Mikhail Bakhtunin delves deeply into the theories and research of Wilhelm Reich.
Part 1: The Energy Economy of Sex
The past few decades, humanity gained an unprecedented measure of sexual freedom, a tremendous achievement over the past control of sex by religion and patriarchy. A new question now begins to dawn: is “everything goes” the final stage of humanity’s sexual progress, or is there another full milestone waiting to be achieved?
About 85 years ago, the brilliant Austrian psychoanalyst and scientist Wilhelm Reich busied himself with this question. However, his answer so much confronted the status quo that he had to flee from persecution from five European countries.3:ix; 2:ix In 1939 he settled in the United States, but was eventually incarcerated by the U.S. government who also burned six tonnes of his research journals and scientific publications. Reich died in prison in 1957.3:ix
His books have since been republished and research by others has verified the validity of his work on human health ranging across many disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, sociology, biology and physics.4 However, the media has given the public mostly factual distortion and caricatures about Reich and his work, usually reducing him to a crazy cult-leader.
This article aims to accurately present a small but important theme in Reich’s work: a novel understanding of human sexuality, beginning with Reich’s discovery that the manner in which you (do not) experience orgasm is an extremely accurate indicator of your overall health and well-being. The two concepts forming the red thread of this article are a newly discovered psychosexual energy and the concept orgastic potency.
Inheritance from psychoanalysis
Embedded documentary: “Man’s Right to Know: The Wilhelm Reich Story,” by the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust, 2002.
Sigmund Freud’s work on psychoanalysis, while nowadays seen by some as merely a philosophical undertaking, started out with quite a different aim: to develop a natural science.13:13; 12:128
Explaining and curing neurosis was one of the main tasks of early psychoanalysis and Freud differentiated two categories. Firstly, psychoneuroses were characterised by repressed (childhood) conflicts and were to be cured psychoanalytically. Secondly, current neuroses were characterised by present-day disturbances in patients’ sex life (inhibited “sexual stuff” or libido) and were to be cured through adopting normal sexual activity.12:88-9
Psychoneuroses presented themselves as a qualitative issue (ideas in the psyche, with meaning), i.e. food for philosophy. In contrast, current neuroses were a quantitative issue (physical energy, without meaning), i.e. food for science.
Around the 1920s Freud came to admit the inadequacy of psychoneurosis theory in curing patients.12:49 Much worse, current neurosis theory was discarded altogether12:136 because no single definition of healthy sexual behaviour could be found.12:136 Thus, the link to science was discarded and the libido became a mere metaphor.12:124
Around this time, Reich developed a highly successful understanding of neurosis based on the insight that the two neuroses theories should be merged.12:94 While the psychoneurosis qualitatively supplies the historical content of the neurosis, the current neurosis quantitatively supplies the contemporary energy to sustain the neurosis’ psychological power.12:91,94
Thus, Reich inherited from Freud’s early work the topic that would dominate the rest of Reich’s research career, the link between psychology and physiology: the libido as a real physical energy.
Energy stasis constitutes all neuroses
The libido was originally understood as a psychosexual energy. For example, according to classical psychoanalytic theory, it governs the mouth areas between ages 1-3, thus making sucking, chewing and biting pleasurable. Classically, only upon reaching sexual maturity does this energy become the adult sex drive. In Reich’s view, the sex drive is also present during childhood.
Conventional sexology regarded and still today regards all erogenous zones (genital, mouth, anus, nipples, some skin parts, etc.) as equal means to sexual pleasure however one prefers. However, Reich’s clinical experience showed the necessity of differentiating between two antithetical groups, the genital-zone and the non-genital zones, because the more a patient derived gratification from non-genital zones, the less they were capable of experiencing genital gratification.12:81
Secondly, Reich’s research indicated without any ambiguity that all neurotic patients have a disturbance of the ability to achieve genital gratification and, moreover, that the severity of the neurosis correlates perfectly with the severity of this disturbance.10:39
In terms of the psychosexual energy economy, Reich reasoned as follows. All erogenous zones can increase sexual tension in the body. However, this tension needs to be released occasionally in order to maintain an energy equilibrium and only the genital zone can do this. This was the key: the function of the orgasm is to restore the psychosexual energy equilibrium, see Figure 1.12:54-5
When no equilibrium can be maintained, the excess (remaining) energy forms the energy source for the neurosis, i.e. every single neurosis patient suffers from a psychosexual energy stasis.12:91,94
With this insight, Reich introduced the concept orgastic potency as a measure of psychic health and the antithesis of neurosis. Full orgastic potency was first defined in 1927 as “the ability to achieve full resolution of existing sexual need-tension.”10:18
Figure 1: Diagram depicting the undisturbed sex-economic energy process.
