The first time I ever saw my lover have a cathartic orgasm I was quite concerned. Should I ring the ambulance or hope it passes? "Cathartic orgasm," by the way, is a phrase I coined to describe orgasms that have the same signs and symptoms as shock – lightheadedness or a feeling of passing out, restlessness, confusion, shallow breathing, cool and clammy skin or profuse sweating, weakness and thirst. While it is predominantly a physical release it is also an emotionally charged experience. There is a plethora of references to orgasms that are multiple, expanded and tantric, but cathartic orgasms don’t quite fit into any of these categories.
So what, exactly, is a cathartic orgasm? According to Anthony, a 41 year old web site developer: “It’s a near death experience – except that you’ve never been more alive. A cathartic orgasm is amazing while it’s happening. It grabs hold of you and seems to go on forever and it takes you to a level of intensity where everything else in the world ceases to exist. Cathartic orgasms are exceedingly intense and powerful, but not something you’d want on a regular basis. Too exhausting.”
Anthony, who has a few cathartic orgasms a year, goes on to say he also thinks they can be dangerous. “I once blew a blood vessel in my eye. So after I recovered I got a touch concerned about having a stroke or some other complications.”
My research into trying to describe cathartic orgasms began with Mark, my former switch partner and continuing friend. During our six year relationship, we took turns being dominant and submissive and always tried to push each other’s limits. In the course of our explorations we both had cathartic climaxes.
In the time we played, I’ve seen Mark have between twenty-five to thirty cathartic orgasms. He anticipated our meetings (he lived in New Zealand and I lived in Australia) with a certain level of sexual expectation. And the fact that we didn’t see each other too often also helped. Most importantly, we have a high level of trust. He once told me I was the only person who could utterly and totally destroy his world. So if he can trust me with that, a mere cathartic orgasm pales in comparison.
It reached the point that I could orchestrate the experience because I knew exactly which of Mark’s buttons to push to elicit the response I wanted. Creating a cathartic orgasm for him involved hours of slow play incorporating bondage, sense deprivation, cock rings, leather laces and anal stimulation. By the time I’d brought him to the point of orgasm seven or eight times – and then stopped – he’d reach a total sense of distraction where nothing existed outside the dungeon. Listening to a man grovel to be allowed to orgasm is a sweet song to a Dominatrix.
I asked Mark to describe the sensation that makes cathartic orgasms so different from climaxes of the garden variety. A couple of times he’s actually frightened me because I thought he’d stopped breathing. During a cathartic orgasm, Mark gasps and moans in a very distinct way and then his gurgle erupts into a primal scream. Momentary visions of ambulances, paramedics, and emergency rooms always flashed through my mind as I clutched his wrist, checking for a pulse. And he can’t stand up or speak rationally for about twenty minutes. Perhaps the French are right to call orgasm le petit mort (the little death).
Instead of answering my question Mark replied, “But what about you? When you have a cathartic orgasm you weep uncontrollably and you lie still and need to be held for a long time because you’re cold. You can’t even move. And another thing is that you get a deep blood red rash on your neck. Your breathing gets very shallow just before you climax. After you orgasm you gasp and choke to get oxygen back into your lungs.”
Wanting to resume control of the interview, I continued with my observations, “You break out into a sweat and then you get very cold and you refer to it as 'being utterly and totally shattered.' What, exactly, does it actually feel like?”
“It’s rather like my entire mind and body explode and I start to shake. A couple of times I thought I’d passed out momentarily, but given the level of intensity I couldn’t really be sure of anything. You would see how I was responding better than me, but that describes what I’m going through. I know I can’t function. Hell, sometimes I can’t even sit up. All I want to do is fall into a deep sleep. It is as though it drains every bit of energy from my body and I almost float off into another space. Another one of my reactions is to grab you and pull you close. It’s as though I need the reassurance of warm human touch.”
The issue of shallow breathing and gasping for air particularly interests me. Could it be the same sort of sensation for those who practice auto- asphyxiation are seeking? Frankly, I’m not sure how common the practice of oxygen deprivation is. Although I have the occasional request, I tend to err on the side of safety. About the only time we seem to hear about it is when people, usually Conservative British politicians, rock stars, or New Zealand cricket umpires, die in the process. Auto- asphyxiation is designed to elicit euphoria, whereas a cathartic orgasm creeps up and when it takes hold, you have no control, and that’s part of the pleasure.
Following my discussion with Mark, I started asking other people about their sexual experiences – friends, people sitting next to me in the bar, women I met at the hair dressers, gay guys minding their own business at parties. Nobody was safe from my cathartic orgasm questions.
