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An orgasm, also known as a sexual climax, is a pleasurable physical, psychological or emotional response to prolonged sexual stimulation. It is often accompanied by a notable physiological reaction, such as ejaculation, blushing or spasm and may be followed by aftershocks.

Dictionaries still give the subsidiary meaning, "a similar point of intensity of emotional excitement," but as of 2005 this usage has become obscure. It can be startling to modern readers when encountered in older literature.



Both males and females can experience orgasm, but the exact response varies across gender. Generally speaking, orgasm is the third stage of four in the human sexual response cycle, which is the currently accepted model of the physiological process of sexual stimulation.

Shared physiology

Orgasm is the conclusion of the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle, shared by males and females alike. During orgasm, both males and females experience quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvic muscles, which surround both the anus and the primary sexual organs.

Orgasms in both men and women are often associated with other involuntary actions, including vocalizations and muscular spasms in other areas of the body. Also, a generally euphoric sensation is associated with orgasm.

Afterwards, orgasm generally causes perceived tiredness, and both males and females often feel a need to rest. This is often attributed to the release of endorphins during orgasm causing relaxation and drowsiness, but can also be due to the body's need for a short rest after a bout of vigorous physical activity.

A recent study at the University of Groningen has indicated significant differences in brain activity during the female and male orgasm. PET scans showed that both the female and male orgasm 'shut down' areas in the brain associated with anxiety and fear (the Amygdala). It was found that the male orgasm focused the brain on sensory input from the genitals more than was the case for the female orgasm.

Human male orgasm

In a human male orgasm, there are rapid, rhythmic contractions of the prostate, urethra and the muscles at the base of the penis, which (in the adult) typically force stored semen to be expelled through the penis's urethral opening. This is referred to as ejaculation. The process usually takes from 3 to 10 seconds. The process is usually, but not always, extremely pleasurable. Orgasm is generally induced by direct stimulation of the penis. Some men experience heightened orgasm by direct stimulation of the prostate through the perineum.

Following ejaculation, a refractory period usually occurs during which a man cannot have another orgasm. This period can be anywhere from less than a minute to over half a day, depending on age and other individual factors. A very few cases have been reported of men who appear to have no refractory period at all. Scientists theorize that a pituitary gland disorder or difference may cause this unique ability.

Male prostate orgasm

Some men are able to achieve ejaculation or orgasm through intra-anal stimulation of the prostate gland. Men reporting the sensation of prostate stimulation often give descriptions similar to women's accounts of g-spot stimulation. Other men report finding anal stimulation or penetration of any kind to be painful, or simply that they find no profound pleasure from it. With sufficient stimulation, the prostate can also be "milked". Providing that there is no simultaneous stimulation of the penis, prostate milking can cause ejaculation without orgasm. When combined with penile stimulation, some men report that prostate stimulation increases the volume of their ejaculation, and provides an enhanced and more pleasurable version of the standard male orgasm.

Male multiple orgasms

It is possible to have an orgasm without ejaculation, dry orgasm, or to ejaculate without reaching orgasm. Some men report that the ability to consciously separate orgasm and ejaculation has allowed them to achieve multiple orgasms. Men who have practiced this technique extensively report that they can sometimes experience a continuous "wave" of orgasm. This can last, in theory, indefinitely, but in practice is limited by the man's ability to concentrate/meditate and "surf" the "wave". In recent years a number of sex manuals for men have delved into this technique. Men who have become adept at this practice also report more powerful ejaculatory orgasms when they choose to have them. It is uncertain whether this is a result of more time between ejaculations, or a direct result of practice. Interestingly, the male multiple orgasm requires that the man "hold on", maintaining control to prevent ejaculation. In contrast, multi-orgasmic women sometimes report that they must relax and "let go" to experience multiple orgasms.

Internet rumors and a few scientific studies have pointed to the hormone prolactin as the likely cause of the male refractory period. Because of this, there is currently an experimental interest in drugs which inhibit prolactin, such as Dostinex (also known as Cabeser, or Cabergoline). Anecdotal reports on Dostinex suggest it may be capable of eliminating the refractory period altogether, allowing men to experience multiple ejaculatory orgasms in rapid succession. No scientific study explicitly supports these claims, but a German study cites unspecific increase in sexual pleasure. Dostinex is a hormone altering drug and has many potential side effects. It has not been approved for treating sexual dysfunction.