Tension corresponds to all increases in sexual excitation, and relaxation to the orgasm in the absence of neurosis.12:55, 111; 10:75-6
Forms of orgastic impotence
The ability to achieve sexual fulfilment – orgastic potency – does not depend on a specific technique, but relates to the total constitution of one’s body and psyche. Accordingly, its opposite, orgastic impotence, is not a conscious strategy, but is an unconscious one and therefore results in “the inability – even under the most favourable external circumstances – to achieve satisfaction that corresponds to existing sexual tension and to sexual needs.”10:45
This incapacity is primarily caused by the environment’s a negative reaction to a child’s innocent sexual exploration. Because of the associated negative emotion, the person develops various (unconscious) strategies and habits to diminish the likelihood of repeating the search for and encounter of full orgastic release. As a result, the person becomes incapable of finding gratification even if (s)he would want to and, as a result, develops the energy stasis that constitutes neurosis, see Figure 2.
The inability to find gratification may be compensated for by engaging in an excessively active sex life or alternatively by rationalising a decision to live in complete abstinence. Both extremes fall under the unifying and primary purpose of all sexual repression: to disturb the orgastic capacity. As Reich put it:
In the case of full orgastic potency, all sexual excitation concentrates in the genitals during intercourse and is fully released during orgasm.10:24 This is experienced identically by both genders. However, forms of orgastic impotence align with the physiological differences between men and women.
For example, women may develop “inability to orgasm” and “frigidity,”10:39 but also the “ability to have multiple orgasms” is a sign of orgastic impotence, because this implies not all existing sexual excitation is released during orgasm.
For men, “erectile dysfunction” and “ejaculative disturbances” are clear measures of orgastic impotence.10:39 However, the male ability to ejaculate need not indicate orgastic potency, because ejaculation can be accompanied by relatively little release of sexual excitation.
These rough categories are not ideal to determine one’s level or orgastic potency. Moreover, your subjective feeling of sexual satisfaction is a misleading indicator, because you can only truly know what an increase in sexual gratification feels like after you have experienced such an increase.10:45 Unambiguous objective indicators of one’s level of orgastic potency do exist but are treated in Part 2 of this article.
Figure 2: Diagram depicting the disturbed sex-economic process.
Inhibition invariably results in stasis, fueling neurosis.12:55, 111; 10:75-6
Experimental verification of psychosexual energy
Reich performed a series of bio-electric experiments in the 1930s at the University of Oslo to verify the existence of a psychosexual energy economy in the body.1:102,135 These experiments were independently verified in 2010.5
Alfred Kinsey’s and Masters and Johnson’s research into sex during the 40s-60s created today’s dominant sexological framework.6;7;8 Though decades after Reich’s work, neither group qualitatively differentiated the orgastic experience the way Reich did.
Kinsey defined the male orgasm as “all cases of ejaculation”1:59-60, in 2:26 and the female orgasm as “the sudden and abrupt release . . . from sexual tension,” while “[excluding] the satisfaction that may result from sexual experience.”2:628, in 2:26-7 By focusing on technique and anatomy, Kinsey and Masters and Johnson described orgastic experiences that can range from full orgastic potency to full orgastic impotence.2:28
Instead of describing phenomena that all sexual climaxes have in common like Kinsey and Masters and Johnson did, Reich focused on understanding what factor explains the presence or absence of sexual gratification across a range of phenomenon.
For example, pleasure may increase when practicing coitus interruptus or when using a condom, but the sense of gratification always diminished. Moreover, gratification is related to the type of bodily fluids: women experience little gratification when they secrete a water/squishy solution and a more intense sensation when they secrete an oily/thick solution inside the vagina. Finally, both sexes reported the inability to stimulate the genitals and inability to perform erotic imagination after an orgasm with full gratification (i.e. in case of orgastic potency).