When I mentioned the topic most people gave me a blank stare. Asking them to explain quantum physics would have elicited more of a response. Some suggested I must be making it up as they’d never experienced anything that powerful. I was beginning to think I’d imagined it all and convinced Mark it was real, until I asked Kevin, a 46 year old teacher who has been involved in the scene for years, and he nodded knowingly before I’d even finished the sentence.
“Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean,” he said.
I breathed a sigh of relief, delighted that cathartic orgasms weren’t simply a figment of my imagination. One of my theories was that being submissive was linked to cathartic orgasms. As mentioned, a submissive has no responsibility and is free to respond to sensations without having to worry about pleasing a partner or being the least bit concerned about anyone else’s pleasure. It is the ultimate "all about me" experience.
Kevin agreed. “The more submissive I’ve become and the longer I’ve been in bondage the better my orgasm. Mind you, all orgasms are good, but the cathartic ones are extraordinary and I’ve had quite a few over the years.”
I asked William, my friend who is a senior psychologist and interested in sexology, to find out if he knew of any research on the topic. He replied, “This is a new one for me, but I want one!”
Next I contacted Richard, a psychiatrist who is interested in domination/submission. “I think the bottom line is that at times these experiences can be powerful and profound and have the capacity to invoke psychological and somatic responses that really do have some biological basis with an outpouring of neurotransmitters and perhaps some difficulty at the ‘brain level’ of interpreting and making sense of these confusing signals. Anyway, whatever the psychobiology, it sounds good to me and is a goal worthy of extensive pursuit and practice.” I wasn’t exactly sure about neurotransmitters, but it sounded like a reasonable physical explanation to me.
Of the cathartic orgasm people I’ve interviewed, there is agreement on a number of factors. The first is that cathartic orgasm requires a long, slow, intense build up. Like tantric sex, it isn’t something you can sandwich in between picking up the groceries and settling down to an evening of watching footy. You have to create the time, the space, the interest and allow the intensity to develop and evolve. Further, there can’t be any distractions: no television blaring, no mobile phones ringing or no kids screaming in the background. In other words, you need complete and undivided attention for hours, not minutes.
The jury is still out on whether being submissive is conducive to cathartic orgasm, but being restrained, blindfolded and otherwise dominated allows you to immerse yourself in the sensations of the moment and the concept of time evaporates. Being submissive also relieves you of all responsibility. Does surrendering unconsciously change the way people breathe? Is it because low blood oxygen is the basis for the lightheadedness behind the auto-asphyxiation thrill? Is that what leads to a more intense feeling of orgasm? Blair, a 39 year old plumber, agrees with the long, slow build up being a prerequisite, but doesn’t think the person has to be submissive. “Let’s face it. I don’t have a submissive bone in my body and I generally have three to four cathartic orgasms a year.”
There is also agreement that you have to totally trust your partner before you can reach the stage where you can willingly abandon all control. Along with trust, or as a part thereof, emotion also enters into the equation. But then why would you possibly want to spend three or four or five highly sexual hours with someone you didn’t care about or didn’t find arousing? You’d be much better off painting the back fence.
The physical stimulation and mental anguish include being brought to the point of orgasm a number of times – but not allowed to climax. This up-the-mountain-and-down-the valley approach works well to enhance an orgasm when it is finally allowed to happen. Relieving the intensity too quickly undoes the good work. Dungeon toys – be they masks, gags, or ropes – certainly enhance the experience.
Can people learn to have cathartic orgasms? Those with heart conditions, diabetics, or other health problems might want to discuss it with their doctors before they start playing with the concept. If Anthony can pop a blood vessel, and he is very physically fit, similar things could happen to others. Cathartic orgasms are wonderful, but hardly worth dying for.
A cathartic orgasm needs to be a side effect rather than a goal. It is rather like having a good time on New Year’s eve – the more you work at it the less likely it is to happen. Like other forms of extended sexual play, the object of the exercise has to be pleasure and pure, unadulterated fun. So once again, Mistress J’s words of domination/submission wisdom are "Slow down, slow down, slow down."
And even if you don’t experience a cathartic orgasm, at least you will have a good time trying. If you feel short changed by not experiencing one yourself, take heart. Perhaps you can create the environment for your partner to have one and the vicarious experience may well be the best orgasm you’ve ever had.
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Mistress J was born a Dominatrix: first child, Chinese dragon, INTJ, and a public extrovert/private introvert. During her decade in the dungeon –1998 to 2008 – she thrived. Although she has retired from caning bottoms and whipping clients into shape, she has a wide range of sexual knowledge to share with those who are interested. As well as being a Dominatrix, her J-ness has a Ph.D in adult education and taught at universities. She is currently a writer and an editor. Her advice? Get rid of your inhibitions and enjoy sex, domination and fantasies for what they are – and should be – fun, entertaining and rewarding.