Y’know, despite all the politics and recent dramas surrounding me and my work, sometimes it is about the sex. Lately, I’ve been wanting to write more about sex but between making rent and bills and the aforementioned dramas, it’s just not that easy. I got to a point where I’ve put myself far enough in public view that it became dangerous to speak of myself as a person, instead of an activist.

Well, fuck that. I’m a person, too. And I still have sex, though not as much as some of my critics seem to think that I do. (Actually, that’s their fault, too, considering the enormous amount of time I spent managing attacks against me.) I hope someone’s getting off on it, because I’m not.

And speaking of not getting off, that’s one way I enjoy sex even without “having sex.” Just lucky, I guess. ;)

Anywho, I’ve been catching up with some of my favorite sex bloggers—y’know, the ones that write about what sex means to them, instead of who they fucked last weekend—and I came across Push me, please by Thumper. In it, he writes:

I tried to explain that there’s a desire within me to go far beyond my comfort zone if for no other reason than she’s asked me to do so. I pointed her to Maymay’s post related to this (is there anything he’s not written about?) and also sent her a couple of Sarah Jameson’s emails that, I think, touch indirectly on it.

Sarah Jameson, for those who don’t know, writes the Male Chastity Blog. She’s a “normal” woman, not unlike Belle, with a husband who likes abnormal things, not unlike me. She writes with confidence and, while I don’t always agree with her, find that she’s right far more often than not (at least IMO). Besides the blog, she also sends out a multi-part email newsletter on the subject of…wait for it…male chastity. […] I recommend it, especially for those just starting out.

First, yay, a relatively new and sensible addition to the orgasm denial/delay/control/what-have-you blogosphere. That is sorely needed. Second, yes, I’m sure there are many topics I’ve not yet written about but I’m working on fixing that. ;)

So, quoting Sarah Jameson, Thumper continues:

…in part 11 of her series, she asks, “Just how long can a man wait?” Her initial response sends an electric shiver down my spine:

Well, the truth is…your man doesn’t have to orgasm ever. As in NEVER.

But then she gives what I think is the best advice I’ve read on the subject:

Over time I’ve come round to the way of thinking that you should keep your man in orgasm denial for at least 50% longer than he asks for and thinks he can stand.

Why?

Because in the early days, while you’re still working out the ground rules, he’ll be basing his own estimation on insufficient knowledge. To HIM, fresh into male chastity, even a week seems like an eternity.

So if he thinks a month, make it six weeks; if he thinks six months, make it nine months; and if he thinks a year…woe betide him.

I think this is a really interesting excerpt because it shows an awareness of the importance of unpredictability, of keeping the orgasm control “game” novel and interesting. Now, Sarah Jameson seems to veer off in the direction of denial period length, which is not unreasonable but is, in my opinion, possibly misleading.

Although it certainly can be an exercise in control to keep a partner orgasm-less for 50% longer than they asked for, that in itself doesn’t reliably provide pleasure. If your measure of “fun” is “longer,” then by all means, go 50% longer. But you could just as easily go 70% longer or, hell, 100% longer, and in my experience, the “pleasure” would be equally unreliable. When you can change the variable and you don’t get a “better” result, then you know you’re missing the core issue.

Moreover, since “pleasure” is different for different people, achieving it doesn’t always boil down to lengths of time, or any other particular activity. Case in point, I spent a lot of time locked up and forbidden to masturbate during my relationship with Eileen, but things are different with Emma. I feel pretty differently about these experiences, but I can’t really say I enjoyed one situation more than the other.

So all of this had me thinking, is there any reliable, measurable way to induce whatever “maximum pleasure” means for me? Although I’m not certain, I did find a hint in this Class Day Lecture given at Stanford University by Robert Sapolsky, a world-renowned primatologist. In it, he discusses the neurobiology behind the feelings of pleasure as associated with reward and anticipation. (Watch the video or read my text transcript, below.)

How we go about reward: now this brings in a little bit of neurobiology, the involvement of a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical messenger) called dopamine. Dopamine is all about reward. You do not want your brain to run out of dopamine, or else you’ll become clinically depressed.

Cocaine works on the dopamine system. All sorts of euphoriants work on dopamine. Dopamine is about reward. At least, that’s what people used to think. And they used to think it would work as follows.

You take a monkey and you’ve trained it in some task. You give it a signal, a light goes on in its room, and that means, ‘Okay, this task is about to begin.’ And the monkey’s learned that if it now does this task, whatever the work is, it will then get a reward after some delay. And what everybody assumed was what dopamine was about was that, once you got that reward, dopamine levels went up. Dopamine was about pleasure, reward, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, all that sort of thing.

