What color is an orgasm?

People with a condition known as synesthesia are prone to swapping their senses. They can feel colors, see music, and smell words. This raises an important question for science: What’s it like to have sex when you’ve got synesthesia? Thanks to some inquisitive researchers, we have the answer.

People with synesthesia (aka “synesthetes”) experience the world differently than most. Their neurological pathways are jumbled in such a way that they associate seemingly unrelated senses or mental states with other senses or experiences. The most common form of the condition is grapheme-color synesthesia, wherein individual numbers and/or letters of the alphabet induce the visual perception of specific color patterns. Other, less-common forms of cross-sensory variation abound, and include lexical-gustatory synesthesia (words are associated with taste), chromesthesia (sound-color synesthesia) and auditory-tactile (sound-touch) synesthesia.

Sex, for the uninitiated, involves a fair bit of touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and yes, even counting. Needless to say, there’s a whole lot of sensory and emotional stimulation at work in your typical bout of whoopee-making, and therefore plenty of opportunities for a synesthete’s neurobiology to go positively frantic with crosstalk. But so then what is sex like for a synesthete?

As it turns out there’s not a lot of writing on the subject, and what we do know is frustratingly vague. Previous research, for example, suggests that orgasm can induce the visual perception of color in a little over 2% of synesthetes. “Kissing and sexual intercourse is a reliable trigger,” writes Richard Cytowic in his book Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses, “causing colored photisms, tactile shapes and textures and tastes.” Similarly, touching, caressing and petting (all tactile sensations) are known to induce the concurrent perception of colors, flavors, smell, sounds, and even temperatures. But what of the really nitty gritty details? What does an erection smell like (to a synesthete, weirdo)? What color is an orgasm?

Spurred by the lack of investigation into synesthetic perceptions of intercourse, researchers led by Hannover Medical School’s Markus Zedler decided to examine whether these perceptions “have an impact on the sexual experience and the extent of sexual trance compared to non-synaesthetes.” Writes Zedler, in the latest issue of Frontiers in Psychology:

In total, 19 synaesthetes with sexual forms of synaesthesia (17 female; 2 male) were included as well as corresponding control data of 36 non-synaesthetic subjects (n = 55). Two questionnaires were used to assess relevant aspects of sexual function and dysfunction (a German adaption of the Brief Index of Sexual Functioning, KFSP) as well as the occurrence and extent of sexual trance (German version of the Altered States of Consciousness Questionnaire, OAVAV). Additionally qualitative interviews were conducted in some subjects to further explore the nature of sexual experiences in synaesthetes.

The upshot of the study, which you can read in full here, is that sexual synesthetes “seem to experience a deeper state of sexual trance without, however, enhanced satisfaction during sexual intercourse.” That’s all well and good, but of particular note is the table of “exemplary citations” that Zedler and his colleagues created based on their qualitative interviews with sexual synesthetes, regarding how they experience different stages of the sexual response cycle. It is, in a word, excellent:

Recently, a handful of researchers have argued that most people experience synesthesia-like sensations to some degree, but most agree that the percentage of people who experience them keenly is relatively small. Which we suppose makes sense. After all, how many times has your post-coital pillow talk played out like this:

“Was it good for you?”

“Yeah, the wall exploded and my vision went purple. You?”

“Same. Hey, why do you look all yellow?”

Source:  Frontiers in Psychology.

A Different Approach to Happiness.

Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself. ~Alice Walker

We have been programmed in many ways to feel that our ability to lead a happy life is dependent on outside influences. Validation of self through others, the accumulation of stuff, conformity to the norm, are just several of the ways in which we anchor what should arise from the inner core and be a part of the fabric of our being to the physical world.


It is not as if we have not been bombarded by these concepts from the time we are able to comprehend the concept of cause and effect. Through our families, media, advertising, friends, or any other human interaction in which some type of worldly worth is placed on whatever circumstance we are facing, we become conditioned to placing a value on things. We have to have so much money, this type of job, these amounts of savings, this sort of build, a certain look, to a point where the senses are overloaded and we accept this as the way it has to be.

Many of us stay content walking or running in place until a jarring event or circumstance forces us to face and at times question whether we are truly content with our lot in life. Once we are forced off the treadmill, the Universe either nudges or pushes us to seek our own individual path and we then start to become more aware that our happiness can never be of the outside plane, but resides within our individual souls. As a concept itself, happiness has a circular definition completely relative to where you are in your life in a given moment.