In order to explain these phenomena, Reich proposed in a theoretical paper in 1934 that the experience of sex and specifically the orgasm should be conceived not as merely mechanical physiology, but additionally as a “bioelectric” phenomenon: a new type of energy moving through and outside the organism. Reich captured the interrelation of these processes in what he termed the orgasm formula:
Firstly, erectile tissue becomes engorged with blood. Secondly, a charge builds up at the surface of the skin (specifically the genitals) through rhythmic friction. Thirdly, during orgasm this tension is discharged. Finally, the erectile tissue relaxes. That is, in the case of orgastic potency, the bioelectric charge and discharge in the genitals constitutes the amount of gratification. However, this bioelectric factor is absent in orgastic impotence.10:24
Reich additionally hypothesised that the bioelectric charging and discharging of the skin is related to the activity of the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system, which is comprised of the complementary parasympathetic and the sympathetic systems. The parasympathetic system can cause the charge at the skin surface to increase, which is experienced as pleasure, and the sympathetic system causes it to flow away from the skin surface, which is experienced as an increase in central tension or anxiety.2:103-4,109; 11:68-9; 1:6-7
The capacity to experience gratifying pleasure thus depends on whether the electrical charge can sufficiently flow towards the periphery of the organism. This corresponds psychologically to the “active attitude of the ego in the act of perception.”12:52
Reich verified this experimentally after two years of research into the reaction of the skin to states of pleasure and anxiety. His findings included that non-erogenous zones have a stable electric potential, but that erogenous zones have a wandering potential changing with mood states.
Moreover, Reich found that a change in electric potential corresponds not to the type of mechanical stimulation, but to the person’s subjective sensation or emotion.2:131-4 That is, Reich could objectively measure a person’s subjective state, indicating he (though unaware) was still on the right track to discover the link between body and mind, matter and spirit: a psychosexual energy.
Conclusion of Part 1
Reich’s theories and research offer a unique way to understand and explain people’s sexual experience and, specifically, the measure of sexual gratification they experience. By conceptualising the discharging of a psychosexual energy as the cause of gratification, we for the first time are able to satisfactorily explains why men and women report the same experience of “release” and accompanying “gratification” during orgasm. Reich’s work offers the definitive key to understanding the orgasm and its particular attributes.
Part 2: Perfect and Imperfect Sexual Experience
The experience of full orgastic potency
After discovering that all neurotic patients have orgastic disturbances, Reich set out to describe the shared characteristics of the sexual experience of those who are free from neurosis. He summarised these findings in his 1942 definition of orgastic potency: “the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the dammed-up sexual excitation through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the body.”12:102 This part elaborates on this definition.
In the case of orgastic potency, two distinct phases during sexual intercourse can be differentiated: a voluntary and an involuntary phase. In the beginning movements are voluntary and the course of excitation can be controlled at will. This commences by introducing the involuntarily erect penis into the involuntarily lubricated vagina. A complete absence of fantasies is the norm. Furthermore, both partners can temporarily put conflicts aside and completely focus on the orgastic experience. Finally, movements are slow and rhythmic.
Now commences a second phase where movements become involuntary and control is undesired or impossible. An intense increase in pleasure ensues. Moreover, pleasurable rhythmic convulsions of the entire musculature constitute the climax. Then, consciousness temporarily “clouds” and there is a complete discharge of excitation without being able to be sexual excited again. Furthermore, a characteristic “after-glow” and a deep sense of fulfillment is present. Finally, a desire to sleep, work or play arises afterwards as well as a sense of gratefulness towards the partner.
These two described phases are depicted in Figure 3 to which two general remarks can be added. Firstly, Reich found the course of excitation in the orgastically potent man and women to be identical, with climaxes coinciding in couples with flourishing relationships. Secondly, Reich considered healthy intercourse ranging from roughly 5 to 15 minutes, excluding foreplay, that is.
The importance of this description can be summarised as follows. Firstly, everyone who has experienced this type of sexual experience agrees that it is more fulfilling than any other type. Secondly, the ability to experience it, depending on orgastic potency, is limited to those who are free from neuroses. Finally, all people known to be free from neuroses also have orgastic potency.15
Every detail of this description is important because it implies the characteristics of the sexual experience of people lacking orgastic potency. For example, the orgastically impotent experiences the presence of fantasies and presence of conflicts that distract the person from the orgastic experience. Moreover, movements are fast and forced. Furthermore, a second phase with involuntary movements is usually absent, orgasm sensation is limited to the genital area, and the clouding of consciousness does not occur. After the orgasm, sexual excitability and fantasies are still possible and an after-glow and peaceful sense of fulfilment are generally lacking. In fact, a well known saying implies that this type of post-coital sadness is the norm for many: omne animal post coitum triste est.
Figure 3: Diagram depicting the typical phases of the sexual act in which both male and female are orgastically potent.
1 = phase of voluntary control of the excitation and prolongation which is still unharmful.
2 = phase of involuntary muscle contractions and automatic increase of excitation.
3-4-5 = phase of involuntary convulsions of the body (shaded area).
3 = sudden and steep ascent to the climax.
4 = orgasm.
5 = steep drop of the excitation.
f = foreplay; p = penetration; a = acme (climax) ; r = relaxation.12:103; 10:26
Armour in body and mind
At the core of orgastic impotence and the neurosis is pleasure anxiety: the (unconscious) fear to experience pleasure. To understand why pleasure anxiety exists and how it can affect the physical orgastic experience we have to delve a bit into Reich’s contribution to psychology and biology.
