In Search of the Apocalyptic Orgasm

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.

7. Miscellaneous.

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.

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