The Pleasure of Sneezing
It may strike you as bizarre that this could be considered a pleasure, but don’t sneeze at the idea quite yet!
In the past, people welcomed a good sneeze. In the eighteenth century, snuff, a mixture of tobacco leaf and stalk which is ground and perfumed, was commonly inhaled by men and women alike. It was carried around in the snuffboxes that are collectors’ items today. Snuff was said to clear the sinuses and invigorate the mind, and inhaling the powdery stuff often produced a sneeze, or several. There was a revival of snuff sniffing by English youth in the early nineteen- sixties.
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I have never inhaled snuff myself, but I can understand the lure. I love to sneeze. I’m mildly allergic to chocolate, but that only means I enjoy it the more. First there’s the taste and the feel of it in my mouth. Then, about ten minutes later, come the sneezes.
I’m a multiple sneezer and have often been noted for my comic-book style of sneezing: “Ah-choo!” The sound and the strength of each sneeze intensifies as I sneeze three, four, and five times. After my first sneeze, my husband starts counting, hoping I’ll break my record.
In public, sneezing makes me the center of attention without seeming narcississtic. After all, no one can suppress a sneeze. Fellow passengers on the train empathize with me at first and say “Bless you,” once, twice, and three times. But by the fourth sneeze, they stop, bored and annoyed. Meanwhile, I am just building up to the final, gigantic sneeze: “AH CHOO!” What a shudder!
I have never forgotten the scene in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group when Polly, the society virgin, ends up in bed with a painter and is surprised at the peculiar sensation she feels, like an internal sneeze. The painter tells her she’s just had an orgasm.
So, yes, there are similarities. Sometimes sneezing in public feels weirdly intimate. It’s also embarrassing when it happens at the theater.
But the sneeze has another association for me, a strange and spiritual one, all tied up with numerology. I commonly sneeze four or five times, but six times is not unusual. Seven times, however, is a rarity. People who have witnessed this marvel are awed, and when it happens, the hairs on my arms stand up straight. I had never sneezed eight times, however, until the day I went into a magic shop in LA with my sons, who were then children and who always counted my sneezes with enthusiasm. It was just another counting game to them.
We picked up various items, decks of cards and magic wands and so on. I was holding an eight-ball when it happened. A series of sneezes was building and now it exploded. The boys began counting, “Two, three, four, five, six, seven, EIGHT!”
“Wow, mom, a record!” The 8-ball was still in my hand. I had never sneezed that many times before, and I never would again. Cue up the spooky music.
The date was 8/8/88.
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I ADORE this comment! I love to learn new words, and I was very pleased to hear about those feel-good endorphins. I do feel terrific after my sneezes. However, I have not yet experienced sexually induced sneezing. Thank you, Annette, for such an interesting response!
I've heard about the fear of sneezing (called sternutaphobia) but not much about the pleasure of sneezing. Your piece motivated me to put my science writer hat on and read up on it. Apparently, there is some evidence showing that endorphins are released when you sneeze, which causes the body to feel good. There seems to be little research on sneezing patterns (like how often you sneeze) but some on sexually induced sneezing. What a fascinating topic! Thanks Catherine for the great inspiration! 😊