During the 1920s and 1930s Reich introduced the technique of character analysis to the world of psychoanalysis. Character analysis is the innovation that people’s stereotypical character traits – not what people said but how they said it, such as: being chronically friendly, chronically formal, chronically unemotional, etc. – function as systemic defence mechanisms against unwanted psychological experiences. That is, people’s character forms an armour against directly experiencing impulses and sensations.
This armour can be understood from two angles. Character armour concerns compulsive habits that, because of their rigidity, provide a secure environment where you “cannot be touched” by the world. Secondly, together with the character armour a person develops chronic rigidities of the body, i.e. muscular armour.
The important observation Reich made was that character and muscular armour block a functional unit. For example, armour can block crying. Psychologically (character armour), the idea of crying can be made inaccessible and inappropriate. Physiologically (muscular armour), crying is made impossible by chronically, i.e. involuntarily, tensing the muscles involved in crying, such as the eyes, throat and diaphragm.
The armour, thus, constitutes an affect blocks: muscles that bind unwanted emotions and so also prevent their re-experience. The original impulse and the accompanying flow of psychosexual energy is thereby blocked.
Different types of blocks are possible, but Reich encountered again and again that every single neurotic patient had deep down a block of the pelvic region. Being unable to express this longing for sex, and love, results in a deep and fierce frustration leading to rage. However, the person usually does not want to express this rage to the direct environment and therefore the rage is again suppressed through more armour.
The final result is that sex becomes something mechanical and possibly brutal. More importantly, the person as a whole becomes increasingly shallow, unable to deeply experience and deeply feel. Contact with one’s own authentic ‘core’ is lost. No broad statistical evidence exists to conclude how widespread the pelvic armour is, but Reich and many of his associates concluded from their own clinical experience and sociological and anthropological studies that it affected the masses at large.
Figure 4: Diagram depicting typical genital disturbances in both sexes.
– – – = normal orgasm curve, with shaded part representing the involuntary convulsions of the entire body, crucially lacking in all forms of disturbances.
N = Nymphomania or satyriasis (hypersexuality).
P = Premature ejaculation (male only, very common).
I = Isolated orgastic impotence.
H = Hypesthesia of genitals (reduced sense of touch).
A = Aversion.
p = penetration; i = inhibition; u = unpleasure.12:163, 165; 10:22, 59, 70
Relation between armour and orgasm
There are many different types of character armour and musculature armour, resulting in many different types of genital disturbances for both sexes. These are summarised in Figure 4. This section explains the mechanism through which armour affects our experience of orgasm. Again, Reich investigated a physiological distinction not pursued by the famous Kinsey and Masters and Johnson reports.8; 14:29
The two important physiological distinction concerns whether movements are voluntary or involuntary, and whether the orgastic experience spreads throughout the body or is limited to the genital area. Reich’s research showed that the key factor causing this difference was to be found in the interrelation between the functioning of the voluntary nervous system and the involuntary nervous system.11
The movement of friction in the genitals in either direction generates immediate sexual excitation. In the unarmoured (non-neurotic and orgastically potent) person, the muscles of the involuntary nervous system respond to the friction by contracting, thus, spreading the sexual tension to the rest of the body. The discharge, the orgasm, here constitutes the rhythmic convulsions of the entire musculature in the body.11:11
In contrast, the armoured “pleasure anxious” (neurotic and orgastically impotent) person has to fence-off the pleasurable sensation of the genital friction. S/he will (unconsciously) use the voluntary (somatic) nervous system to inhibit the contraction of the musculature and, thus, prevent the spreading of the sexual tension. The main methods are by (unconsciously but) voluntarily pulling back the pelvis or tightening the buttocks and thigh muscles. With sexual excitation contained, the climax is likewise limited to convulsions of the genital area.11
The difference between orgastic potency and orgastic impotence is also observable in differences in frictional movement. Lacking armour, there are smooth, undulating spontaneous (autonomous) movements of the pelvic region. Moreover, these slow movements produces a greater pleasure sensation. When this area is blocked, the lack of spontaneous movement is compensated for by moving the entire torso in a thrusting, strenuous manner. Moreover, these quick, hastened, jerky movements function to lower the intensity of the pleasure sensation.11; 12:162
The interplay between our voluntary control and involuntary processes is also revealed in our breathing. Automatic full and deep breathing using the belly indicates the absence of the voluntary control, implying that the involuntary system functions freely. When the diaphragm is blocked and we breathe using the torso (or have to force ourselves to use the belly) the breath is controlled (unconsciously) using the voluntary nervous system. Thus, during sexual excitation and in particular leading up to orgasm, the orgastic impotent will inevitably hold back the breath, to more or lesser degree.
