It’s a weekday and we’re having a drink on the couch with your new roommates. The conversation ebbs naturally, mostly revolving around past lives and crime documentaries. There aren’t enough windows in the student apartment you now call home, but the sliver of a city view is enough to remind you that we’re young and wild and free and whatnot. The conversation pivots to sex and suddenly we’re all laughing because someone’s asked for tips on how to convincingly fake an orgasm to impress the “city boys”. Which leads to a conversation about what an orgasm is and what it feels like. When I mention my mental spreadsheet of orgasms (ranked life-altering to mid), organised by the colours that I experience during them, the conversation takes a twist.
Orgasmic synaesthesia is defined as ‘perceiving visuals, scents, sounds and or flavours when you cum’.
The visuals can be colours, patterns, and shapes (among others) which can be static or mobile. They can also be quite complex (a vivid image or scene playing out in your mind, not necessarily sexual in nature, which can involve specific people and places you might never have seen or met before) or figurative (whimsical mental creations that are difficult to describe). These visual sensations are triggered by intimate tactile stimuli.
Research into orgasmic synaesthesia is very limited. According to a study published in the 2005 book, Synesthesia: Perspectives from cognitive neuroscience, of the 4% of the population that experiences synaesthesia, only 1.2% experience it in the bedroom (or, you know, in the kitchen, in the shower, in the living room, so on, so forth…). But these figures are unreliable since a) they’re outdated and b) a lot of people won’t even know they have this kind of synaesthesia because they might never have thought to compare their orgasmic experiences with others.
Last week I asked on our socials if you see anything when you cum. If you answered yes, you might be part of this 1.2% (ish). Welcome to the club. It’s very niche. We don’t get to talk about it much, but it’s very cool.
If you’re reading this and thinking, these people are for sure high or hallucinating, you wouldn’t be all that wrong. Although I’ve never hallucinated (unless we count hypnagogic hallucinations, in which case I guess I sort of do), I can confirm sexual synaesthesia can feel like a sexual trance. Complete release, supreme relaxation, a weirdly necessary amount of concentration to get your fix, and (in my case) an absolute abundance of colour. Certain colours can be linked to certain movements, positions, level of satisfaction or the intensity of your orgasm. Hence, the aforementioned mental spreadsheet. 10/10 would recommend.
Orgasmic synaesthesia is not limited to visuals – there are accounts of people experiencing tones, music or sound frequencies, scents and tastes. More broadly, you can also experience romantic synaesthesia induced by general physical intimacy or touch, regardless of sexual intercourse. This could happen when you’re held, caressed, kissed, or tickled. (There are people who report only experiencing it within established romantic relationships, in which case there may be an emotional connection worth researching).
A small study conducted in 2013 showed that people who experienced sexual synaesthesia felt a “deeper state of sexual trance” but don’t necessarily experience enhanced satisfaction. In other words, it’s not necessarily better but it’s noice, it’s different, it’s unusuuual.
This study also shared that although synaesthetes scored higher in the subscale of “sexual appetence”, they showed lower levels of sexual satisfaction. And some synaesthetes shared in their interviews that they experienced a certain level of isolation since they could not share their experiences with their partner.
Although I don’t tend to disagree with science, I disagree with this science. (Bold. Will I regret writing this line? There’s a chance.) It’s possible that I’m just selfish (maybe, just like Taylor sings, I am, in fact, the problem) but my experience with sexual synaesthesia has only ever brought me closer to my partners (and God. Because I have met her and let me tell you she is a fiery, fiery magenta).
Once I gained an understanding of how things worked for me and started noticing the patterns and connecting the dots (like, the literal dots in my mind’s eye), sex turned into a game that I could only ever win. Every time I discovered a new colour, it became a new high score. Or a side score. Or a lower score, but definitely still a win. And the reactions I’ve seen after I tell someone “you made me see X colour” or “I’ve never seen that before!” are priceless, especially if they beat their personal scores, or someone else’s (a little healthy competition can’t hurt). Needless to say, highs have been fived after rainbow marathons.
In terms of lower levels of sexual satisfaction, I can see how that can happen. When you’ve literally felt a colour so deeply you’ve become one with it, mediocre sex can be a painfully short step up from tv static, if even that. A semblance of the show you’ve been waiting to see dulled behind crispy layers of fuzz. Exerting the metal effort of a pull-up antenna, you eventually tire out trying to grasp at sparks.
Tv static and all though, I wouldn’t change having this highly specific sexual superpower for the world.
UnSEXpected is a Glass column dedicated to the things we learn about sex and intimacy through conversations with friends. If you have any unique, funny or interesting stories you’d like to share, please get in touch! It’s the team’s goal to make this column a fun, safe and diverse space.