In The Zone

At terminal velocity, the wind can have a troubling effect on the male body.

Consider that a plummeting adult falls at a rate of about 120 mph, a freefall fast enough to ripple your lips back around your ears.

Nude, the whipping winds can actually flip a penis backward, thrusting it between the buttocks where it cowers like a tiny, tortured tail.

Men who have braved a naked skydive, and there are several at Eloy's Skydive Arizona, confirm that jumping in the buff is no walk in the park.

With much grimacing and shaking of the head, one of them tries to explain the discomfort he suffered to his friends.

"There are these metal buckles on the harness that can be quite painful," offers Ash, a bleached-blond Australian, motioning to his groin. His subsequent description of a penis in flight calls to mind a fluttering fleshy windsock caught in the spokes of a bicycle.

But for naked women, Ash quickly adds, the rushing wind can provoke a decidedly different reaction. The men's faces relax as they exchange knowing glances. "Ah, the orgasm myth," says one of Ash's friends with a wide grin.

Some male instructors swear their female students have gotten off sexually, on their very first jumps, and fully clothed. They say that even when these women don't actually announce their climax, it's obvious by the flush that begins in the middle of their cheeks and the way the women moan all the way down to the ground.

Perhaps the instructors are ignoring the possibility that a student's extreme terror might provoke the same reaction.

At first, this whole female orgasm thing sounds like a story wily skydiver dudes might concoct to attract more women to the sport and the drop zone. Typical for skydiving, Eloy's about 80 percent young virile and attractive men. Unlike other extreme sports, women are physically at no disadvantage. Especially, the guys insist, single women.

Suspicions about the motive behind spreading spontaneous orgasm stories are soon erased in the drop zone bar. As the clock nears midnight, the climaxes come up again, this time in the words of a tipsy skydiver named Rebecca who tells a table full of guys it's happened to her.

Several times. Almost every time she does it naked.

All ears prick up.

She doesn't elaborate much, but when Rebecca makes her way out the door a short while later, a curious young skydiver is not far behind.

In an addictive sport devoted to pushing the extremes, it's not surprising that getting naked, whether painful or pleasurable, makes an extensive list of bizarre aerial antics.

Eloy daredevils are full of stories about landing on the backs of moving motorcycles, jumping from one plane in flight to another, leaping from office buildings and radio antennas, throwing themselves out of hot air balloons or into thousand-foot holes in the earth.

"You take a sip of wine and pretty soon you're going to want whiskey," cautions Greg Foster, an instructor who has recently found the need to add jumping off cliffs and bridges to his daily adrenaline fix.

That there are junkies in Eloy should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the town's nefarious reputation. Once known as the per capita murder capital of America in the late '40s, the town of about 10,000 has become enough of a drug den in recent years to warrant deployment of a special DEA Mobile Enforcement Team.

Located halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, Eloy was at one time a booming agricultural hamlet. But years of cotton farming sucked the ground dry, depleting the water table. In protest, the desiccated earth erupted in giant fissures powerful enough to tear up the interstate.

Eloy's a hellish place outside of the drop zone. Even the town's name is indicative of the wasteland typical of this portion of the Sonoran Desert. "Eloy" is said to be taken from the Spanish pronunciation of a Biblical quotation, "Eli, Eli lama sabachthani?"

In English: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

But make one jump and you'll discover what draws people from all over the world to such an otherwise barren and inhospitable location. There's no better place in the world for skydivers to get high.

Skydive Arizona has the largest fleet of aircraft in the sport and an average of 350 jumpable days of sunshine a year. In 12 years, the drop zone has quietly evolved into a self-contained universe where world champions and drop zone rats jump side by side, then wash down a day's worth of adrenaline with warm mugs of cheap beer as one buzz melts deliciously into another.

Skydiving is about as big a rush as you can achieve without breaking laws or destroying a large amount of brain cells. It's a rapturous experience that many say is better than sex.