A final note, orgastic potency is not just a measure relating to one’s sexual experience, but has general significance to our entire experience of life. As it indicates our ability to feel, be spontaneous and respond to the flow of psychosexual energy during intercourse, so does it during life in general.
Regaining orgastic potency
In Reich’s view, everyone is born with full orgastic potency. However, regaining orgastic potency after having lost it is not easy, because it may require facing everything one has ever (unconsciously) suppressed psychologically. Thus, a complete overhaul of one’s character may be required, but this may prove harder or even impossible the older one is, because one’s character becomes increasingly rigid.
Armour can be observed during one’s own sexual experience. In the case of orgastic potency, conscious contact must exist continuously with the actual (pleasurable) sensation. That is, one needs to allow oneself to fully experience any sensation that sex might bring: one needs to “open up.” Therefore, firstly, no distracting thought whatsoever may be on one’s mind, secondly, no muscles may be tensed, specifically not in the pelvis area, and, finally, breathing must be deep and full all the way through. These three always go hand-in-hand together and occur together or are absent together.
The author has had the (not so fortunate) privilege of testing the validity of the above, because of experiencing a transition over five years time from severe neurosis and impotence to reasonable freedom from neurosis and experiencing full orgastic potency. However, this was very hard labour and may not be a realistic goal for many.
As character quickly rigidifies when growing up, Reich also realised, the best thing one can do is focus on prevention. Reich’s sociological and anthropological writings related to an endeavour he termed sex-politics focus exactly on this: “Why is human love life suppressed?”19:xxiii
Overcoming sexual suppression does not directly aim to “improving everyone’s sex-life,” but to establish an environment that nourishes the development of children into people capable of loving and capable of being human. It is this lack of humaneness – a chronic deprivation of the capacity to give and receive love – which sustains the violent, aggressive world we live in, Reich found.
He realised that sexual repression is pervasive throughout psychological and sociological values. Therefore, he tackled the issues most pressing in his time: he ran sex counselling centres, distributed contraceptives, promoted women’s financial independence, and pushed for the legalisation of homosexuality and legalisation of abortion. He did this during the 1930s in Germany and later when he was in exile in the scandinavian countries. Though we made much progress since then, Reich undoubtedly would have been unsatisfied by the present state of the world.
The core aim of prevention, then and today, remains to allow children to spontaneously and naturally explore sex and sexuality. This includes allowing little boys and girls to experiment with genital sexuality. Preventing children to do so is dangerous because Reich proved the important health-maintaining role of being able to experience gratifying sex-play.18:142, footnote Reich’s views on masturbation are explored in the next part.
Conclusion of Part 2
Every human being is naturally capable of having orgastic potency. This capacity to find gratification implies psychological health, because it comes about only in the full absence of neurosis. However, many people have developed psychological and physiological affect blocks, i.e. character armour and muscle armour, which impedes the capacity for gratification.
Character structure and bodily rigidities are tied up together in functional units, explaining why various forms of armour correspond to different forms of orgastic impotence for men and women, of various severity.
Specifically the orgasm captures a human being exactly when s/he is completely naked – both psychologically and physically – because it reveals the interplay of voluntary and involuntary processes. Thus, it becomes intelligible why the characteristics of our orgastic experience are an accurate indicator of our overall health.
Moreover, for the first time it becomes possible to understand why, generally speaking, people consider sex to be something intimate and private, because our capacity to experience orgasm objectively reveals the most intimate inner structure and conflicts of our psyche to ourselves and our partner.
Part 3: The Meaning of the Orgasm and Love
The last theme I will discuss is what I personally find the most interesting and convincing about the validity of Reich’s research. This point captures something extremely essential and vital: the meaning of sex. That is, the aim is to explain the difference between two human beings who give expression to a deep-felt affection for each other and “two animals fucking the hell out of each other,” as one might put it.
Though so essential, contemporary medicine is incapable of truly capturing the physiological difference. Reich’s research, on the other hand, could capture this and, in fact, increasingly emphasised this as the crucial difference between orgastic impotence and orgastic potency.
The masses of orgastically impotent can experience what is commonly called “orgasm”, thus Reich purposefully introduced new terms to capture what he had discovered. Therefore, he defined the sexual experience of the orgastically potent as the genital embrace. Moreover, the acme of the genital embrace Reich defined not a distinct phenomenon such as one might associated with orgasm, but as an integral and inseparable component of the whole sexual (i.e. life) experience.