To date, the only known scientific study to successfully document natural, fully ejaculatory, multiple orgasms in an adult male was conducted at Rutgers University in 1995. During the study, six fully ejaculatory orgasms were experienced in 36 minutes with no refractory period in evidence. The study was subsequently published in the "Journal of Sex Education and Therapy" (1998; Volume 23, No. 2; pp 157-162).

Human female orgasm

In a human female orgasm, orgasm is preceded by moistening of the vaginal walls, and an enlargement of the clitoris due to increased blood flow trapped in the clitoris's spongy tissue. Some women exhibit a sex flush; a reddening of the skin over much of the body due to increased blood flow to the skin. As a woman comes closer to having orgasm, the clitoris moves inward under the clitoral hood, and the labia minora (minor lips) becomes darker. As orgasm becomes imminent, the vagina decreases in size by about 30% and also becomes congested with blood. The uterus then experiences muscular contractions. A woman experiences full orgasm when her uterus, vagina and pelvic muscles undergo a series of rhythmic contractions. The majority of women consider these contractions to be very pleasurable.

After the orgasm is over, the clitoris re-emerges from under the clitoral hood, and returns to its normal size in less than 10 minutes. Unlike men, women either do not have a refractory period or have a very short one, and thus can experience a second orgasm soon after the first; some women can even follow this with a third, or even fourth orgasm; this is known as having multiple orgasms. After the initial orgasm, subsequent climaxes may be stronger or more pleasurable as the stimulation accumulates. Research shows that about 13% of women experience multiple orgasms; a larger number may be able to experience this with the proper stimulation (such as a vibrator) and frame of mind. However, some women's clitorises are too sensitive after orgasm, making additional stimulation painful; they are probably not able to experience multiple orgasms.

The evolutionary purpose of orgasms

Some evolutionary biologists believe that female orgasms have a distinct purpose, such as increasing intimacy with a male partner in order to ensure the survival of the pair bond. Others have theorized that they increase fertility by enhancing sperm retention. The British biologists Baker and Bellis have suggested that the female orgasm may have an "upsuck" action, retaining favourable sperm and making conception more likely. Other biologists, such as Stephen Jay Gould, suggest the female orgasm is analogous to the male nipple, an evolutionary holdover which, though associated with pleasure in the context of sexual behaviour, has no specific identified biological function.

Orgasm as vestigial

The clitoris is homologous to the penis, that is, the penis and clitoris develop from the same embryonic structure. It has been claimed by some researchers, such as Stephen Jay Gould that the clitoris is vestigial in the female, and that female orgasm serves no particular evolutionary function. Proponents of this theory, such as Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd, point to the relative difficulty of achieving female orgasm through vaginal sex, and limited evidence for increased fertility after orgasm. Feminists such as Natalie Angier have criticized that this theory understates the psychosocial value of female orgasm.

Genetic basis of individual variation

33% of women report never or seldom achieving orgasm during intercourse, and only 10% always orgasm. This variation in ability to orgasm is generally thought to be psycho-social, but has been found to be between 34-45% genetic, according to a 2005 twin study published in Biology Letters, a Royal Society journal.[1][2][3]

The researchers stated that the fact that it is heritable suggests that evolution has a role. They suggested this difficulty in achieving orgasm might have evolved because it helped females select males who were the most powerful and thoughtful, who would be the most likely to hang around as a long-term partner and be a better bet for bringing up offspring. In this theory, women who orgasm easily may have been satisfied with mates who were less skilled. While in certain cultures it has been posited that women who are more orgasmic may be more promiscuous, there has to date been no confirmation of this in a scientific study.

Vaginal versus clitoral orgasms

A distinction is sometimes made between clitoral and vaginal orgasms in women. An orgasm that results from combined clitoral and vaginal stimulation is called a blended orgasm. Many doctors and feminist advocates have claimed that vaginal orgasms do not exist, and that female orgasms are obtained only from clitoral arousal. Recent discoveries about the size of the clitoris — it extends inside the body, around the vagina — would seem to support this theory. On the other hand, other sources argue that vaginal orgasms are dominant or more "mature".

