Sexual Health > Sex > Sex and Libido - Orgasms

The Facts About Orgasms

A deeper understanding of how orgasms work can lead to a more fulfilling sex life.

A woman in lace lying in bed with her hand on her forehead and a pink filter tints the whole image.

Sexual climax is not only physically satisfying but provides health benefits, too. While certain factors can make it difficult for some folks to achieve an orgasm, learning about how orgasms work and how they're influenced may help people reach climax in the future.

What is an orgasm?

An orgasm is what happens when sexual arousal reaches its peak. Orgasm is typically achieved as a result of the stimulation of the genitals or other erogenous zones of the body.

When a person orgasms, their body reaches a crescendo of sexual tension and releases it, a process which involves a series of genital muscle contractions that normally last a few seconds and are accompanied by a rush of intense pleasure.

Sexual climax triggers the brain to release a rush of endorphins, hormones that can help relieve pain, reduce stress and lift your mood. And that's one of the main reasons it feels so good to have an orgasm.

What happens during an orgasm?

Orgasm is part of the sexual response cycle, which includes a series of physical and emotional reactions that individuals have during sexual arousal and activity.

The sexual response cycle comprises four phases:

  • Phase 1. The first phase is all about excitement and begins as an individual becomes sexually aroused. During this excitement phase, heart rate and breathing rate accelerate, the skin can become flushed, the nipples become erect, the genitals experience an increase in blood flow, and the breasts and vaginal walls begin to swell. This is also the phase when the penis becomes erect and natural vaginal lubrication begins.
  • Phase 2. Known as the plateau phase, this is the point at which the physical effects from phase 1 grow stronger and more intense. During this time, the penis may become firmer. The vagina may continue to swell from the spike in blood flow, and clitoris sensitivity increases.
  • Phase 3. At this phase of the sexual response cycle, orgasm occurs. As sexual tension reaches its peak and then releases, muscles begin to involuntarily contract and the brain releases a flood of endorphins, resulting in intense feelings of pleasure.
  • Phase 4. The final stage of the cycle is resolution. During this phase, the body calms, and blood flow, heart rate and breathing return to normal levels.

Achieving orgasm

Reaching orgasm can be done solo through masturbation or together with a partner through sexual stimulation. There are several different types of orgasms and many different methods of stimulation that can lead to them.

The different types of orgasms include:

  • Anal orgasm
  • Clitoral orgasm
  • Erogenous zone orgasm. These are rare and can occur in different erogenous zones of the body, including the nipples, breasts, armpits, elbows and ears.
  • Vaginal orgasm
  • Vaginal/clitoral combination orgasm

Achieving orgasm looks different for everyone. For some people, it may include rubbing, stroking, penetration or oral stimulation. Many factors—including the medications you take, your hormone levels, your sexual desire or libido, as well as your level of comfort and sense of safety—can play a part in your ability to reach orgasm.

How women achieve orgasm

Women can achieve numerous types of orgasms. However, since the clitoris is considered the pleasure center of the female genitals, it is difficult for many women to achieve orgasm through penetration alone. The clitoris is located underneath the clitoral hood, just beneath where the inner labia meet. It's about 3 to 5 inches long, although most of it extends internally.

While some women can achieve vaginal or anal orgasm from penetration, other women may require supplemental stimulation to the clitoris to reach climax. For some women, a combination of vaginal penetration and clitoral stimulation can lead to more powerful combination orgasms. This is true of the blended orgasm, which involves a combination of stimulating the anus, clitoris and vagina.

Anal orgasm

An anal orgasm is achieved by stimulating the anus through the use of fingers, tongue, penis or sex toy.

For men, anal orgasm is achieved by stimulating the prostate gland, which can be done by rubbing the perineum (the area between the testicles and the anal opening) or through anal penetration.

For women, anal orgasms can be achieved because the internal clitoris can be indirectly stimulated through the anal walls. This area in the anus is referred to by many as the A-spot. While some scientists don't believe the A-spot exists, it's a fact that some women reach orgasm through anal stimulation.

Nipple orgasm

While orgasm brings genitals or some sort of sexual penetration to mind for many people, it's also possible for some people to achieve orgasm by simply stimulating their nipples. This is because the nipples are an erogenous zone, which basically means they are highly sensitive and can experience sexual pleasure and arousal through stimulation.