Accordingly, Reich’s final definition of orgastic potency reads: “the capacity for complete surrender to the involuntary convulsion of the organism and complete discharge of the excitation at the acme of the genital embrace.”16:10
To understand the unique physiology of the genital embrace, we must accept for the moment Reich’s greatest discovery: the electricity of organic matter, vernacularly known as the life energy.
Life energy or the orgone energy
Embedded video: “Wilhelm Reich and the Orgone Energy,” by James DeMeo, PhD, 2009.
Though Reich’s bio-electric experiments in the 1930s confirmed the existence of the economy of a sexual energy in the body, the measured quantitative dimension – hundreds of millivolts – inadequately explained the intensity of people’s emotions.14
After a further decade of research, Reich was able to re-frame these findings as a rudimentary study of the properties of a much greater discovery. Reich found a new type of energy which he termed orgone energy, because it charges organic matter, and because studying the orgasm led Reich to its discovery.
Explaining more about this energy and its discovery requires a separate article. Important to state here is that independent reproduction has indicated the validity of Reich’s experimental findings.4 Here, we will assume its validity and limit ourselves to the relevance of the life energy for sex and sexuality. We will begin very briefly with some of Reich’s basic insights in physics and from there reason back to morphology and, finally, sexuality.
Reich differentiated two fundamental states of life energy. A free, cosmic energy present in the atmosphere, and a closed form bound in every organism. Reich reasoned that the characteristic course of movement of free life energy in the atmosphere (called the “KRW”) explains various riddles regarding the morphology of organisms.
When the orgone energy is bound inside an organism, it generally follows the material (membranous) boundaries of the organism. However, it will always strive to break beyond the closed material enclosure so that it can resume the free movement of its open character in space. However, this is not possible, because all life forms are morphologically closed: they are a limited spatial entity. Nature’s solution for this: the orgasm.17:213
We will look at the energy within one organism, see Figure 5. The form originates at the base of the spine where the energy propels naturally as waves of excitation up along the back following path (1), bending over the head down towards the top of the chest. Here, the natural course of movement of life energy would be to continue following path (2), and it does so in the form of movement or growth of organs. Alternatively, it can grow in size by expanding on its previous path by following path (3).
However, the energy is incapable of fully leaving the organism and must continue its path down the chest. Intermediary outbreaks following path (4) are possible, but eventually, following path (5), it reaches the front side of the tail-end of the organism. At this point the material membrane could force the energy to bend back again to the base of the spine, but this path is directly counter to its natural course of movement. The natural continuation of life energy is to follow path (6) and this constitutes the organism’s orgastic longing and the general sex drive in nature.
Figure 5: Direction and results of movement of orgone within the closed organism (“orgasm reflex”)
1. Material and orgone movement in harmony (no new formations, no movement).
2. Direction of forward movement (antennae, optic peduncles, primary brain vesicles).
3. Direction of growth (size).
4. Intermediary outbreaks (formation limbs, breasts).
5. Sharpest deflection: greatest concentration and excitation of orgone (genitals).
6. Continuation of the direction of orgone movement (orgastic longing, sexual movements).17:218
However, as long as the organism is alone, the energy cannot escape the confines of the material sac. There is only one way to release the sexual charge that is building up at the tail-end, namely by superimposing with another organism and fusing with it. This explains why, throughout the animal kingdom, the location of the genitals at the side of the abdomen (front) near the tail end, and the true function of the orgasm.17:217, 219-20
These findings can be combined with the findings of Reich’s bioelectric experiments. Of most direct relevance is Reich’s conceptualisation of sexual intercourse as an electrolytic system. That is, Reich concluded from physiology that the penis surface and vaginal mucous membranes constitute two electrodes. Furthermore, he found that the colloidal-acidic properties of vaginal secretion (and to some extend saliva) acts as an ideal conducting electrolyte. (Water, on the other hand, does not conduct and when the vagina is moistened with this serous secretion, it reduces sexual sensation accordingly.)11:13-14
Thus, we can now re-conceptualise gratification during the genital embrace not only as the mutual neutralising of sexual potential, but as the free flow of life energy from both organisms into each other, see Figure 6.
Thus Reich speculated the orgasm truly has a cosmic dimension, not in a mystical or metaphysical sense, but, in the sense of the orgasm being supraindividual and because the life energy can temporarily regain its original open character, as it does when it flows freely through space.
Thus, Reich reasoned idiomatic language cannot truly grasp or verbalise the orgasm.17:203 Furthermore, Reich could explain why “orgastic longing” is often represented as a “striving beyond oneself” and as a “yearning to escape from the confines of one’s own organism,”17:222 and perhaps also why it is associated with death in dreams.