This latter viewpoint was first promulgated by Sigmund Freud. In 1905, Freud argued that clitoral orgasm was an adolescent phenomenon, and upon reaching puberty the proper response of mature women changes to vaginal orgasms. [4] While Freud did not provide evidence supporting this basic assumption, the consequences of the theory were greatly elaborated thereafter.

In 1966, Masters and Johnson published pivotal research into the phases of sexual stimulation. Their work included women as well as men, and unlike Kinsey previously (in 1948 and 1953), set out to determine the physiological stages leading up to and following orgasm. [5] One of the results was the promotion of the idea that vaginal and clitoral orgasms follow the same stages of physical response. Additionally, Masters and Johnson argued that clitoral stimulation is the primary source of orgasms.

This standpoint has been adopted by feminist advocates, to the extent that some hold that the vaginal orgasm was a mirage, created by men for their convenience. Certainly many women can only experience orgasm with clitoral stimulation, either alone or in addition to vaginal stimulation, while (less commonly) other women can only experience orgasm with vaginal stimulation. The clitoral-only orgasm school of thought became an article of faith in some feminist circles. Alternatively, some feminists feel the clitoral orgasm robs females of the source of their womanhood.

A new understanding of vaginal orgasm has been emerging since the 1980s. Many women report that some form of vaginal stimulation is essential to subjectively experience a complete orgasm, in addition to or instead of external (clitoral) stimulation. Recent anatomical research has pointed towards a connection between intravaginal tissues and the clitoris. It has been shown that these tissues have connecting nerves. This, combined with the anatomical evidence that the internal part of the clitoris is a much larger organ than previously thought could also explain credible reports of orgasms in women who have undergone clitoridectomy as part of so-called female circumcision.

In some cases it is possible for women to orgasm through stimulation of secondary sexual organs (e.g. breasts), and in very rare cases, without any direct stimulation to the genitalia or the other specific erogenous zones, but instead stimulation of the non-specific zones (e.g. neck).

Some women experience orgasm while giving birth.

Controversy: definition of orgasm

There is controversy surrounding male multiple orgasms, and female G-spot (vaginal, not blended) orgasms, because some feel that they do not fit within the clinical definition of orgasm. Male multiple orgasms, while pleasurable, often do not involve involuntary contractions. Similarly, there are not always contractions in female orgasms resulting from stimulation of the g-spot alone, without stimulation of the clitoris. However, both of these sensations in both sexes are extremely pleasurable, and are often felt throughout the body, creating a mental state that is often described as transcendental. Because of this, some sexologists feel that these experiences can be accurately defined as orgasms. Others insist that that orgasm is defined strictly by muscular contractions, and that these other sensations are too subjective to be quantified as orgasms.

Orgasm in post-operative transsexuals


Post-operative male-to-female transsexual women (having undergone vaginoplasty) generally experience full orgasm, involving any combination of the clitoris, vagina and labia.

Some transwomen experience female ejaculation, which can be from the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and/or Cowper's glands, which are not removed during vaginoplasty.


Post-operative female-to-male transsexual men (after having undergone metoidioplasty or phalloplasty) generally experience orgasm in the same way as other men, except that those who have had phalloplasty have a pump installed to create an erection, as the neopenis (with either surgical technique) has limited natural erection capability. Due to the lack of the necessary glands, they do not have the ability to ejaculate.

Orgasmic dysfunction

The inability to have orgasm is called anorgasmia, or inorgasmia. In situations where orgasm is desired, anorgasmia is mainly thought of as being caused by an inability to relax, or 'let go'. It seems to be closely associated with performance pressure and an unwillingness to pursue pleasure, as separate from the other person's satisfaction. It was the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, in his 1927 book The Function of the Orgasm, who first made orgasm central to the concept of mental health and defined neurosis in terms of blocks to having full orgasm.

For a variety of reasons, some people choose to fake an orgasm.

