What is frisson: 5 ways to experience a "skin orgasm"

Ihor Romanko

What is frisson

There are several factors that can cause a pleasant feeling of bliss that is not associated with sexual pleasure and is known as a "skin orgasm" or frisson.

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Frisson, or "shivering" in French, is an unusual physical sensation that almost everyone knows. It is characterised by goosebumps, mild tremors in the limbs and a rapid heartbeat. Sometimes scientists call this phenomenon a "skin orgasm".

From a physiological point of view, frisson occurs because certain melodies can stimulate the pleasure centres in our brain and cause high levels of dopamine. This leads to a feeling of euphoria, which is accompanied by a strong physical reaction, such as goosebumps and shaking.

Can frisson be caused by things that are not related to music or sexuality? This question is answered by a little-known study conducted in 2010 at the Hannover University of Music and Drama under the leadership of Oliver Greve and his colleagues.

In this study, researchers tested participants' reactions to different stimuli. They listened to music or non-musical sounds, such as a child laughing or leaves rustling, looked at pictures that evoked certain emotions, inhaled different smells, and even received a head massage.

Throughout the experiment, the researchers studied people's physiological responses, including heart rate, breathing and skin response, and asked them about their feelings. By comparing the results of the tests with people's descriptions of the frisson sensation, the researchers found out how similar these physiological reactions are.

It turned out that a variety of stimuli can cause frisson-like sensations, although to varying degrees. Even the sour taste of lemons, which is not a favourite for many people, gave 16 participants in the experiment the familiar goosebumps that are often associated with musical pleasure.

This may seem unexpected, but part of the source of frisson is the stimulation of the "sympathetic nervous system", which usually responds to threat. This may explain why an unexpected dissonance in a melody or a strong flavour can cause pleasant arousal in a system that automatically responds to threat to the body.

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An interesting fact is that visual stimuli, such as paintings or photographs, elicited the least reaction. This can be explained by the fact that more information is needed to perceive these stimuli.

In the next part of the study, participants were allowed to choose their favourite song or film scene. While listening or watching, the researchers measured the level of piloerection (the scientific name for goosebumps) and heart activity.

As expected, both music and films caused a change in heart rate (a feeling of vibration inside) and goosebumps.

Interestingly, the film did not have to be a blockbuster. Some people experienced a pleasant tingling sensation on the scalp (the so-called autonomic sensory meridional response) when they watched other people slowly perform certain actions.

How to experience frisson

  • Music - famous pieces of music that often cause a musical "skin orgasm" include Adele's "Someone Like You", Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Oasis' "Wonderwall";
  • Specific sounds - various sounds, from rustling leaves to fingernails scraping on a blackboard, can give you goosebumps;
  • Taste - Pungent flavours can also cause strong physical sensations for some people;
  • Movies - some people are affected by the climax of a Hollywood blockbuster, while others enjoy watching slow, long actions like making coffee;
  • Touch - a gentle sensual massage works for many.

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