The Science Behind Toe-Curling Orgasms
Is it just a saying, or are your feet really in on the action?
You know when you're at the height of climax and your whole body kind seizes up? Every single nerve in your body seems to be electrified and engaged in the experience. Even if you haven't had an orgasm like this, you've probably heard of them through friends, novels, movies, or at least Sex and the City. (And if you haven't, consider reading: How to Orgasm Every Time, According to Science)
The term "toe-curling orgasm" is colloquially used to describe sex that was so good, an orgasm so intense, that your toes curled due to a full-body pleasure experience. (P.S. Did you know there are a bunch of different types of orgasms you can have?!)
But why "toe-curling?" Is this just a turn of phrase made popular by romance novels, or is there some truth to it? Turns out, there is.
If you've been wondering about these so-called toe-curling orgasms and want to get in on the action, step right up. Here's everything you need to know.
How Sex and the Nervous System Connect
Time for an anatomy lesson. ICYDK, all the nerves in your body are connected. They all talk to each other, sending signals through the spinal cord to the brain, using a series of complex neurotransmitters. The endings of these nerves (called, yep, nerve endings) are often what we refer to erogenous zones, explains Moushumi Ghose, M.F.T., a licensed sex therapist and marriage family therapist. "This is why it might tingle to be kissed behind the ear, caressed on the thigh, or on the bottom of our feet."
The spinal cord is like the messenger that takes feelings of pleasure, pain, fear, relaxation, safety etc. from the brain to other parts of the body. In turn, the brain sends reciprocating messages to the spinal cord, which generate feelings in the area where the message was sent.
To put it simply, while the clitoris has over 8,000 nerve endings, it's just part of a very large nervous system that connects everything into a ~blissful orchestra of pleasure~. (Here are even more cool orgasm facts you'll enjoy geeking out over.)
Why Orgasms Can Make Your Toes Curl
Orgasm is defined as the involuntary release of tension at the height of the sexual response cycle and is often very pleasurable (duh). Your brain releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and oxytocin—two hormones responsible for pleasure, reward, and bonding. When you're flooded with these delightful chemicals, your brain sends a signal to your nervous system to relax. (Read more: Your Brain On Orgasm)
Since your body and brain are so interconnected, it makes sense that your toes would be getting in on the action, too. After all, every single muscle in the body is a part of a full-body orgasm, from your brain all the way down to your tiptoes, which is likely where the phrase comes from in the first place. (Pleasure isn't the only benefit of orgasming—here are seven more.)
So there's no magic nerve connection between your toes and your clitoris; rather, it's that your entire body holds tension during especially pleasurable sexual experiences, only to then release upon orgasm.
That said, toe-curling is a natural muscular response and reflex that might happen right before this big release. "It may not be scientifically described in detail, but when some women experience an orgasm, their toes curl in anticipation and in ecstasy," says Ross. "Muscles all over the body participate in a sexual experience, including those of your toes."
As you probably know, at the time of the Big "O," you are not in control, says Mal Harrison, the director for The Center of Erotic Intelligence (a network of scientists, doctors, researchers, therapists, sexologists, educators, and activists dedicated to understanding and educating on human sexuality). The toe-curling is a side effect of our autonomic nervous system, which controls all the unconscious processes in your body, like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion, she says. "The toes curl in some people as an involuntary reflex," she adds. "The same thing can happen when we're bracing for pain or impact when we're in the midst of a dangerous or stressful situation, or when we're experiencing a pleasurable thrill—it doesn't have to be just sex."
While not all mind-blowing orgasms automatically mean your toes will curl, it does make sense that some would. When your entire body is engaged in the climax, resulting in the involuntary release of sexual tension, you might find muscles engaging all over your body that have nothing to do with your clitoris. Bodies are just that complicated. (Case in point: 4 Nonsexual Things That Can Make You Orgasm)
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.