The Friday Sex Blog [The Function of Orgasm]

Hola mi Gente,
Sadly, one of the great musical geniuses of our time, Prince, passed on yesterday. His life was a miraculous performance whose reverberations will continue to be felt for decades. RIP.

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04-21-16_ Sex Blog [Wilhelm Reich]

Alex Grey, detail of Theologue

Wilhelm Reich & the Function of Orgasm

If the psychic energies of the average mass of people watching a football game or a musical comedy could be diverted into the rational channels of a freedom movement, they would be invincible.
— Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

 

I first became familiar with Wilhelm Reich’s work when I was an undergraduate and beginning my explorations into the intersection of Western psychology and Buddhist meditation. It was through Reich’s work that I discovered the concept of body armor. According to Reich, personality development could be compared to a form of body armor — actual physical hardening of parts of the body as a way to stop an individual from understanding their neurosis. In other words, we create a physical armor in response to emotions and trauma that stop us from feeling fully.

I liked that idea because I would often confront it in my meditation practice when I did “body scans” or used my body as a foundation of mindfulness. I had a lot of “denseness” in certain parts of my body, especially in the area around my chest. But I’m getting off topic!

Wilhelm Reich has to be one the most interesting figures in early psychology. I’m surprised no one has bothered doing a film on his life. He certainly was a controversial figure who eventually would die tragically.

He was a follower of Freud but early on he moved away from psychoanalysis and started to evolve his own ideas about the relationship between mind and body. In The Function of Orgasm, Reich came up with the idea that the potential to experience complete, uninhibited orgasm was vital to the healthy adult. In Reich’s view, failure to release pent-up sexual energy resulted in deep-seated psychological problems (neuroses). This may not sound earth-shattering by today’s standards, but in his time, this was almost blasphemous.

Reich also developed the idea, which has been somewhat validated by modern science, of physiological anchoring. In simple terms, physiological anchoring is the notion that psychological experiences lead to a direct physical change of an organ in the human body. In this way, our psychology creates a matrix of permanently tensed or paralyzed muscles, and emotions work as a form of character armor, which is apparently purely physical.

Reich believed that it was possible to relieve mental problems by directly manipulating and massaging the body. This therapeutic intervention, known as orgasm therapy, supposedly dismantled the body armoring and therefore liberated the nervous system to experience full and satisfying orgasm, which Reich identified as the key to mental health.

Early during his career, Reich had grown increasingly involved in sexual liberation movements, which ultimately led to his split from the dominant psychoanalytic movement of the time. His ideas also became increasing unconventional but still interesting, at least to me. I believe Reich was looking at conceptual maps unknown to the psychological paradigms of his day. For example, he claimed that he had measured a previously unknown energy that was discharged by the pelvis during orgasm. He named this energy orgone energy, claiming that it moved in spirals and was blue. For Reich this was the essence of life itself — the cosmic energy that coursed through all beings, as well as the answer to all religious and philosophical problems.

His work reminds me of the chakra system and also the conception of Astral Light, an all-pervading energy field. It’s interesting to note that today there’s a lot of speculation around Field theory that is a more sophisticated explanation of what Reich was attempting to explore.

Eventually, his work became increasingly less conventional. He built orgone accumulation boxes that, he claimed, could store orgasmic energy. He sat patients in the boxes in order to cure them of colds, arthritis, and other disorders, including cancer. When he began distributing his orgone boxes as cures for cancer, he attracted the adverse attention of the FDA. Eventually he would die in prison, on a charge of contempt of court.

While many would argue that Reich’s ideas became mad and worthless, there some agreement over exactly when. I do think he was onto something similar to Eastern thought that speaks of energy and cultivating energy such as “chi” or “qi.” Eastern medicine uses a different “language” than western science which has proven beneficial.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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