabble in autoerotic asphyxiation, I’ve heard (I’d have no real idea), but the problem I see is that it’s kind of a … really weird kink, so people who partake might not have a “spotter” (as someone put it above), or a “spotter” who is well-versed enough to know when something is going wrong. Also, I’d imagine that it might be one of those kinks that each time you do it, you go a little farther … and a little farther … and a little farther.

    Not worth it! Get your rocks off with well-controled BSDM/choking if you must!

    Anyway, orgasms are great, and are the best thing ever when you have one. But sometimes other things are more amazing. Like when you REALLY REALLY REALLY have to pee and have been holding it in FOREVER, and finally! You get to pee. That is the best feeling ever, right then, until you forget 2 minutes later how badly you had to pee.

  17. It’s unfortunate that after everything he’s done throughout his life, he’ll only be forever known by the kinkiness of his death.

    Kind of like Elvis.

    Are orgasms really the greatest thing we can experience?

    No, I can think of a couple of things that are more important to me. Like breathing.

    Is there anything you enjoy more than an orgasm?

    Breathing. Seriously, being a severe asthmatic, breathing is very enjoyable to me.

    Is something like autoerotic asphyxiation a risk worth taking for the ultimate orgasm? Could you live without them?

    I’m all for certain kinks, don’t get me wrong. But risking death to get off is even too kinky for me. If I never had another orgasm again for the rest of my life, I’d still not agree to try that.

  18. I think they are great (duh) but I also think it is a shame that they are put on the pedestal and seen as the be all and end all of sex.

    There is more to sex than coming.

    And a bit of danger is fine, but stupid danger is, well, stupid. I hope that his last moments were good ones, but it seems like such a shame because there are in fact safe ways of getting the same fix.

  19. I’ve been wondering since I heard about Carradine whether he got into the practice because he lost sensation as he got older and orgasms just became more difficult to get.

    Does that change the question?

  20. you know, I’ve participated in a little kink before, and there have been times me and my partner have wondered to each other, “if one of us had to call 911, how would we explain this to the paramedics?”

  21. What baffles me is, what make people half strangle themselves when they get off in the first place. The inherent risk in asphyxiation would be enough to desuade me from giving it a try and how do people learn about it?

    You’re having a drink in the pub with your mates, talking about the relative merits of various masturbatory techniques when someone brings up how great auto-asphyxiation is and you say “You know what Jeff? I think I’ll give that a try when I home tonight”.

    I can only assume it’s like the “stronger indian” principle whereby what starts off as a little bit of spice in one’s curry gradually increases to give the same kick until you’re eating a phaal and thinking “Meh, this is a bit bland”

    As for life without orgasms, I think Socrates is supposed to have said that the deminishment of his sex drive with age was the best thing about becoming an old man as “it was like being handcuffed to a madman who dragged me into all kinds of trouble”

  22. If someone told me I had to give up either dark chocolate or orgasms for the rest of my life I’d probably give up orgasms. They are great and all but I looooooove really good dark chocolate.

  23. And I don’t think the orgasm is that amazing. I would describe it as a combination of the pleasure of solving a particularly hard problem with the sense of satisfaction arising from blowing your nose when it’s unusally full.

    Given the intensity of the pleasure by the length of that pleasure, I wouldn’t even put it in the top half of all the nice things there are to do.

    I’ve often wondered, given the relative risks associated with reproduction (they’re signigificantly higher for women than men), if women’s orgasms are more “intense” than men’s. Certainly, the terms in which women describe them don’t tally with my own experience.

  24. I feel awful for the Carradine family, first of all. Not only is his great legacy of acting going to be eclipsed by the circumstances of his death, but it’s so senseless and stupid.

    @RussellSugden: Tell Socrates to mind his own f—-g business. I’d rather be chained to the madman, especially right now.

  25. There is definitely one thing that I enjoy more than an orgasm, uncontrollable laughter. It also has the benefit of lasting a lot longer, but unfortunately is much more difficult to achieve. An orgasm being the greatest thing I could experience? No way.

