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Sexual (and romantic) synesthesia


Few studies have been made of this phenomenon and it is not clear whether or not it should be considered a type of synesthesia, as it does not meet all the requirements to do so, but it is likely that it will be understood better in the fairly near future. At present it is generally considered to be a type of synesthesia and apart from the designation of “sexual synesthesia” it usually receives the name “orgasm-colour”, although it is actually a much wider phenomenon. Its inducers can be either orgasm itself or sexual activity in general, and also caressing, general touch and hugging and kissing with one’s partner, and I therefore believe that it would be much better described as “sexual and romantic synesthesia”.

During the sexual trance, orgasm, and affectionate moments with their significant other, some people perceive colours, shapes, patterns, objects and whole scenes involving places and people. Sometimes the images are complex and/or figurative, so rather than being synesthesia they are actually more similar to the hallucinatory processes typical of the hypnagogic state (the state of profound relaxation that marks the transition from wakefulness to sleep). In a few cases these colours and images show consistency, the same colour or picture always corresponding to the same inducing concept, although it appears to be much more common for them to be random, with no link to a specific triggering aspect and never repeating. They can probably be related to a special state of extreme relaxation and focus.


As already mentioned, these colours and images are not only perceived during sex and definitely not only during orgasm. They are perceived when there is physical contact, sexual or non-sexual, with one's partner during moments of relaxation, and normally in the case of a stable relationship and not with occasional partners. The phenomenon thus occurs not only during the sexual trance but also in response to hugging, caressing and kissing, but only with a person with whom there is a romantic relationship, so it would not happen on hugging or kissing parents, friends, siblings etc. Some people say they have only ever experienced it with one particular partner and never with others. Some say they also experience it during sexual activity without a partner being present. It seems that both men and women can have these visualisations but that it is much more common in women (no figures available yet though).


The subject is still understudied and it is not yet known what percentage of the general population or what percentage of synesthetes might experience it. One of the few studies that exists, Synaesthesia and sexuality: the influence of synaesthetic perceptions on sexual experience (J. Nielsen et al, 2013) suggests that although it can happen to both synesthetes and non-synesthetes, the former have the most intense visual experiences.


What kind of colours and images are perceived?

I have read many accounts of these visualisations, and they seem to be a phenomenon similar to hypnagogic hallucinations or other entoptic phenomena. This kind of benign visual hallucinations can appear in special states of relaxation (during meditation, for example). As with hypnagogic images, the visualisations consist of abstract colours and shapes, complex patterns and sometimes images of objects, people and places. The figurative images are characterised by their random and trivial nature, and they very rarely have a sexual theme. Natural elements like trees, flowers and the countryside are frequently seen, and the characters and places can be known but are more often strangers and locations they have never visited. Sometimes they are not exclusively visual and sounds or music are also heard.


Here are some examples I have found of different specific manifestations of sexual (and romantic) synesthesia:


Colours

A wave of colour, one colour or two, one colour that morphs into another or darkens. Colours with texture, location and movement. They tend to be random and not consistent, although some people say there is consistency between a specific colour and some aspect of their experience (with certain colours corresponding to a better or less satisfactory sexual experience or to certain sex positions, for example).


Combinations of colours, patterns and shapes

Different colours, changing or following on from each other, explosions of colour, fireworks, flashing or changing lights, laser-type lights, clouds of colour, kaleidoscopic patterns, complex patterns, fractals, shapes, changing graphic forms or "Kandinsky-like figures".


Objects

Flowers, flowers opening their petals, precious stones, fruit, other natural elements like trees and waterfalls. Letters and numbers.


Scenes, locations and characters

The scenes are very random and do not normally have a sexual theme. People often figure and they sometimes speak, saying words or phrases. Occasionally familiar places are seen, but the locations and people are not usually known to the person who sees them. Some examples reported: a boat on the sea, an amusement park (a roller coaster, for example), natural landscapes, a forest (particularly common), childhood memories, walking down the street, being in a kitchen or other rooms in a house, writing in a diary, at a shop buying wrapping paper, standing in front of a hollow tree with a light shining out of it, in a dark castle. Several people have mentioned finding themselves in a video game. Sometimes the images have a cartoonish aspect, and they can be comical or even ridiculous.


Sounds or music

Tones or frequencies, or other sounds. One person says: “Sometimes I’ll hear music. I don’t physically hear it, but occasionally I feel it blaring and feel the vibrations.” Another says she always hears the same sound: something like “ei-non-stronna-nonna-ei-non-stronna…”


Here are some descriptions written by people who experience this phenomenon:


“When I hug him or kiss him, I see strange, vivid images in my mind. Sometimes they are beautiful - e.g. a pulsating mandala of balls of light, or an intricate, sprawling lichen on a mossy rock in a misty forest, or an iridescent frog. Other times they are bizarre and intense - e.g. a multi-limbed, dancing, boldly coloured cave painting of a woman. Yet other times they are mundane, ridiculous and often hilarious - a jar of mayonnaise, or a derpy dog running into a wall, or a cake decorated with raw green beans.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


For me, less intense orgasms are cerulean waves and my most intense orgasms are bright goldenrod bursts of light. Sometimes they fall in between intensities and appear as a deep purple glitter.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


I’m sure I’ve seen colours at some point, but I’ve definitely seen visions before! They’re never sexual, and always out of place.

The first time it happened was also the most vivid. Eyes closed, hyper-focused, I was transported into this small all-white, minimalist room with a few plants. I remember thinking, “Ah yes, IKEA.”

It was such a strong vision that even now, years later, it’s burned into my memory. I can picture every detail.

When I brought it up afterwards, my partner thought I was trying to coerce him into redecorating the apartment and promptly pretended to be asleep.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


"My favorite thing is that I get real vivid imagery per sexual position. Like one's a big building full of empty rooms. Ones a trainyard at dusk. Another, barrels floating down a river. I have no idea why--it's very mysterious. 😂

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


I had an entire movie in what seemed like 5-10 seconds. (...) I was transported to another time, looked like the 1920's. I was inside in what seemed like a castle with beautiful vintage furniture and I was seeing a lot of chairs and people that were speaking to me as we were relatives... I was walking from one room to another as if I knew the place but was revisiting it again?! with people welcoming me back. At some point I told myself this isn't my life and I zoomed out of it. (...) I am so creeped out but yet so intrigued.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Related phenomena:

Tactile-visual synesthesia

Figurative images as a synesthetic concurrent


This page last updated: 21 April 2021

This page is about sexual synaesthesia and orgasm-colour synaesthesia

This page is about sexual synesthesia and orgasm-color synesthesia

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