Though it's not common for an individual to be able to orgasm from nipple stimulation alone, it is possible. But even for people who cannot achieve nipple orgasm, giving extra attention to the nipples during sexual activity can markedly heighten arousal and pleasure, and improve the experience for many, including men.

The female orgasm vs. the male orgasm

The sexual response cycle is the same for men and women, but female orgasm and male orgasm still differ.

When sexually aroused, women experience natural lubrication in the vagina, while arousal leads to an erect penis in men. The female orgasm and the male orgasm both involve the rhythmic contraction of muscles in the genital area and a rush of intense pleasure caused by the sudden release of endorphins from the brain. However, during the male orgasm, semen migrates from the top of the urethra and is released as the muscles in the penis and pelvis contract, resulting in ejaculation.

While most women don't visibly ejaculate in the same way men do, about 10 percent of women do release fluid from the urethra, which is secreted by the Skene's glands in the vulva.

Another major difference is that men experience a refractory period immediately after orgasm that must conclude before they are able to orgasm again, while women are capable of multiple orgasms back to back.

The refractory period changes as the years go by. A young man in his late teens may have to wait only a few minutes before round two, whereas a 30-year-old man may have to wait 30 minutes and men in their senior years may have to wait longer.

Exploring the anal orgasm

Anal orgasms can provide extreme pleasure, but dipping your toe into the world of anal sex for the first time can be daunting. Anal penetration can feel uncomfortable at first but should get easier after the first couple of tries and should never feel severely painful.

Lubrication is a must, as the anus does not naturally lubricate itself.

The best strategy is to not rush things. Start slowly and gradually increase the size of the object you're penetrating with—maybe an anal plug or a finger—until you feel comfortable being penetrated by something lengthier and girthier, be that your partner or a larger sex toy.

The trick is to take your time and enjoy the exploration.

The orgasm gap

Research indicates there is a significant gap in the frequency with which men and women achieve orgasm. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found 95 percent of heterosexual men said they almost always orgasmed during sexual intimacy, with gay and bisexual men following not far behind at 89 percent and 88 percent, respectively.

Women, on the other hand, reported orgasms much less frequently. The study found 86 percent of lesbian women, 66 percent of bisexual women and 65 percent of heterosexual women said they regularly orgasm during sexual activity.

While researchers continue to investigate the reason for the disparity between men and women, and between individuals with different sexual orientations, some findings suggest the reason may be partly from lowered expectations on the part of women.

Are there health benefits?

Though the pleasure they provide might be reason enough to seek an orgasm, the health benefits of sexual climax are an added bonus.

Here are some of the top health benefits of orgasming regularly:

  • Better sleep
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved mood
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Pain relief
  • Potential for increased life span
  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced risk of prostate cancer
  • Stress relief

Sleep orgasm

Orgasms typically require a perfect storm: a mixture of stimulation, comfort, intimacy and the right environment. But sometimes they just happen, even when you're not awake to enjoy them. Sleep orgasms—also referred to as nocturnal orgasms—occur commonly during male puberty as a result of an influx in testosterone levels.

A sleep orgasm is typically triggered by a sexual or "wet" dream. A wet dream, combined with the body's total relaxation during sleep, leads to increased blood flow to the genitals and makes it easier to orgasm without external stimulation. Though they're usually associated with males going through puberty, both men and women can experience nocturnal orgasms.


How do women achieve orgasm?

Women can achieve numerous types of orgasms, including anal orgasms, clitoral orgasms, vaginal orgasms, clitoral/vaginal combination orgasms and—more rarely—orgasms in the body's erogenous zones. The erogenous zones of the body include the nipples, breasts, armpits, elbows and ears.

What is an orgasm?

An orgasm is what happens when sexual arousal hits its peak. Orgasm is typically achieved as a result of the stimulation of the genitals or other erogenous zones of the body. When a person orgasms, their body reaches a crescendo of sexual tension and subsequently releases it. This release involves a series of genital muscle contractions that normally persist for a few seconds and is accompanied by a rush of intense pleasure.