There’s erectile tissue in other places besides your genitals.
Our Middle School Mysteries series investigates childhood rumors you never bothered to fact-check yourself.
I came late to the masturbation party. But back in middle school, I had a preview of its potential. While at a sleepover with friends, I sneezed. My older and more experienced friend sidled over to me as I searched for a tissue.
“You know,” she said, “a sneeze is an eighth of an orgasm.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what an orgasm was, so I played it very cool.
“Oh,” I responded. “Right on.”
The next day, I Googled “orgasms” on my family computer. After familiarizing myself with the basics, I thought I understood what my friend was talking about. Sneezing felt good and apparently, so did orgasms. I accepted the sexual tidbit at face value and moved on with the rest of my life.
It only occurred to me recently that even now, in my late 20s, I still can’t say with any kind of certainty whether or not this statement is true. So I decided to do a little detective work.
According to the popular rumor debunking site Snopes.com, this sexual fable started sometime in the mid-90s. The confusion may have originated with American sex therapist Dr. Ruth, who has been quoted as saying “An orgasm is just a reflex, like a sneeze.” Her statement, when diluted and taken out of context, could be misconstrued as, “An orgasm is just like a sneeze.”
The myth might also have its origins in the fact that both the inside of the nose and the genital area contain erectile tissue. However, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that the erectile tissues from different parts of the body operate in the same way. The ear also contains erectile tissue and — unless you’re listening to Beyoncé—there’s nothing to suggest such a thing as an ear-gasm exists.
The specific fractional amount of an orgasm supposedly felt when one sneezes is not a definite number. As a kid, I was told an eighth, but while disproving a similar myth, “Women’s Health” suggests the figure is one-tenth. “Business Insider Australia,” who also investigated the claim, interpreted the idea as “[Sneezing] six or seven times in a row.” Regardless, it’s clear the number was never rooted in fact, and is most likely one of those inane statistics people throw out confidently at parties to prove a point.
“Business Insider Australia” reached out to a sexologist for an expert opinion on the subject. Vanessa Thompson of the University of Sydney says the reason both sneezes and orgasms feel good is because both actions release endorphins. But she disagrees with the notion that a sneeze is a condensed climax, saying:
“The amount [of endorphins] produced by a sneeze is far less than an orgasm and there is no cumulative effect with sneezing so no amount of sneezing is going to feel like an orgasm.”
In summary, my friend had no idea what the fuck she was talking about. Both sneezes and orgasms are involuntary reflexes that feel good and involve erectile tissue. And that’s about all they have in common.