When I was furiously arguing with a driver in Honduras on the cusp of a pitch black field to return to a safe place after he indicated we would be picking up a friend of his for the ride,  I was not happy. Once the windshield lit up from the refraction of the red beam attached to a rifle scope which danced between my forehead and that of the driver as it streamed from the “empty” field, I was happy when the car backed up and we sped down the road.

1. Depend only on yourself for happiness

We have to listen to ourselves and we will be guided to do what we need to do. We cannot base any part of our happiness on another person. It is unfair and no one should be placed in that position and have that type of responsibility hoisted on them nor should we want to be with someone who craves this to be their role. We can wish someone happiness, but happiness cannot be forced, manipulated, or faked. We take actions that are thoughtful and mindful because we want to and not out of a sense of obligation.
Only when we have inner peace and a healthy respect and relationship with ourselves, can weattain a sense of happiness that is in balance.

2. Live in the Present Moment

When we spend the energy to reflect on the past, we sometimes get caught up in scenarios which we play out in our heads that are not true or exaggerated truth. If things were really so great, we would still be in situations that were weighing us down and at times sucking the life out of our souls.

A set of unique events brought us each to this exact moment of time and where we are in our lives. We had to undergo constant change and movement in our lives to be the people we are this instant. If you were to change one decision in the past, the present would be completely different That is why if we are unhappy this instant, we have an incredible power to change the course of our lives so that what occurs now impacts the what happens in an hour or tomorrow. If you feel happy in this moment, decisions will be made this instant that either enhance this state of bliss or take you on a different path.

Regardless of where we are, living in the Now and allowing all things and people to just Be, opens the door for the Universe to work her magic for the good of all. The minute we try to force or control the Universe, is when we go out of balance and start spiraling into a state of chaos in our lives. Just Be.
The minute we try to control, we lose control.

3. Embrace Change as an integral part to Happiness

What is exciting about the notion of impermanence is discovering what the change will be and what the now just became. We and everyone in our lives is blessed with the ability to change, to grow to blossom and to live out our bliss. We should embrace our potential and bravely accept the challenges we face which become the vehicles that carry us to who we are to become.

The tip of the iceberg, but a least we see the iceberg…

Source: http://www.purposefairy.com

Sarah Garfinkel, consciousness researcher, on your sixth sense.

There’s a new area of scientific study that has uncovered a skill that could be considered our sixth sense. It’s called interoception and it’s the ability to monitor your own internal organs. For instance, how interoceptive you are can be measured by your ability to accurately count your heart beat, by just tuning into it.


So it’s a skill, or talent, that involves being quite in tune with one’s body. And this ability is associated with some interesting and useful traits. Those who are highly interoceptive are also highly intuitive and aware of their “gut” feelings. They also apparently have a better memory for emotional information and are more emotional overall. Awareness of one’s emotional and physiological state may also reward people with an ability to control it. For instance, one study has found that those who have good interoceptive ability are also less anxious when speaking in public.

SmartPlanet caught up with Sarah Garfinkel, a post-doc researcher at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Essex, and asked her to explain interoception, how it is measured and how one might be able to improve their own interoceptive ability.

SmartPlanet: How do we measure interoception? Or in the case of heart rate, how do we count our heart beats?

Sarah Garfinkel: Heartbeat is the measurement of interoception that I’ve been interested in. There are two ways to test people’s ability to count their own heartbeat. You give set periods of time and you have people count how many heartbeats they’ve perceived in that space of time.

The other way people have done it is to present tones or some sort of external signal, like a flashing light, and the tones exactly match the beating heart, or they’re time-shifted slightly and people have to say whether the tones are in sync or out of sync with their heartbeats.

That sounds hard.

It’s really hard. The majority of people, maybe 80 percent of people can’t tell if their heart beat is in sync with the tones. It’s so difficult because it involves integrating an outside signal with an inside process. People tend to be better at counting their heart beats [within a specific time frame.] Because most can do it, the counting one gives a really lovely spread of sort of bad, intermediate and good.

So some people are good at it, some people are bad at it. How do people typically try to count their heart beat? Most of us only “feel” our heart beat when it races during exercise or a highly emotional event.

So just to clarify, [the test] always happens at rest. Because you are right, if you’re doing physical exercise or if we scare anyone beforehand then everyone will have an enhanced ability to detect a heart beat.

To measure their accuracy we create a ratio of actual heart rate relative to perceived rate. So a ratio of one would be perfect. A ratio of 0.7 is considered good.

Are some types of people better than others, on average?

Yes, fitter young men tend to be very good. Fitness is an indicator, one of the many indicators of whether you’re good or bad.

What is another indicator?

Age. People get worse as they get older. Although heartbeat perception is considered a stable trait, age has a declining effect on it.