Turns out that’s not what dopamine is about. It looks like this instead.

You’ve got this monkey trained to do this task and the signal comes on saying, ‘Okay, we’re starting one of these sessions again,’ and then the dopamine goes up. What is this about? This is not pleasure of getting the reward. This is, ‘I know how this one works, this is great, I’m all on top of this. I know exactly what to do. Piece of cake, I got this under control. I’m on this one.’ It is not about reward, it’s about the anticipation of reward. And in fact, if you block that dopamine rise from occurring, you don’t get the work.

It’s not only about the anticipation of reward, it’s about the goal-directed behavior it is able to fuel.

Very subtle additional piece of this. A wonderful study some years ago where you take this scenario: okay, the individual, the monkey, does the work and, after the delay, gets the reward 100% of the time. Now, instead, in this setting, it gets the reward only 50% of the time. What happens now when that signal comes on, what [the dopamine levels] looks like is this: you switch over to 50% and the dopamine levels explode through the roof there.

What have you just done? You’ve introduced the word “maybe” into your equation, and that is reinforcing like nothing on Earth. That signal comes on, and that monkey is sitting there saying, ‘Piece of cake, I’m on top of this, but I’m such a screwup, and I’m not gonna get it–oh, but today, I’m gonna be on it–but it’s not gonna work out….’ And you just have him teetering there on this fulcrum, and that is pushing dopamine out like there’s no tomorrow.

Just to show that, now instead of the 50% reward rate, give the monkey either a 25% or 75% reward rate. Totally opposite things: this one is bad news, this one’s good news. What’s the one thing they have in common? Both reduce the unpredictability, both lower the dopamine surge to the same extent.

Take a monkey and there’s nothing more addictive out there than the notion that there’s a reward lurking out there and it’s a maybe. And what some of our best social engineers, many of them making a good living in Las Vegas, learn how to do is how to turn what seems like a 50% reality of reward to make it that salient when it’s one tenth of a hundred percent of a chance of reward; how to make one get that dopamine surge and get that goal directed behavior out of there.

So, it turns out that brain chemistry works exactly the same way in [humans]. In us, dopamine is about the anticipation of reward, uncertainty boosts it up further, it drives the work needed for the reward. What’s unique about us, what’s the difference is, the lag time between the work and the reward—how long we can hold on driven by that dopamine surge to pump out that work in order to get the reward.

And we all know this scenario: where you interview really, really well for your preschool, and as a result you get into a good school and a good high school, and you study hard and you get a good GPA and get into a good grad school, get a good job, and eventually you get into the nursing home of your choice. What we’ve got here is this astonishing human capacity to hold on. And, what we have that is completely unprecedented is the ability, in some ideological and some theological systems, to hold on even after you are gone—and a world in which you have a reward that comes in an afterlife. A world in which you are willing to put up with the most egregious of versions of pain in the name of holding on, holding on. A world in which unto the generations after you and the sins upon your children.

There’s nothing like that out there in any other species.

So, beyond the absolutely fascinating sociopolitical implications of this insight into human neurobiology, watching this video some months ago was a light-bulb moment for me. I finally understood the neurochemistry behind one of the most core elements of my sexuality, my fetish for orgasm control. And this knowledge is such good power.

I immediately shared my insight with Emma: dopamine levels are maximized when a “reward” (which is probably a “treat” in our parlance) is acquired exactly 50% of the times when it was expected. This means that, in an ideal world, for every orgasm I’m granted (every time I “do the work for the reward,” whatever the work is in our particular orgasm control game-du-jour), let me actually have that orgasm 50% of the time, in as unpredictable a fashion as possible.

So Sarah’s 50% figure is actually really astute. However, scientifically speaking, the variable is wrong. It’s not about how long one goes without orgasm that (in itself) determines the neurochemical levels of enjoyment one gets from the experience. Instead, it’s more about how reliably a sense of anticipation can be triggered and extended, while maximizing uncertainty of whether or not this time the “reward” (or “treat” or orgasm) is actually forthcoming.

That’s why, with Emma, there’s no longer such a thing as “days when I will orgasm.” Instead, there are only “no” days and “maybe” days. And I gotta say, I really like it this way.

Salt and pepper to taste. Yield: infinity. Serve with loving, desperate need and enjoy. ;)