Sex, Synesthesia, and a Sexual Trance

Sex is hard to qualify. What makes it good? And what makes great sex better than good sex? How do we measure it? Is it the overall amount of pleasure? Or the level of physical excitement? Or is it the strength of the emotional connection? How about the intensity of the orgasm? Or the general sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, and relief?

Synesthesia, and a Sexual Trance

There are of course no qualitative answers to these questions beyond those that can be self-reported. It’s all too subjective for that, and since we can’t realistically deduce something as abstract as ‘pleasure’ by measuring heart rate and blood-chemical levels, it seems unrealistic to measure it. That hasn’t stopped Neilson and colleagues from trying though.

In a recent study, Neilson found that sex might actually be perceived as less satisfying for those of us who experience particularly intense sexual arousal. Neilson and her colleagues looked at a number of parameters of subject sexual experience in those with an extraordinary sensory condition, known as synesthesia. This is a fascinating subject, and those that experience it relate unusual bindings of sensations and mental images. For example, music-color synesthetes interpret musical notes as colors, and lexical-gustatory synesthetes see or hear words as having a particular taste.

Isn’t it amazing how our minds process information? About 2% of the general population experience colors, flavours, or other sensory stimulus during orgasm and arousal. (Another theory suggests that, in fact, we ALL do this to one degree or another.) In other words, the colors or flavours are not related to any particular sexual act, but an overall sense of sexuality can be interpreted as a color, or a flavor. Almost as though it were an involuntary process, a kind of extra vision or mental imagery triggered by touching and intimate contact.

Those who experience synesthesia most acutely describe it as trance-like, and often refer to it as an altered state of consciousness, not unlike descriptions of hallucinations under the influence of psychoactive drugs like LSD. One form of the altered perception of LSD is the experience of rapidly changing colors, shapes, and textures in response to music – so the capability for this sort of process is already within all of us. 

So what does this trance-like state of sexual awareness feel like? Well, it might be experienced as an extremely intense physical and psychological arousal, and a sense of total absorption in the moment. Like a rush of drugs, sexual synesthesia can be totally overwhelming. This does not, however, mean that sex is fully satisfying.

For those of us that don’t experience synesthesia involuntarily, there are two similar factors that can contribute to great sex. The first is ‘role enactment’. Role enactment is one a kind of sexual identity is embodied physically during sex. For example, sexual submission requires an element of role enactment, and the more that role is enacted, the more fulfilling the sexual contact becomes. This can be manifested during masturbation as well as partnered sex. The second factor is partner engagement, in which you consciously monitor your partner’s sexual responses and become sexually stimulated by them. This allows for a whole other level of shared sexuality, and, with dedication, can be used to enhance your sensuality.

Written by: Stuart Nugent

With 16 years in the adult industry, including many years at LELO, it's fair to say Stu has been around the sex toy block a few times. As LELO's resident sex geek, he's been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and anywhere people talk about sex. Here on Volonte, he turns his spotlight onto the important events affecting sex right now in a regular op-ed. Views are his own.

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