Wilhelm Reich and Orgasm Function

Wilhelm Reich was a respected analyst and controversial figure whose work on human sexuality and neuroses focused on what he called the “orgiastic potency” as a means to achieve physical and psychological health.

Reich believed that sexual energy was the most sublime of all energies and that a person’s sexual freedom was the greatest of aspirations. According to Reich, a healthy person is able to engage in loving and uninhibited sexual exchange, and a person who is unable to give over fully to the sexual experience is tied up in blocked sexual energy. The inability to release stress and tension in the body through orgasm affects a person’s character and behavior in unhealthy ways.

Reich called this frozenness in the body “character armor.” From the Reichian perspective, the body-mind is seen as whole. Reich felt that if people were open and free of blocks, they would be able to experience sexual pleasure resulting in full orgasm and release. Reich felt that for people to make a change in their sexuality and respond differently, they must make changes in their psycho-emotional system. Reich believed the free flow of orgasm would give the individual freedom from neurosis and offer a healthy, fulfilled life.

In his book, The Function of the Orgasm, Reich writes, “Psychic health depends upon orgiastic potency, i.e., upon the degree to which one can surrender to and experience the climax of excitation in the natural sexual act. It is founded upon the healthy character attitude of the individual’s capacity for love.” Reich also believed that psychic illnesses are the result of a disturbance of the natural ability to love. Reich continues, “The immediate cause of many devastating diseases can be traced to the fact that man is the sole species which does not fulfill the natural law of sexuality. This negation, in turn, is the expression and consequence of psychic and somatic disturbances of the life function.”

W. Edward Mann’s concise biography of Reich titled, Orgone, Reich and Eros, reviews Reich’s Theory of Life Energy, details the history of Reich’s energy theories, and gives a critical review of the vast scientific, philosophical, and social commentary of Reich’s views and ideas on the vital force, which he called orgone energy. Mann goes on to further explore these theories and how they relate to energy theories from other cultures and times in history. He looks at the Hindu Yoga theory of prana and what the Chinese call the vital force or qi (or chi). Through this examination, Mann gives credence to Reich’s theories on the interrelationship of the body-mind. Mann writes, “Prana is present in every cell and every molecule of living organisms. It has a special connection with the endocrine glands, and its flow is responsive to the individual’s psychological state and moods. In all these characteristics, prana coincides with Reich’s conception of the orgone.”

In the branch of Indian philosophy called tantric yoga, there are also similarities to Reich’s notions. Mann describes Tantra as a body-focused philosophy, just like Reich’s, “Experience in the flesh leads to the divine. For instance, a passage in Rotvasara declares that ‘he who realized the truth of the body can then come to know the truth of the universe.’ More than that, it is held that the individual is or can be in constant psychic interaction with all of life.” In the Tantric tradition, psychic energy is always being exchanged between man and the planet. Reich talks about this in his book, Cosmic Superimposition, writing, “The SEXUAL EMBRACE, if abstracted and reduced to its basic form, represents superimposition and the bio-energetic fusion of two orgonotic systems.” Recent research on the planets and organic life is beginning to give new credence to this view.

Abraham Maslow’s theory of self-actualization and characteristics of self-actualizers may relate to issues of blocked sexuality in that, as noted by Reich, blockages or character armor inhibits the free expression of life force energy. This is because as individuals become more self-actualized, they free bound energy physically, emotionally and spiritually that had once limited their consciousness. For example, limiting beliefs about self and reality often occur as a result of early challenging or difficult life experiences. These emotionally unfinished wounds, often repressed, may create energetic blocks, not only in the subconscious but also in the physical body. And, if indeed, as Pierrakos notes, love, eros, and sexuality are part of a common core of human energy, then fulfilling our basic needs for love and sexual intimacy are milestones on Maslow’s hierarchy leading to self-actualization.


By Dr. Kristina Kincaid