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The Straight Dope



My friend, a woman who truly can achieve orgasm by stimulating any part of her body, was offered the word "polymorphous" as a description of her abilities. The dictionary says polymorphism is "the occurrence of different forms, stages, or types in individual organisms or in organisms of the same species, independent of sexual variations." So I'm sure that's not it. However, is there a word for her "condition"?

--Gary Rutz, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Not to be critical, Gary, but of the many questions that bubble to mind when one considers this topic, probably the last on the list is what to call it. For many, the more pertinent issues are: Is this condition catching? If so, when can I come over?

The person describing your friend probably meant to say "polymorphously perverse," a Freudian term for infantile sexuality, in which the child's entire body, not just its genitals, is a source of erotic pleasure. I think Freudian theory is for the birds, though, so let's put that one aside. Other terms I've seen for orgasm without genital stimulation include "psychic orgasm" and "psycholagny."

Now to the more pressing question: What's up with this, anyway? I had Little Ed quiz Gary about his friend and also post a query on the Straight Dope Message Board at, where, I swear, you could ask people if they'd had sex with goats and an hour later you'd have somebody asking, "Define sex." Sure enough, within a couple days we had reports of about two dozen people, mostly women, who'd allegedly had psychic orgasms. Fifteen women filled out our questionnaire and another gave a detailed account, for a total of 16 reports in all. Highlights:

The women could climax through stimulation of their earlobes, nipples, fingers, necks, backs, or in one case the anus. Sometimes kissing alone was enough. One had an orgasm while scratching her back with a back scratcher. Gary's friend supposedly could come by tugging on her hair. Several had orgasms while they slept, the equivalent of an adolescent male's wet dream. Some women required no physical stimulation at all: they were turned on by sexy voices and had enjoyed psychic orgasms during phone or cyber sex, or while their lover was across the room. One woman climaxed out of the blue while talking to her boyfriend in a department store. Another had an orgasm while replaying a sexy movie in her mind, yet another while lying on the beach half asleep having a sexual reverie. One got off reading erotic stories, two others when they simply had full bladders.

Several women said they came while giving oral sex, which I'm sure makes them a prize in some men's eyes. One had orgasms due to nipple stimulation when she became chilled. Two women said they'd come when a guy merely touched them after a long session of meaningful glances at a meeting or party.

Some of the stories were bizarre. One woman had an orgasm during a history exam, brought on by frustration at not knowing the answers. Another said she'd once suffered from extreme foot pain due to muscle inflammation, and if she was on her feet a long time and had to go to the bathroom even slightly, she'd have an orgasm every few steps. Yet another was driving at 80 mph down I-95 listening to two radio jocks talk a woman caller into getting off while on the air, and got off herself: "Keeping both hands on the steering wheel, I nearly drove into a tree."

Though a diverse crew, the women on the whole were sexually adventurous. Five indicated they'd had sexual encounters with both sexes and one was "bi-curious." A couple were married but had lovers. Most had sex frequently--typically, four to eight orgasms a week, and some had a lot more than that. One woman claimed to have come 14 times in the past seven days, two said 20 or more times, and a fourth said "around 50." Gary said his friend, a self-confessed "orgasm addict," climaxed 10 to 20 times a day. Then again, one woman's O-count for the week was zero.

Of the 15 women submitting questionnaires, all but two said they always or almost always had orgasms during sexual intercourse--a striking claim in itself, since surveys typically report that 60 to 75 percent of women can't do so. Several women were multiorgasmic and at least one occasionally ejaculated.

Your reaction may be: these babes were putting you on. Little Ed was asking the questions, so one never knows. However, research has shown that some women can have honest-to-God orgasms without touching themselves. Beverly Whipple, a professor of nursing at Rutgers University, invited ten women who claimed to have psychic orgasms to submit to tests at her lab. Sure enough, there was no physiological difference between orgasms from genital self-stimulation and those from "imagery" alone.

As for men...well, I didn't hear much from them. I did get one secondhand account of a man who climaxed whenever a woman blew in his ear, but he was a rarity. It seems clear that while men, on average, can come more readily than women, women have a much greater range of sexual response--and some can reach heights that leave guys (and a lot of women) shaking their heads in disbelief.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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