In Search of the Apocalyptic Orgasm
Do Various Pills Make for Sexual Thrills?
by Robert Anton Wilson
from Oui, January 1975
One of the most persistent metaphysical questions of mankind has been: “Can sex be made even better?” Open any sex tabloid and you will be confronted with a wide variety of products, all promising to deliver the expected miracle. And even if the best of the brews and chemicals won’t actually kill you, the majority are certainly useless. Nonetheless, the search for what Norman Mailer calls the’ apocalyptic orgasm continues, and with good reason. It is emphatically false that there are no real aphrodisiacs.
There are indeed chemicals that have served to enhance and glorify the sex act for many users, and the discouraging explanation that all such effects are due to self-suggestion is not at all certain. The only scientific verdict at this time must be a large and provocative question mark. Were we to accept anecdotal testimony as our criteria (which is all the evidence we possess right now), the weight of the data would suggest that there are real aphrodisiacs after all.
In traditional folklore, an aphrodisiac is supposed to:
1. Create a sexual desire in the seeker; i.e., cure lethargy or even impotence.
2. Create a sexual desire in some unwilling and unwarned victim; i.e., aid in seduction.
3. Enhance, beautify, intensify or glamorize the sexual experience.
There is no magic potion that can be guaranteed to deliver all three of these results, or even one of them, for all users at all times; in other words, miracles are still known only to the devout. The first law of psychopharmacology is that any reaction to a drug depends on (A) the dosage, (B) the set – the user’s expectations, hopes, fears, beliefs, etc. – and (C) the setting, including not just the physical environment but also the emotional and ideological atmosphere.
To illustrate: Alcohol is the drug most often used as an aphrodisiac in the second sense given above – a tool of seduction. Folklore says that it often works, and as distinguished a drug expert as Dr. Joel Fort, former consultant to the World Health Organization and author of The Pleasure Seekers, agrees that it does work a lot of the time, both heterosexually and homosexually.
Folklore also tells us, and police records confirm, that the results of this booze-to-boudoir strategy are far from certain. If the victim holds puritanical beliefs, it the setting is unpropitious or downright ugly, if the dosage goes too far, the result can be illness instead of bliss, and even cries of “Rape.” All this, of course, flows from the fact that the basic purpose is exploitative and antisocial from the beginning. Similar problems often arise when one attempts to use alcohol as an aphrodisiac in the first sense to stimulate oneself. Masters and Johnson bluntly declare booze to be the single most frequent cause of what they call secondary impotence – sexual failure in men who are normally virile. This occurs when the dosage is too high: The sedative effect of a little alcohol (which is basically a depressant) makes sex better because it temporarily knocks out the inhibition center in the brain, but the same sedative effect spreads to more and more of the nervous system as the intake increases. One can be sexually hors de combat long before the paralysis has reached the balance centers; i.e., before one is falling-down drunk. One therefore feels high rather than blind, and the sexual impotence can be a shock. Masters and Johnson say that many cases of impotence that lasted for years began this way, though it takes a lot of worry and self-doubt (aided by more booze) to keep the pattern going after a single catastrophe.
In general, the same parameters apply to other chemicals. Some users insist that these are aphrodisiacs, without qualification or definition. Others claim that it’s all autosuggestion. The evidence to date is that the dosage, the set and the setting are all intimately involved in the results, which are therefore predictable only in very loose generalizations.
Spanish fly, or cantharides, the most famous of all alleged aphrodisiacs, is hardly controversial anymore. Everybody agrees that it’s a bummer. The actual effect is to irritate the genitourinary tract; in a few cases, this irritation, coupled with strong autosuggestion, has seemed aphrodisiac. More often, the irritation has been merely irritating. Heavy doses are also poisonous: The Marquis de Sade owes much of his infamous reputation to an incident in which he poisoned two prostitutes by feeding them chocolates diluted with cantharides. He always insisted that he intended only to inflame their passions.
Other traditional aphrodisiacs, such as rhinoceros horn, shrimps, oysters, etc., are equally ineffective, if less toxic. Their reputations, anthropologists agree, are due to the shamanistic habit of thinking analogically. The rhino horn looks like an erect penis, the oyster like a vagina, and thus, to the primitive sorcerer, it is logical to hope for stimulating sexual effects. Actually, a diet high in oysters and other seafood will keep a man potent if other factors are not depressing his virility. This is true of any diet that stresses protein and avoids excessive carbohydrates. But there is no special magic in seafood.
Before going further, some definition of terms: A drug is any substance that changes the human being who consumes it. (This is a very general definition, of course; it includes gold, which creates hallucinations, among other symptoms of stress, for those unwise enough to try to digest it.) Drugs that primarily affect the mind are usually called psychoactive drugs, or, to use the vernacular, dope.