You’ve mentioned before that there is an association between interoception and the ability to remember emotions. How do we even know this?

I love these sorts of experiments. They just blow my mind. First of all, people who are more interoceptive tend to have a richer emotional experience.

If you record people’s physiological responses or get them to rate emotional pictures, people with higher interoception will rate them as more emotionally intense.

Why is this?

Well theories of emotion, such as the James-Lange theory of emotion, state that fear or emotion perception arises from the detection of changes of internal bodily sensations.

So the emotion itself is “the noticing of a physical change” in one’s body?

Yes, some argue emotions arise from the detection of changes in the body. It reminds us of the famous question from William JamesDo you run from the bear because you’re afraid, or are you afraid because you run?

And he would argue that you’re afraid because you run because you feel all the physiological changes of the body. So if you then extrapolate from that: Those people who are better able to detect physiological changes [e.g., heart rate changes] they are going to report the experience as being more emotional.

This makes sense.

We tend to remember something if it’s more emotional. But now people with interoception find things more emotional. So this can suddenly start impacting our cognitive processes. And why they tend to remember emotions.

Apparently those who are highly interoceptive also have better intuition?

At the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, we are interested in what it means to have conscious knowledge.

Our gut instinct, or intuition, is where you know something is right but we just don’t know why. But everything in one’s gut tells us that it’s right. This is because your body can also hold information.


Right. What gives rise to that feeling of knowing? It can be represented in the autonomic nervous system, so your body can have an enhanced arousal response. Like a sweat response. Or your pupils can also change size, they can dilate. And this can happen with regard to true information or previously encountered experiences.

And then the degree to which you can articulate or know you know it is an extra level of consciousness. So if you believe this premise that our body reacts to things and reacts to things correctly, and that can happen detached from your conscious awareness, then that means that those people who are better able to tap into those autonomic bodily channels are better able to use that as a cue to guide them.

On one hand we’ve heard these things anecdotally over and over again. That is “gut instinct.” But now science is putting this structure around it.

I know, I love it. I really love it. We’ve all had this experience where you bump into someone and you know you know them. Everything in your body says that you’ve had an encounter before, but you can’t recall when or where. But you feel it. And now we’re able to understand that those who are interoceptive are better at detecting [the gut feeling.] It’s been shown experimentally.

Also I have heard that interoceptive people have less anxiety speaking in public than the rest of us?

Yes that is from a published experiment. But that experiment was slightly contrary to all the other body of experiments that have shown that those with high anxiety tend to be interoceptive.

So why do you think this study showed less anxiety speaking in public?

Well if you are aware of how your body is changing and you can feel it and predict it, then that does potentially make it more manageable.

So it’s the idea that if you are aware of something you can control it more?

Yes. I published a study this year with Hugo Critchley called, “What the Heart Forgets.” We show that if you process words when your heart is beating — meaning exactly when your heart beats, as opposed to the off-beat, you’re less able to remember words that were presented when your heart beats. It has an interference effect if you see a word exactly during a heart beat. You forget them much more easily.

However, if you are interoceptive you are good at detecting your internal bodily signals, and better able to eliminate the interferences effect of heart beats on memory.

This fits with the idea that if you are able to detect a bodily process and you’re more able to protect against its interfering or detrimental influences.

That is amazing. You’ve mentioned that people can be trained to get better at interoception. How?

Based on our own observations, there is a potential in some people to learn. Because people sometimes don’t know what to focus on. For example, I was terrible when I started. I kept trying to focus on my chest. And actually people don’t necessarily feel their heart beat in their chest. They can feel it in other parts of their body.

So once you’re aware of that, then you can start focusing on other parts and maybe then you’ll be more sensitive to a signal. That is where the training component can come in. But that might only true for people who have the ability to tap into the signal but just don’t know where to focus. Whereas there are others who can never feel the signal, it doesn’t matter where they’re focusing on.

I have heard that biofeedback can sometimes help people tap into interoceptive ability.

Yes this is based on a process by Yoko Nagai. Basically people can watch a caterpillar move on a screen, and their body is wired up to a device that measures their skin conductance [which measures sweat as a signal of arousal]. When you’re relaxed the caterpillar will go in one direction and when you’re not relaxed the caterpillar will go in another direction.

This is based on the premise that people may think they’re in a relaxed state, but actually their body is not relaxed. So having this external manifestation of bodily states can help potentially train people to understand what it really means to have your body in a relaxed state or not.

So they get a sense of it, of what “relaxed” is supposed to feel like.

Yes, exactly. So that even if they may be bad at understanding their internal bodily process, they can learn it based on external cues and then emulate it in the future.

Source: Smart Planet