The French Term For "Orgasm" Is Surprisingly Deep

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Our bodies are capable of all kinds of powerful, satisfying, and fun orgasms. If you ask us, it's kind of a drag that, in the English language, we reduce these scintillating sensations to a single word. We much prefer a popular phrase coined by the French: la petite mort, or the little death.
Originally, this term was used to refer to a nervous spasm or a fainting episode. It came into use as early as the 16th century and even appeared in 19th century writer and poet Thomas Hardy's work. When used to describe an orgasm, "la petite mort" connected the joys of sex with something much heavier.
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Philosophers have suggested that this saying speaks to the "psychological loss" one undergoes after sex. The idea goes that climaxing doesn't just trigger a physical release but a spiritual one, too. Others argue that "la petite mort" refers to something more literal: the idea that an orgasm brings us just a bit closer to death. Of course, the cultural link between death and sex existed well before "la petite mort" entered the French lexicon.
Aristotle believed that orgasms made women incapable of carrying children. Throughout history, from medieval times to the Victorian era, doctors feared that one's life force could be "used up" by having sex. Thankfully, neither of these beliefs turned out to be true. But we can distill these concerns down to a simple concept: Something that feels this good must come at a price.
So, if you're a little goth, pretty dramatic, or just a major francophile, consider whipping out la petite mort the next time you engage in a little pillow talk. Hey, it never hurts to mix up your sexual vocabulary.
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