Dope consists of:
1. Tranquilizers, such as Miltown, Librium and Thorazine.
2. Barbiturates, such as Seconal, or the derivatives of barbiturate acid.
3. Narcotics, such as alcohol, heroin and morphine.
4. Cannabis, which is in a class by itself.
5. Psychedelics, such as LSD, peyote and psilocybin.
6. Energizers, such as cocaine and the amphetamines.
If we forget the question “Are there real aphrodisiacs?” that hinges on the metaphysical meaning of aphrodisiac and hence can be debated forever, and instead ask “Do any drugs affect sex?,” the answer is a resounding yes! The first three groups on this list have all been linked with impotence, at least for some users. While this is negative knowledge, it at least gives us some grounds for hope that positive effects claimed for other chemicals are not all the result of auto-suggestion.
Male patients on heavy dosages of tranquilizers often become impotent; the dose is then cut and combined with an energizer, whereupon the problem usually clears up. Tofranil in particular has been linked with impotence so often that doctors now warn about this when prescribing it, telling the patient to discontinue use if sexual functioning is hampered. The same problem arises with heavy use of barbiturates. With opiate narcotics, such as heroin, morphine, Pantopon and Demerol, total impotence is almost invariable once addiction has been established. While it is conceivable that studies may someday show that all this is autosuggestion, the weight of the evidence is that these central-nervous-system depressants also depress the physical sex functions. Those who enjoy these sedative or depressant drugs will reply that sex is more trouble than it’s worth. “It was a woman that drove me to drink;” W. C. Fields commented, “and I never even thanked her.” Or, as a heroin addict says in Aleister Crowley’s novel Diary of a Drug Fiend, “I have gotten into all sorts of messes with women in the past. Heroin has destroyed my interest in them.”
Cannabis has been used for sex, religion, medicine and recreation throughout history, worshiped as a god in parts of India and Africa, banned and feared in places as diverse as ancient China and modern America. George Washington thought so highly of this herb that he wrote frequent letters to the gardener at Mount Vernon about its cultivation; Richard Nixon thought so poorly of it that when the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse reported it harmless, he told them, in effect, to go fly a kite.
Depending on the user’s personality or mood, Cannabis acts like alcohol in decreasing inhibitions, creating an energetic mood. It also acts like a narcotic in diminishing pain. It acts like the hypnotics, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), in provoking alternating moods of hilarity and deep introspection. Finally, it acts somewhat like LSD and the psychedelics in enhancing colors, sensations and music, and sometimes in producing semi-hallucinations. Sexually, Cannabis has long had the reputation of being the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world. This was part of the folklore cited by the authorities when making the herb illegal in 1937.
This, of course, is the kind of thinking associated with the mythical concept of aphrodisiacs. If we remember that psychoactive drugs function synergetically within the context of dose, set and setting, we will not be surprised to learn that R. E. L. Masters, surveying the literature from ancient times to the present, found a minority of users reporting sexual desensitization or outright impotence while on the weed.
Most recently, a research study group that included William Masters concluded that men smoking between 5 and 18 joints of marijuana a week had experienced reduced levels of plasma testosterone and lower sperm counts. High testosterone levels in the blood have long been associated with the tendency toward aggression, and this study suggests that there may be a correspondence between high marijuana use and impaired sexual performance in males. One subject of the study group developed potency problems while using marijuana, but his condition quickly reversed when he stopped.
However, another survey of some 300 American users indicated that most of them find marijuana quite stimulating sexually. For example, A.P. reporter Barbara Lewis’ book The Sexual Power of Marijuana reports on women who were (or think they were) cured of frigidity by smoking this herb. Similarly, Drs. William McGlothlin and Louis Jolyon West, in a survey published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, found that 73 percent of the pot smokers in their sample said they turn on to enhance sexual enjoyment.
During a good sex-marijuana session, the whole body becomes an erogenous zone. This is sometimes described quite colorfully by adepts: “My whole body was a penis,” one will say, or, “She was allpussy, from head to toe.” Timothy Leary referred to the onset of this sort of consciousness as opening “the Rapture Circuit,” one of the seven circuits he claims are built in when a human nervous system is born. (Most people use only four of these seven circuits, Leary asserts, but yogis, shamans, schizophrenics and dopers may be using all seven.)
The mouth is often especially sensitized, and oral sex can be lingered upon to an unusual extent. This, again, may or may not be the result of autosuggestion; it is strikingly similar to the delight in food experienced by many on nonsexual Cannabis jags-the well-known “marijuana munchies.” A 38-year-old radio announcer, quoted in The Sexual Power of Marijuana, put it this way: “A woman’s body becomes a cafeteria. You want to eat every part of it. No part is sacred, yet everything is sacred.”
