Erin, Ingrid, and I text each other a LOT. About our kids, about what we’re drinking, but mostly, about smut. (I’m sure you’re shocked.) More than a year ago now, someone texted about the common phrase: “I could feel my orgasm building at the base of my spine.” Which sparked a whole discussion. What does that mean? Is that your butt? Your coccyx? Had any of us experienced an orgasm that we knew was coming because of butt spasms? Had any of our spouses?
Since then, we’ve been collecting screenshots of the phrase, meaning to make a Pinterest page or something, I don’t know. But that never happened (even though we did start a Pinterest page with other stuff on it, and then immediately neglected it), so I’m writing a blog post instead.
Time for a poll! (Don’t worry! The results are anonymous!)
I personally am in the “no, never” camp, and I thought it was extremely weird that this was so ubiquitous in romance novels.
To delve further into this weird phenomenon in the land of romance writing, let’s look at some examples!
Her strokes sped up and the knot at the base of his spine drew tight. He tugged at her hair. “I’m…close.”Girl Gone Viral, Alisha Rai
The knot of his orgasm pulled dangerously tight at the base of his spine.Bad Keys, J.B. Curry
Ok, so here we have the “tight knot” metaphor. If my muscles are knotted, I need a massage. If my stomach is in knots, I’m anxious. So knots—not super comfortable. But the release of orgasm is pretty meaningless if there’s nothing to release from. You need that build-up of tension and discomfort as a counterpoint, so a tight knot as a pre-orgasm metaphor seems pretty apt.
And then I feel that tingle at the base of my spine, the warm glow that tells me I’m getting close.Promise Me Nothing, Jillian Liota
I’m literally on pure fire for him right now, that vaguely familiar tingle building at the base of my spine.Venom, Dee Garcia
NOTE: this is a female narrator speaking here
He fucked Tris hard as he wanted, watching with spine-tingling rapture as Tristol came totally apart beneath him.The 5th Gender, G.L. Carriger
Another set of examples that I can sort of get—the spine tingle. No explosions, but that feeling of something (or, uh, someone) coming.
I can buy the spine tingle more than the spine knot. My tailbone—the literal base of my spine, anatomically—doesn’t seem like a place that holds a lot of tension, but tingles can happen in the weirdest of places.
Within minutes, an electric charge built up at the base of his spine, in his balls, the imminent release he could not stop. – Joanna Shupe How the Dues stole Christmas“Christmas in Central Park,” Joanna Shupe (in How the Dukes Stole Christmas anthology)
When his desire was back under control, he began again, building the rhythm gradually, while the voltage of lightning gathered in his spine.Marrying Winterborne, Lisa Kleypas
Should we call the electric charge, the bolt of lightning, a more intense tingle? Does it presage a more intense orgasm? What does an electric charge in your body even feel like? Isn’t getting shocked by electricity painful—especially at the “voltage of lightning”?
Climbing the Ladder
And when I felt the climax pressuring the base of my spine, climbing up like a ladder…Midnight Blue, L.J. Shen
The orgasm careened up his spine, hitting him the moment after she found hers, whispering his name over and over again.Not the Girl You Marry, Andie J. Christopher
My climax pushed from the base of my spine, spinning, circling, and pressing out and up. It went on and on until I was bursting out of my skin.Mr. Mayfair, Louise Bay
Sometimes, the orgasm doesn’t stay in the base of the spine, but rather travels up. I think Bay’s description in Mr. Mayfair is perhaps more apt—not just pressure up, but pressure out. Feeling the orgasm also building in your general hip and pelvic region makes sense to me. Since I’m taking things to a literal extreme here, I’m not going to parse the whole “bursting out of my skin” metaphor. We might end up in some dark places.
Descending the Ladder
“Mi princesa, mi única estrella,” as she locked up beneath him, shaking and sobbing and coming, and his own helpless orgasm shot down his spine.Hate Crush, Angelina M. Lopez
Ok, technically this isn’t a “base of the spine” example but I’m fascinated by this switch up. If the orgasm shoots down his spine, where does it start? Does this imply that there’s a greater mental component to this orgasm, since it comes from the skull or brain, rather than just from the groin?
Some nights he would make me orgasm so hard my lower back would hurt the next day.The Siren, Tiffany Reisz
I dunno, Nora, maybe your lower back hurts because Søren likes flogging you.
What have I learned? Well, the orgasm from the base of the spine image transcends romance subgenres. We have it in traditionally published and indie books. We have it in contemporaries, historicals, and paranormals.
I’ve also learned that it is almost only the male characters who experience orgasms this way (in romance novels, at least). The passages from Venom and The Siren are the only ones from my (admittedly small) sample that are from the point of view of a female character.
And, in doing some additional research, I’ve learned that maybe I’ve been too judgmental about this whole base of the spine thing, especially given the fact that the physical sensation of having an orgasm can’t be easy to describe. From an article on the science of orgasm from the LA Times:
Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone reverse-engineer. A few blueprints, however, have already been sketched out. First, stimulating the genitals sends electrical impulses along three main paths — the pelvic, hypogastric and pudendal nerves. Next, these titillating signals enter the spinal cord at the base of the spine and zip up to brain regions that respond to genital sensations.
We’re talking about biological functions of the nervous system here, but we’re also talking about electricity and the base of the spine and those feelings traveling to other parts of the body. Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone describe. I don’t think I can actively feel the workings of my nervous system, but in the absence of other options, why not draw on the scientific language, and then make it more evocative?