Updated: Jul 6, 2021
What is an Orgasm?
An orgasm is a climax and the body's physical reaction to muscle contractions during sexual stimulation. During sexual arousal, your body starts to go through several physiological and psychological processes. Blood rushes to the genitals (in all genders), causing them to swell and become more sensitive. Your heart rate begins to increase, along with breathing and your muscles might start to twitch. At the point of orgasm, the body reaches a climax and releases the build of pressure. The body will at this point, begin to return to normal, but for those with vaginas, this period is can be very short and multiple orgasms can be reached in one sexual session. We'll learn more about multiple orgasms soon!
What Does an Orgasm Feel Like?
Many people ask; 'Would I know if I've had an orgasm?', and for the most part, you would, but orgasms can be subtle and they can feel different to everyone, that's why it's so hard to really explain what an orgasm feels like.
During sexual activity, if you're feeling very pleasured, you may hit a point where it feels almost as if you're on the edge of something like you're holding your breath. When you get pushed over that edge, the pleasure rolls over your body, along with a feeling of release, just like you let go of holding your breath after 10 minutes. That is (one version of) an orgasm.
Some people scream, moan, experience leg shaking, or whole-body vibrations during an orgasm. For some, an orgasm may be incredibly overwhelming, to the point of pain or over-sensation, a bit like tickling. Some may experience an orgasm with an explosive release, (squirting), and some people may experience many small climaxes over one sexual experience.
The length of an orgasm can vary, sometimes it will feel like a long release, and for others, it will be over quickly. An orgasm for people with vaginas is usually longer than those with a penis, averaging at 13 - 51 seconds.
The key is not to compare your sexual pleasure to another's. We all have different experiences and whatever feels good for you is all you need to think about.
What Happens When We Orgasm?
Although each one of us will have a slightly different experience of an orgasm, there is a basic physiological journey our body goes on during the sexual activity.
Master and Johnson’s Four-Phase Model:
Excitement - The body begins to change and react to arousal. Blood will flow to the genitals and muscles will begin to tense.
Plateau - The person reaches a stage of pleasure from the sexual acts.
Orgasm - If the sexual acts or stimulation pushes the person past the plateau, an orgasm/climax would be reached.
Resolution - After the climax, the body has a refractory stage where functions begin to return to normal. In the female body, this stage can be very short and another orgasm can occur quickly after.
There are other theories about the stages of sexual function, namely Kaplan's Three-Stage Model which also include the stage 'desire' before excitement. This is an important stage as it indicates the importance for many people to decide to want to become aroused. This model explains that the other stages will not occur without the desire to want to have a sexual experience.
It's important to note that orgasms can happen without any desire, and in some cases can happen involuntarily from medical conditions and during a traumatic experience.
No model is really perfect, and most of the research on this is focused on heterosexual, vaginal - penetrative sex, and does not account for the variations in female sexual response.
Learn more by reading this article.
Types of Orgasms
Although there are still some mixed opinions on if there are separate types of orgasm, there are lots of different parts of the body that can produce an orgasm. Just to clarify, there is no hierarchy of what orgasm is better or more valid, but it can be beneficial to explore other areas of stimulation to increase your pleasure!
The clitoris is an incredibly sensitive part of the vulva, and it a centre of pleasure, so make sure to get to know your clitoris (or your partner's)!
There are many ways to stimulate the clitoris, from touching through the fabric (to decrease over-sensitivity), grinding and rubbing on a surface, stroking and circling, to using a vibrator. Check out our guide to masturbating to learn more clitoral stimulation techniques here.
G-Spot / G-Zone Orgasm
The g-spot is an area on the front wall of the vagina where the internal part of the clitoris meets other organs and creates a sensitive zone. It may feel different to orgasm from here than the external part of the clitoris, but the clitoris plays a huge part in both of these orgasms.
Aim the fingers, toy or penis upwards to hit the front of the vagina to try to stimulate the g-spot.
A blended comes from when more than one area is stimulated, so if your clitoris and vagina are being touched, or nipples and g-spot. This means more blood is flowing to these areas and the feeling of release can be more intense.
Cervical / Deep Vaginal Orgasm
Some people experience orgasms from very deep penetration. There are terms like 'A-spot' and 'O-spot', and although more research needs to be done to fully understand these, sensitive nerves in these areas could indicate sexual pleasure.
The cervix is located quite far up the vaginal canal, so it's not often stimulated during penetration. Some people may experience their cervix being hit due to conditions like vaginismus, and the feeling can be very painful, so it's something to be careful of and if you feel uncomfortable or in pain, stop.
There are a couple of areas that connect the anus to the vagina and clitoris; the perineum and the pelvic floor muscles. This means that anal stimulation can also stimulate other parts of the genitals and for some can feel amazing. This does not mean you need to have anal sex, it can be achieved through oral sex, fingering or using a toy. Anal sex requires a lot of preparation and can be painful, so try out a little light stimulation before, to see if it's a sensation you enjoy.
Nipples are a hub of sensitive activity because of all the nerve endings in them. Some people don't feel much from nipple stimulation, some feel a lot. The nipples will also become more and less sensitive throughout different menstrual cycle stages and can change due to age.
For some, nipple stimulation alone can produce an orgasm, so don't forget about them during your sex sessions!
Mental / Fantasy Orgasm
Some people can orgasm without any physical stimulation at all. It can come from sleep, exercise or pure imagination. The understanding of the relationship between the psychological and physiological functions of orgasm is still ongoing, but there is a definite possibility of just using your mind to 'get off.
The reason that people with penises cannot have multiple orgasms, is because of their refractory period. This is the period of time the body needs to recover from an orgasm and during this time, the body is not responsive to sexual arousal.
The bodies of those with vaginas have a much smaller refractory period, which means that for some people, they can have multiple orgasms in one session. It does take some training, and I'm sure a lot of physical stamina, probably some water breaks too, but it's possible!
Can Everyone Have an Orgasm?
Orgasms are a little complicated. They are most often part of the typical sexual response cycle, but they can also be experienced as a reaction to medications, medical conditions and sometimes in times of trauma and extreme anxiety.
Medically, everyone should be able to orgasm, but they are notoriously challenging, especially for people with vaginas. If you struggle to or have never experienced an orgasm, you are not alone. Various studies show between 10-15% of cis-women have never experienced an orgasm.
The reasons behind this are complicated but are no one person's fault. It's often a combination of reasons, and a huge part because sex education teaches very little about female pleasure.
We've written a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, called 'Why Can't I Orgasm?' link below.
If you'd like to learn more ways to increase your sexual pleasure with yourself or a partner, you can download and watch our full workshop on vulva & clitoral pleasure, which includes techniques on how to stimulate the clitoris and g-zone with your fingers and how to reduce distractions and stress during your sex time. You can buy it in our shop here.