The most interesting reactions occur, of course, in the genitals. A 22-year-old coed, quoted by the same book, says: “After smoking, there are times when I literally feel as if I’m a huge cunt.” Similarly, a 32-year-old pharmacist said: “I sometimes feel like a huge sexual organ, like I’m duplicating the thrust of the penis. And that the woman’s body has the proportions of one large vaginal tract. ”
This peculiar centering of consciousness within the genitals is the first stage in cosmic consciousness as practiced by the Tantric Hindus of northern India and the Tantric Buddhists of Tibet. The sexual rites of the Tantrists have traditionally used a Cannabis drug, charas, to achieve this felicity.
Of course, such a separate reality-as these states are called by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda – Is quickly categorized as hallucination or worse by older psychiatrists and the governments of the Western world. Younger social scientists – Drs. Leary, John Lilly, Humphrey Osmond, R. D. Laing and many others reply in rebuttal that these states are as valid as ordinary consciousness. Both consist of subjective and objective elements mixed together. This, of course, opens the most accursed question in philosophy: What is real?
More serious is the establishment’s second warning that these unusual states of consciousness, hallucinatory or not, lead to physical damage. Again, there is quick rebuttal. The British Indian Hemp Drug Commission of the Nineties, the U. S. Army Canal Zone study of the Twenties, the LaGuardia Commission of the Forties, the Weil, Zinberg, Nelson study in Boston in the Sixties and a U. S. Food and Drug Administration study in Jamaica in 1971 all found no clear-cut physical damage from Cannabis drugs, even though the first, third and last of these investigations included a large number of users who had been smoking Cannabis for decades. The establishment, however, is always quick to come back with another study suggesting that some subtle damage might exist after all.
The psychedelics-hallucinogens bring these debates to greater emotional intensity than do the Cannabis drugs. The sexual side of the LSD revolution was stated bluntly by Leary in a 1966 Playboy Interview:
The sexual impact is, of course, the open but private secret about LSD which none of us has talked about in the last few years. . . .
Sexual ecstasy is the basic reason for the current LSD boom. When Dr. Goddard, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, announced in a Senate hearing that ten percent of our college students are taking LSD, did you ever wonder why? Sure, they’re discovering God and meaning; sure, they’re discovering themselves; but did you really think that sex wasn’t the fundamental reason for this surging, youthful social boom? You can no more do research on LSD and leave out sexual ecstasy than you can do microscopic research on tissue and leave out cells. . . .
Mature and responsible voices were prompt to announce that Leary was exaggerating wildly. Voices from the underground were just as prompt to assert that he was telling it like it is. Typical is this testimony of one interview subject, who described an identification-with-the-genitals experience much stronger than those recounted by Cannabis users: “I was fucking Sandra and the acid made all my consciousness go into the very top eighth inch of the head of my penis. That’s all I was – just that fragment of flesh entirely surrounded by cunt and pulsating with joy. Then-boom! – I wasn’t even that. I was nowhere, and yet I was everywhere.”
Alan Watts, the late exponent of Zen, on the other hand, testified that for him LSD was always an “above-the-belt experience. ”
The resolution of such contradictions – without accusing anybody of being a liar or a fool – may perhaps be found in Dr. Lilly’s concept that LSD is a “metaprogramming substance.” This nicely sidesteps the debate between those who regard acid favorably as a psychedelic and those who regard it unfavorably as a hallucinogenic. According to Lilly, a metaprogramming substance acts upon the human biocomputer (brain) so as to make it easier to change programs. Thus, if one wants to change philosophical or perceptual programs, LSD is an above-the-belt experience; but if one wants to change sexual programs, it’s a below-the-belt experience.
A psychedelic that can be described as sui generis is MDA (Methylenedioxyamphetamine), a blend of the psychedelic mescaline (normally found in the peyote cactus) and the stimulant amphetamine. Since both psychedelics and stimulants are found to be sexually exciting by many users, one would expect MDA to be a somewhat erotic potion, and indeed some underground alchemists have claimed it is “the only true aphrodisiac known.” Again, we must remember that effect depends on dosage, plus set, plus setting; some find MDA a totally above-the-belt experience.
As is now the norm in drug lore, vast contradictions appear in the reports of those who have sampled black-market MDA on the streets. This is largely due to the fact that street drugs are often impure or mislabeled; much of what the MDA people think they have had has been cut with amphetamines, cocaine, atropine, etc., or is an LSD-amphetamine compound. Yage is a Peruvian vine even spookier than LSD – occult events are so often connected with it that it is also called telepathine-but there are no sexual claims for it in the literature.
