What Gives You A Skin Orgasm?

I always assumed that the shivers that run up your spine and raise the skin on your arms in goosebumps in response to music or art was something that everyone could experience, given the right stimulus. Apparently though, it is reserves to somewhere between half and two-thirds of the population. The fact that this sensation is being referred to by some researchers as a “skin orgasm” is both amusing and so apt that, from now on, I wont be able to think of it as anything else.

I had previously heard that this sensation is due to a sort of misfiring of our adrenaline-fueled “flight or fight” response. The idea was that goosebumps, while commonly known as being a response to cold, were also a mechanism for raising the hair that once covered our bodies. Many animals raise their fur in an effort to appear larger when faced with a possible threat. While we have lost most of our hair, I had heard the hypothesis that we retained this response, and this is why our skin could sometimes raise goosebumps when confronted with a strong emotional reaction.

According to some researchers, however, people who experience skin orgasms are just wired differently

The researchers found that the brains of individuals who occasionally feel a chill while listening to music were wired differently than the control subjects. They had more nerve fibers connecting auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound, to their anterior insular cortex, a region involved in processing feelings. The auditory cortex also had strong links to parts of the brain that may monitor emotions.

So why do so many get the chills when the music is just right? “The chills is a sensation we get when we’re cold. It doesn’t really make sense that your hair would stand on end, or that you’d get these goosebumps in response to music,” Matthew Sachs, an author of the paper, tells Sample. “We think that the connectivity between the auditory cortex and these other regions is allowing music to have that profound emotional response in these people. It’s very hard to know whether or not this is learned over time, or whether these people naturally had more fibers. All we can say is there are differences that might explain the behavior we see.”

Using brain scans in an effort to explain these phenomena in people is something that is also hotly contested by some. The limitations of boiling down human emotional responses to colorful brain scans notwithstanding, the fact that many experience genuine physical responses to music and/or art is undeniable.

Personally, I have noticed that a skin orgasm is more likely to happen when I hear something for the first time, and the effect can wear off when I repeat it a few times. However, there are some stimuli that evoke a skin orgasm no matter how many times I listen to them. One is the final battle in the Harry Potter audiobooks, read by Stephen Fry. The other is this video. Every. Single. Time.


What about you? Do you get skin orgasms? If so, from what?



  1. naturalcynic says

    4th Movement Beethoven’s 9th. And for something completely different my #2 is Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, something about Kooper’s organ and “How does it Feeeeeeel…”. Occasionally occurs during Wendy Carlos in some parts the Brandenburg’s, Fleetwood Mac Go Your Own Way, Jackson Browne Running on Empty, Pachelbel’s Canon in D and some others
    The feeling is not so strong, but I also sometimes start to get that feeling when I get a haircut – I keep envisioning gorillas or baboons placidly enjoying grooming.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I occasionally experience “goose bumps” while going through decidedly negative stimuli (e.g., reading about the Holocaust).

    The label you give it just won’t work for me.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Horror and fear can also trigger goosebumps, but the mechanism for this is more clear and well understood. In this case, it is a completely appropriate triggering of “fight or flight”, as I described. However, in these articles, they were not using this term to describe goosebumps as a response to fear, but only as a response to music, art, ie positive yet inexplicable emotional reactions

  3. naturalcynic says

    Well, you killed part of an afternoon going through YouTube and playing gawd knows how many versions of Canon. And a real flashback – Janis singing Piece of My Heart

  4. says

    I was going to say that too!!
    Also, Mozart’s requiem. I just got goosebumps right now!

    Disclaimer: I once had an amazing multi-hour LSD trip listening to Mozart’s requiem on infinite repeat. For, uh, research purposes! But I didn’t inhale! Anyhow, there are many movements of that piece that instantly produce the goose-bumps.

    My observation is that it’s familiarity, not surprise. For me it’s the “flashback” effect: “OH HERE COMES SOMETHING AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC!” and – wham – there it is.

    There’s a lot more I could natter on about this, but it’s inner theories based on listening to music while tripping a couple times back in the 90s. I can’t tie it to any kind of argument at all, other than just “this is how it feels to me” but short form: what if our enjoyment of music is a result of a feedback system where our brain gives a little shot of pleasure as a reward to us for recognizing something? Hey a deer! (shot of pleasure!) Oh here comes the bass drop! (shot of pleasure) OMG! Pizza! (shot of pleasure) My observation is that if you listen to music you’re familiar with, when your brain is all jacked up, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot because you keep getting these shots of “HERE IT COMES!” Whereas listening to something unfamiliar is really unrewarding, though many modern pop songs weaponize that pattern matching engine against us (e.g.: Christina Aguilera’s 1st album, anything by Madonna, anything by Britney Spears’ committee) Indeed I wonder if that’s why sampling became a thing.

  5. says

    naturalcynic@#1: PS – if you haven’t heard the Berlin phil rendition of the 9th, conducted by Furtwangler for Hitler’s birthday, contact me and I’ll get you MP3s of it. It’s the most amazing and insane performance ever. Eh. Maybe I should just do a blog posting about it.

  6. anat says

    I never have this response (I’m not particularly musical in general), but my husband does. I recall reading that the ability to feel goosebumps in response to music is correlated with a higher degree of agreeableness.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    The Maestoso from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3. Various bits of Eva Cassidy’s cover of Sting’s “Fields of Gold”. The guitar solo (by Robert Fripp) in Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire”. The setting of Psalm 23 used as the theme of The Vicar of Dibley. Geoffrey Burgon’s setting of the “Nunc dimittis” used at the end credits of the 1979 mini-series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lots more.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Oh, and a few songs sung by Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention. That voice…I just got a shiver thinking of the line in “Reynardine”; “His teeth did brightly shine”.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    A few music-visual combos:

    Lovely little mix of scenes from The Iron Giant and the theme from Fargo. Tingly bit starts around 1:37.

    Siegfried’s Funeral March at the end of John Boorman’s Excalibur. Tingles not in the least diminished by having friends making comments about moistened bints lobbing scimitars (see Python). This film also marked my first exposure to Helen Mirren. Sigh.

    Also, the only good thing about Peter Jackson’s mangling of LotR; Annie Lennox singing “Into the West”.

  10. Richard C says

    The bit in Ryan Adams’s Oh My Sweet Carolina when Emmylou Harris comes in with the backing vocals. Every time.

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