Finally, these findings indicate that the pursuit of pleasure is not the driving force of the sexual act; the pleasure experienced is rather the result.17:182 This is a most important finding for understanding human nature and nature in general.
Concluding, we may ask what sex is in Reich’s work. Perhaps it can be put as follows: at its deepest level, sex for the orgastically potent is merely giving physical expression of the full embrace of two human beings, i.e. the attraction and merging of two energy systems, expressed in the genital embrace.
Figure 6: Function of “gratification” in genital superimposition.
GE = Straight flow of genital streaming and merger of ♂ and ♀ energy flow.17:221
Masturbation and its developmental function
The requirement of two organisms to fully gratify one organism’s sexual needs implies that auto-eroticism (masturbation) can never quite provide the same fulfilment as intercourse with a partner. Even if masturbation can fully release sexual tension, this can never provide the feeling one is actually fulfilling the role of mutually complementing each other’s physical and psychological limitations of being only one organism – of being of only one sex.
However, Reich considered masturbation an important and positive phase in a child’s development to sexual and emotional maturity. Moreover, he considered it healthy in the life of an adult too. However, in both cases, masturbation cannot be a final phase, but should be seen as elementary or temporary steps towards finding a real partner to love.18:174
Reich studied various forms of masturbatory practices and observed that the specific form of masturbation reveals rudimentary forms of orgastic potency and impotence.
For example, for men, thrusting the pelvis rhythmically against some type of improvised vulva indicates healthy inclinations towards the opposite sex, while exclusively using the hands while lying passively on the back shows auto-erotic tendencies.3:38-41
Reich held to traditional views when it came to homosexuality, since he considered inhibition of masturbation to result in homosexuality, along with disturbances such as tendencies to exhibitionism, pedophelia, sadism and masochism.18:172 Though, in Reich’s defence, he Reich fought strongly for the legalisation of homosexuality as early as the 1920s.
Reich also identified severely pathological forms, such as: masturbating while facing a mirror, while reading rape scenes, or while being in toilets or in parks.3:38-41 Strongest indicator of orgastic impotence in masturbation is not making any use of the genitals during masturbation, neither in fantasy nor actually.12:55-7
In healthy masturbation practices there is little interruption or prolongation and one has the ability to provide further stimulation. For boys, erection comes about naturally due to sexual excitation and erection is not forced on a flaccid penis. For girls, masturbation in the vagina does not occur with sharp or pointed objects (a frequent occurrence, Reich points out).18:170
Reich considered any exploratory behaviour of children acceptable, including mutual stimulation, as long as it did not violate the following: once excitation is commenced one must see to it that the excitation should be allowed to complete its natural course and final gratification should not be interfered with.18:170
Spontaneity and love
For Reich, the genital embrace is not “to fuck,” nor even “to make love,” but simply “to love.” Furthermore, the energy we are dealing with does not obey the will of the mind. On the contrary, along the lines of sex and love (and life in general) things must come naturally. Thus, the genital embrace cannot be pursued, but must come spontaneously.
Conclusion of Part 3
This section signifies that every human being at the core of their being, longs most greatly to have the capacity to find full orgastic release, i.e. to have orgastic potency and find sexual gratification. This natural function is seen as so fundamental to the life process itself, that we must conclude the following: every possible obstacle (i.e. every argument, thought, ideology or emotion and physical, social or psychological impulse) that stands in the way towards full orgastic gratificationexists solely for the purpose of obstructing the realisation of orgastic potency – nay, in fact is what constitutes orgastic impotence. This viewpoint is extremely radical and has profound implications for the make-up of all spheres of life and human society.
For the extensive research and insights described above, Reich received little to no public recognition during his life. In fact, he received the opposite: opposition in the six countries he settled, and censorship and persecution by three world-empires: the Nazi’s, the Soviets as well as the United States. Perhaps this reaction is related to his profound sincerity and innocent defence of the interest of youth that reverberates throughout his work.
Though his work has been republished, a considerable measure of academic cowardice has resulted in that even now, over 50 years after Reich’s death, the public knows little about the many discoveries of this scientific genius. Though one of the most important figures in 20th century psychology – the uncontested founder of Western body-mind therapies – he is mostly absent in psychology textbooks. He also made important contribution to the early development of Freudo-Marxism and for this work is considered by some the “true heir of Marxism,” but he is not listed in the index of any social psychology or sociology textbooks I opened.
This is a sad state of affairs, because Reich has so much more to offer of direct relevance to people’s every day happiness and health. His other work promises uplifting human emotional misery, a new generic understanding of cancer, establishing humanity’s autonomy and capacity to love, and, finally, his discovery of a scientific approach to a “life energy”.