In the last few years one drug, above all, has increasingly acquired a reputation for sexual enhancement-cocaine. It is the strongest of the energizers and, in some circles, has long enjoyed the reputation of being the most licentious drug in the world. Users talk more of a flash than a high, and their imagery tends to sound highly orgasmic, even when they are not combining it with sex.
Orgasmlike sensations are monotonously reported in cocaine literature round the world. The Peruvian Indians say of this chemical, with simple awe, “God is a substance.” The Mexican dealer in Easy Rider tells Peter Fonda, “jEsta es fa Vida!” (“It is the Life!”). William Eurroughs, whose career as multiple-drug abuser extended from the Thirties until 1957, says that cocaine is “the most exhilarating of all drugs.”
Old coke paranoias were extraordinary. Burroughs tells of a friend who suffered the presence of “Chinese coppers . . . with meat cleavers” and of another who literally thrust his head into a garbage can, like an ostrich, to hide from the demons pursuing him. More common were the legendary “coke bugs,” microscopic insects that were experienced just below the surface of the skin.
If the current revival of cocaine has not provided any yarns similar to such Twenties horrors, one explanation may be that most of the cocaine available these days is, like most of the heroin, cut by as much as 80 percent or more. In many cases, it is actually Novocain Gust as much of the “acid” for sale in the street is really mescaline). Then, again, because of the high prices, few can afford to sniff the crystals all night.
There is a tradition of saving the coke until the moment before orgasm and then sniffing it, so that the two flashes occur at once. To devotees, this is indeed heaven on earth; but the purer the cocaine (i.e., the higher the ecstasy), the more likely is the sequel of depressions and paranoid anxieties.
Quite similar in its results is another stimulant, methamphetamine, or Methedrine. Psychologist David Cole Gordon has written: “The users of Methedrine or ‘speed’ have reported unrivaled orgasmic experiences – which is why, even though users are aware of its destructive qualities, they take it again and again.” While the slogan “Speed kills” invented by the counterculture itself has some element of exaggeration, the paranoias and malnutrition of this form of drug abuse (which kills appetite to an astonishing extent) are considered by some (e.g., Dr. Fort) more damaging than heroin addiction.
The other stimulants, such as Ritalin, the Benzedrine compounds and uppers in general, are also found to be sexually stimulating by some users. Each contains its own possibilities for abuse. Some who like this “speedy” kind of nervous sex have therefore resorted to amyl nitrite, a compound sometimes used by doctors to revive persons who have fainted.
Poppers (the slang name for amyl nitrite) seem to have few of the bad aftereffects of the stimulant drugs, although a user in poor physical or mental condition can go into shock. Also, they can be easily obtained without prescription in many places, and are hence something of a fad in showbiz and swinging circles. Some medical authorities, alas, warn that circulation of the blood is adversely affected by chronic use. And then, some who have tried once have never repeated it, saying that the rush is not pleasant at all but resembles being in a falling elevator.
Under our last category – Miscellaneous – there are such oddball kicks as nutmeg, or hanging your head over a bucket of ammonia (“the washwoman’s trip”). Nutmeg is frequently resorted to in prisons; the effect is like peyote, including vomiting and some dizziness. Ammonia, like carbon tet or airplane glue, is a solvent: The effects it has are hardly aphrodisiac.
Finally, there is methaqualone, also marketed as Quaalude, Sopor, Parest, Optimil and Somnafac, and known on the street as sopers. This has quite an erotic reputation in some circles, but, since the drug is basically a downer or sedative, eroticism can be obtained only with small doses; as with alcohol or barbiturates, a larger dose depresses the entire system and leads to sleep – or, with a high-enough dose, to coma or death. Habituation occurs easily, and some investigators already suspect the possibility of physical addiction, although this is still disputed. (It’s safe, however, to say that the drug is extremely habit-forming.)
In summary, then, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and the psychedelics are probably quite effective aphrodisiacs for those who have learned how to use them. Marijuana has probably become the most popular illegal drug – despite the very real war against it by Government officials.
Is grass, then, the wave of the future, as its cultists believe? In one limited sense, yes. It is still growing in popularity and will continue to make converts.
Another factor, meanwhile, is inevitably going to enter the picture. Drs. Wayne O. Evans and Nathan S. Kline, in their Psychotropic Drugs in the Year 2000, predict that a real, specific aphrodisiac will be available in this decade. Some who are familiar with the pace of discovery in psychochemistry will agree. Obviously, some new drugs will evoke the kind of panic that centered on LSD in the Sixties; that is, they will be declared illegal and immediately will appear (cut and diluted into monstrosity) on the black market. There should be some memorable bad trips in the years ahead.