La petite mort, French for "the small death", is a reference for sexual orgasm. The term has generally been interpreted to describe the post-orgasmic fainting spells or unconsciousness some lovers experience.
Mentioned briefly in Jean Rhys 'Wide Sargasso Sea' as Rochester talks of his sexual relationship with his new wife. "Then try, try, say die and watch me die.' 'Die then! Die! I watched her die many times"
More widely, it can refer to the spiritual release that comes with orgasm, or a short period of melancholy or transcendence, as a result of the expenditure of the "life force".
A recent study of brain activation patterns using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) give some support to the experience of a small death:
To some degree, the present results seem to be in accordance with this notion, because female orgasm is associated with decreased blood flow in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is crucial for behavioural control.
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