This article was limited to Reich’s work on sex and sexuality, and the red threads of this essay are: the concept orgastic potency interrelated with a sexual energy. For this contribution, the author maintains firmly, Reich should deserve recognition as being the true inspirer of not only the past Sexual Revolution, but also of the true Revolution yet to come: achieving full orgastic potency for every man, women and child.
Orgastic potency is most fundamentally an indicator of health. It requires one to be psychologically free of neurosis (having the absence of pleasure anxiety), to be physically free from body armour (having the absence of chronic muscular contractions), and to be socially free from compulsive morality and duty (as imposed by mechanistic and authoritarian ways of life). All in all, orgastic potency requires – rather is, having the natural ability to love.12
Finally, the article should have clearly conveyed the idea that orgastic potency is not a technique or method that can be simply taught or learned. The best one can do is to cultivate characteristics that do not oppose the possibility for its spontaneous occurrence, so as to provide the next generation a chance to develop this. However, practice and experience are certainly key to developing this ability. As Reich put it:
Thus, after all, the genital embrace can perhaps best be described as an art – no, the art of making love.
Mikhail Bakhtunin (’11) completed a MSc in Social Justice. He already became interested in Wilhelm Reich’s work during high school and is now considering a PhD on it, though on a topic not directly related to sexuality. email@example.com
1 Baker E (1986), “Sexual Theories of Wilhelm Reich,” Journal of Orgonomy 20 (2): 175-94, <http://www.orgonomy.org/articles/Baker/Sexual_Theories_of_Wilhelm_Reich.pdf>.2 Boadella D (1985) Wilhelm Reich: The Evolution of His Work, London: Arkana.
3 Corrington RS (2003) Wilhelm Reich: Psychoanalyst and Radical Naturalist, NY:FSG.
4 DeMeo J, Albini A, Aronstein WS, Bingham A, Del Giudice E, Haralick RM, Herskowitz M, Heimann M, Hillman H, Kavouras J, Koblenzer J, Maluf N, Maglione R, Mazzocchi A, Müschenich S, Odent M, Okouma PM, Pollack G, Pryatel W, Reyes A, Salat A, Taylor R, Tosi M, and Vecchietti A (2012) “In Defense of Wilhelm Reich: An Open Response to Nature and the Scientific / Medical Community,” Water Journal 4: 72-81, <http://www.waterjournal.org/uploads/vol4/demeo/WATER-Vol4-DeMeo.pdf>.
5 Hebenstreit GA (2010) “Die Elektrophysiologie erogener und nicht-erogener Hautzonen in Verbindung mit der Spannungs-Ladungs- Formel Wilhelm Reichs. Eine experimentelle Untersuchung,” PhD Dissertation, University of Vienna, <http://othes.univie.ac.at/13854/1/2010-09-08_8501559.pdf>.
6 Kinsey A (1948) Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, NY.
7 Kinsey A (1953) Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female, NY.
8 Masters WH and Johnson VE (1966) Human Sexual Response, Boston, USA.
9 Reich W (1971)  “The Genital Embrace” pp. 26-32 in The Murder of Christ: The Emotional Plague of Mankind. NY:FSG.
10 Reich W (1980)  Genitality: In the Theory and Therapy of Neurosis. NY:FSG.
11 Reich W (1982) [1934-7] The Bioelectrical Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety. NY:FSG.
12 Reich W (1999)  The Function of the Orgasm: Sex-Economic Problems of Biological Energy, Volume I of The Discovery of the Orgone. London: Souvenir Press.
13 Rycroft C (1971) Reich, London: Fontana.
14 Boadella D (1985) Wilhelm Reich: The Evolution of His Work, 2nd ed., London: Arkana.
15 Raknes O (1944) [pseudonym Carl Arnold], “Sex-economy: A Theory of Living Functioning,” Int. J. of Sex-Economy and Orgone-Research 3 (1): 17-37.
16 Reich W (1961) Selected Writings: An Introduction to Orgonomy, NY:FSG.
17 Reich W (1973)  Ether, God and Devil / Cosmic Superimposition, NY:FSG.
18 Reich W (1983)  “The Sexual Rights of Youth:” 161-221 in Children of the Future: On the Prevention of Sexual Pathology, NY:FSG.
19 Reich W (1986)  The Sexual Revolution, NY:FSG.
Notes: NY = New York; FSG = Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Weblinks accessed 1 May 2013.
Embedded audio recording with Reich’s own voice: “Wilhelm Reich – Alone (10 min. home recording)”, 1952.