    Hanging myself for a few minutes does not sound fun, but I suppose I’m not in a position to know whether it’s worth the risk of the “ultimate orgasm” since I’ve never done it. I don’t think I’ll be trying it, though.

    I also don’t plan on trying to live without orgasms. I don’t want to, but I doubt I would actually die. Then again, maybe that’s the real reason old age is so deadly . . .

  26. @James Fox: Well, it’s not like it’s the most comfortable thing, anyway. There’s a center console and a shifter and the seats don’t recline and -oh wait, are we talking about Happy Meals or “happy meals”?

    @Gabrielbrawley: “After finally having them I have always slightly resented orgasm for the big pause they cause during sex.” I don’t know that this necessarily holds true for everyone, at least not for women. Orgasm does not necessarily equal pause (and certainly not a big one) when we have them. :)

  27. Well, since my lot seems to be being terminally single, I can say yes, you can live without them. You just end up a little mad. Just a little. (Did I mention I just joined the army at 42?)

    I could easily give them up for myself, as I don’t have very strong ones, anyway. But I don’t want to give up watching a woman have one. I really like that. Even though it’s been a VERY LONG TIME!!!

  28. As far as the actual AI goes here’s my take:

    I like them. I reeeeeallly like them. But I also like ice cream and reading and riding my horse. If I had to live without them I could easily fill up that time with other things I find very pleasurable. I’d miss them, sure, but considering how many women have never even had one, I think that life does indeed go on. I don’t know if I would risk death for an orgasm, but considering that I willingly and happily risk death every time I get in a car or get on a horse, I can’t really blame people for assigning their priorities in ways that I don’t get.

    That said, I think it’s time to find myself some new batteries…

  29. You know what’s better than picturing your audience in their underwear?

    Picturing your audience orgasming, alone, half suffocated, with their heads hanging over their beds…

    wait… no… that’s not better. put your underwear back on… but leave your head where it is. oh yeah… mama likey

  30. @Bjornar: Actually, “child-safe” was a good choice of words. Most men, I imagine, started masturbating while still under 18; I don’t know about women. And masturbation is safe-sex, can’t get you or someone else pregnant. Jocelyn Elders was right—the schools need to be telling kids that it’s OK to wank.

  31. I think my favourite four things are sex, skiing, reading and watching TV, but I wouldn’t fancy trying them all at the same time. Other than that, I’m with Draconius. Is anybody keeping track of male v. female answers on this one? Because I seem to remember reading a piece by Stephen Fry where he speculated that if women had the same sex-drive as men there would be random couples fucking all over the street.

  32. Are orgasms really the greatest thing we can experience? No, but it’s up there. Adrenaline rushes are very intense.

    Is something like autoerotic asphyxiation a risk worth taking for the ultimate orgasm? Absolutely not.

    Could you live without them? Yes, but why?

  33. Orgasms – love ’em and wouldn’t want to be without them. I’m lucky that I can mentally masturbate. I can have an orgasm by just thinking about it; no physical stimulation necessary.

    My current guy gets turned on when I give him a throat massage. Massaging the pharyngeal muscles reduces stress in the jaw; helps with sleep apnea and swallowing difficulties that can lead to GERD; gives him a great hard on and multiple orgasms.

    I remember reading somewhere that orgasm is called the little death. The heart skips a couple of beats and breathing stops for those few seconds. Maybe that’s why so many men enjoy autoerotic asphyxiation.

  34. Understanding the mechanism(s) for euphoria under conditions of near death metabolic stress is part of my ongoing research. I think that most things that produce euphoria do so by essentially “the same” mechanism, by triggering the euphoria of near death metabolic stress. Those other mechanisms include stimulant drugs of abuse (amphetamine, cocaine, PCP), solvent huffing, the runner’s high, drowning, autoerotic asphyxiation, and maybe some S&M practices. I think the mania and hypomania of bipolar disorder are from the same mechanism too.

    I think that all of these can (and will) cause brain damage, even from a single instance. The “damage” isn’t due to pathology, it is due to the body “pruning” the brain to reduce its metabolic load to reduce the likelihood of an ischemic infarct in the future. It may make you a little bit dumber, but if it avoids ischemia induced unconsciousness (where an organism is completely vulnerable) it is worth it.

