Altered states of consciousness and sexual responsiveness

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New research published in Cognition and Consciousness examined the relationship between sexual responsiveness and altered states of consciousness.

Some moments during sexual experiences have a quality that many cannot accurately describe. They may cite a sense of unity or oneness, but even these complex concepts fail to address the totality of the sensation. The phenomenon may instead be best categorized as an altered state of consciousness. These occurrences, also called states of absorption, are characterized by an intense focus on sensations along with changes in one’s sense of time, space and the self. Such features are also commonly reported during drug-induced psychedelic experiences, deep meditation, rhythmic dance and other situations known to be associated with altered states of consciousness.

In an attempt to further understand the relationship between altered states and sexual experiences, researchers recruited 60 women and 48 men to complete reports about their most recent encounters. The surveys included several visual analogue scales to record measurements of their perceptions of self, space and time (in both speed and intensity). Participants were also asked to rate the experiences on a 1 to 6 scale as it pertains to sexual desire, satisfaction and arousal. Orgasm presence was also recorded. Non-heterosexual subjects were excluded from this study but added to a related investigation.

A correlational analysis revealed multiple significant associations among the measured variables. Greater body awareness was linked with all three sexual response variables, though less so in men than women. Time awareness was found to have a strong inverse relationship with all sexual response variables in females alone, while men displayed only a moderate (but also negative) association with sexual satisfaction. Orgasms were related to lower time awareness in women but not men, though both sexes demonstrated a positive correlation between orgasming and body awareness (once again more so for females).

These findings support the hypothesis of a connection between an altered state of consciousness (absorption) and sexual responsiveness, predominantly in females but remaining significant among males. In compliment to its name, the absorption state certainly appears to involve one’s attention being captivated by bodily sensations. It also includes altered perspectives of space and time for females, with time being relatively unaffected in males.

Overall, this study adds to evidence that sexual experiences include altered states of consciousness, and further sheds some light on the cognitive processes involved. The identified associations may also be responsible for some of the lasting benefits that are observable following some sexual activities and after experiencing other states of altered consciousness.