No one volunteered to be featured in this week’s sex blog.So I had to ask Paris to come to the rescue!
-=[ Wilhelm Reich and the Function of Orgasm]=-
I first became familiar with Wilhelm Reich’s work when I was an undergraduate and beginning my explorations into the synthesis of psychology and Buddhist meditation. That’s when 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 confront it in my meditation practice. 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 and 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 (this is where I got my idea for “squeaky vaginas” btw *grin*).
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 schools 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 permeated 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 where he claimed he 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 is little agreement over exactly when.