Drugs and orgasm

Certain drugs have been reported to have enhancing effects on orgasm. Alkyl nitrites are used by some men to enhance orgasm. Marijuana has widely been reported to enhance and prolong male orgasms, while at the same time delaying ejaculation. Stimulant, Psychedelic, and Ecstasy drug users of both sexes report heightened sexual pleasure. Some male cocaine users report rubbing the glans of their penis with cocaine in order to numb it and delay ejaculation. The use of drugs to enhance orgasm has potentially hazardous side effects.

Studies have indicated that each of the three major erectile dysfunction drugs have different reported effects on orgasm. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women have enhanced orgasms with Sildenafil. In men Sildenafil has varying effects on orgasm. Some men report enhancement, while others report that while they can achieve an erection with Sildenafil, their orgasms feel "hollow". Vardenafil behaves very similarly to Sildenafil. Tadalafil, a newer drug, in addition to treating erectile dysfunction over longer periods of time, is said to enhance orgasm and shorten the male refractory period. Some drugs, such as Cabergoline, are reported to shorten the refractory period without having any effect on erections or orgasms.

While prescribing drugs to solve problems, many sex therapists discourage the regular use of drugs to enhance sex, because of the elevated risk of dependency.

Inversely, a number of anti-depressant drugs, especially those in the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have as a side effect in those who use them the inability to achieve orgasm. One potential basis of this side effect is penile anesthesia.

Orgasm in Tantric sex

In the Asian spiritual tradition of sexual practice known as Tantric sex, orgasm has a different value than in other cultural approaches to sexuality. Some practitioners of Tantric sex aim to eliminate orgasm from sexual intercourse by remaining for long periods of time at the pre-orgasmic state. According to some advocates of Tantric sex, such as Rajneesh, practicing Tantric sex without orgasm will eventually lead to orgasmic feelings spreading out to all of conscious experience. Some current advocates of Tantric sex claim that in Western culture sexuality is put in the service of orgasm in a way that reduces the ability to have intense pleasure during each moment of sexual experience, and consequently that eliminating the striving toward orgasm enhances the pleasure to be derived from all aspects of sexual experience.

Orgasm in non-humans

The mechanics of the male orgasm are similar in most mammals, and females of some mammalian species have clitorises. There is evidence that some non-human animals, particularly primates, can experience orgasm in ways similar to humans.

Non-sexual meaning of the word "orgasm"

Dictionaries still indicate that the word "orgasm" can refer to any peak of emotional intensity—a "climax" in the non-sexual sense. As of 2005, the word would be likely to be misunderstood if used in that way; such usage is vanishingly rare. It does, however, occur in literature written prior to the sexual revolution:

Here in this cathedral at Burgos was the record of an incredible spiritual energy.... Those who had built and carved and painted here had been more than happy. They had left the record of their ecstasy in a divine orgasm of stone.—Hervey Allen, Anthony Adverse

In reference to a horse which is calming down after being "spooked:"

"it was a very weak and very sick mare he rode, stumbling and halting, afflicted with nervous jerks and recurring muscular spasms—the aftermath of the tremendous orgasm through which she had passed.—Jack London, Moon-Face and Other Stories, "Planchette."

In the following sentence, a newcomer to the Arctic is impressed with Malemute Kid's forceful personality. ("Breathing heavily" here means "asleep.")

"Malemute Kid was already breathing heavily; but the young mining engineer gazed straight up through the thick darkness, waiting for the strange orgasm which stirred his blood to die away."—Jack London, The Son of the Wolf, "An Odyssey of the North".

See also

External links


  • Singer, J., and I. Singer. Types of Female Orgasm. In J. LoPiccolo and L. LoPiccolo, eds., Handbook of Sex Therapy. New York: Plenum Press, 1978.
  • Dr KM Dunn, Dr LF Cherkas and Prof TD Spector "Genetic influences on variation in female orgasmic function: a twin study" Biology Letters, a Royal Society journal. June 2005.
  • Whipple, B., Myers B., and Komisaruk, B. "Male Multiple Ejaculatory Orgasms: A Case Study", J Sex Ed & Therapy 1998 23(2):157-162.
  • Reich, Wilhelm. The Function of the Orgasm. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1986. ISBN 0374502048af:Orgasme

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