    The damage is hard to see from a few instances, and because cell death is via apoptosis, the neurons that are “pruned” go away without leaving a trace. But those neurons are never replaced and when they are gone, they are gone for good.

  35. @OnlyCheryl: Slightly off topic:

    I have tremendous problems with grinding my teeth at night. Does that kind of massage help with that? I’ve actually cracked a few of my molars and gone right through splints. :-(

    Though I wouldn’t mind your BF’s side effects…

  36. Are orgasms the greatest thing on earth? I’d say probably not. But they are damn fun and I would hope that even the “ordinary”, garden variety orgasm never loses enough luster to need polishing by autoerotic asphyxiation.

    I can’t help but be reminded of the X-Files episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” where Peter Boyle’s character has unwanted visions of how people are going to die …

    Clyde Bruckman: You know, there are worse ways to go, but I can’t think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.

    Mulder: Why are you telling me that?

    Clyde Bruckman: Look, forget I mentioned it. It’s none of my business.

  37. @QuestionAuthority: This is going to sound like a silly question, but have you asked your dentist about this? Mine told me I grind my teeth (unbeknownst to me) and that all my problems (not sleeping, headaches, etc.) stem from that. He made me some special head gear mouth guard thing that I guess keeps me from grinding -if I feel like wearing it. Of course, my insurance didn’t cover it… And of course now they tell me that I have TMJ, and all of my problems stem from that, so who knows what to believe.

  38. @Elexina: Sure have. That’s where the splints came from. Apparently, I’ve been doing it at least since my teens. At this point, the only way to permanently correct it would involve a rather unpleasant procedure called “breaking my jaw and resetting it.”

    Needless to say, I’d prefer massage or pharmaceutical means…

  39. So when I was in Peace Corps my fellow volunteers and I had a longstanding argument: Which do you miss more, sex or good food? My answer was always good food….I’ve never said, “That cheesecake wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.”

  40. @QuestionAuthority: It does help both of us. BF only has the problem occasionally. I’ve had the problem all my life and have been through two splints. My entire family, cousins included, for at least 4 generations are teeth grinders. Just from that, I believe my problem is hereditary. Mom says we all did it as babies.

    The throat massage helps to ease the tightness in the neck and to the facial muscles. You can also massage the jaw joint just behind the ears while opening and closing your mouth. I worked with a physical therapy group for over 20 years and a therapist who specialized in TMJ disorders taught me some of this.

    A good foot massage can also help with the original AI. Check out reflexology for some ideas. I know just the right spot on BF’s foot that will really get him going.

  41. Yeah, they’re pretty much the greatest.

    Ah, but as for anything I may enjoy more, that’s not a very easy answer. In what context? An orgasm in the wrong context may not be enjoyable at all. Search for “Jizz in my Pants” on youtube for a good laugh. (I’d have linked it here, but their link returns an error)

    I can’t see that risking death is worth the ultimate orgasm. Who wants to be found dead like that?

    Wouldn’t want to live without orgasms. That day will come soon enough.

  42. Orgasms are only considered desirable if you cannot have very many. For those lucky few of us who have them every time they have sex, no matter the skill or duration of the event, it is no big deal. No matter what they never provide joy. It is a solitary experience but Joy can be shared.

  43. I really hate to pass judgment on any kink but I don’t get AEA. Dying of it seems like dying of ennui. Nothing, even orgasm, is good enough to give pleasure anymore so now you must choke yourself while you masturbate.

    To each their own but it sounds like a symptom of a sad existence.

  44. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): Ugh, I have experienced such orgasms. Perfunctory, unwanted, unneeded…felt more like mutual masturbation than sex. Make sense? I’ve been valiantly attempting to finish a veritable mount everest of wine tonight.
    Anyway, with past partners I experienced the other side of the spectrum- extreme pleasure. Guess it just brought home what I was missing and made the absence of gratification, connection or pleasure that much more profound.

    I really should change my avatar during the sex talks. Always feels a bit weird. Somewhere on my harddrive I have a(n) Euclidean Boobs pic…

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