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An orgasm, also known as a sexual climax, is a pleasurable 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.



Both males and females can experience orgasm, but the exact response varies with sex. Generally speaking, orgasm is the third of four stages in the human sexual response cycle, the currently accepted model of the physiological process of sexual stimulation. It is usually thought of as being the most rewarding part of having sex, even though a sizable minority reports liking sex for other reasons, even without orgasm.

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.

Human male orgasm

In a human male orgasm, there are rapid, rhythmic and coordinated contractions of the prostate, seminal vesicles, urethra, and the muscles at the base of the penis, which force stored semen to be spurted through the tip of penis. This is referred to as ejaculation, usually involves up to a cubic entimeter or two of fluid, and, in free air, can travel as far as a few feet. The entire process usually takes from 3 to 10 seconds. It is usually, but not always, extremely pleasurable, both the 'release' and the sensation of fluid traveling through the urethra.

Orgasm is generally induced by direct stimulation of the penis. Some men experience heightened orgasm by direct stimulation of the prostate through the perineum, or with a finger or dildo inserted in the anus.

Note that it is possible to have an orgasm without ejaculation (ie, a '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. Orgasms are essentially involuntary and very rarely under conscious control. Adolescent males often have night ejaculations during sleep, another example of involuntary control.

Following ejaculation, a refractory period occurs during which nearly all men 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. In many men, physical arousal is not possible for a time, ranging from a few minutes to several hours.

A very few cases have been reported of men who appear to have no refractory period at all.

Post-operative female-to-male transsexual men (after having undergone metoidioplasty or phalloplasty by a properly qualified surgeon) generally experience orgasm in the same way, except that those who have had phalloplasty have a pump installed to create an erection, as the neopenis (with either of the usual surgical techniques) has very limited or no natural erection capability.

Human female orgasm

In a human female orgasm, orgasm is preceded by a moistening of the vaginal walls, an enlargement of the clitoris due to increased blood flow trapped in the clitoris's spongy tissue, and an increse in size of the erectile branches on either side of vaginal opening. Some women also exhibit a sex flush; a reddening of the skin over part, or even much, of the body due to increased blood flow to the skin. As a woman comes closer to orgasm, the clitoris typically moves inward (sometimes under the clitoral hood), and the labia minora (minor lips) become darker. As orgasm becomes imminent, the vagina decreases in size (often by about 30%) and also becomes more congested with blood. At orgasm, the uterus experiences muscular contractions, and the cervix moves into the vaginal chamber. A woman experiences full orgasm when her uterus, vagina and pelvic muscles undergo a series of rhythmic contractions.

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 do not have a refractory period, and can often remain excited and capable for some time. Some can experience a second orgasm soon after the first. Some women can even follow this with a third, or even fourth orgasm; this is called multiple orgasms. Some studies suggest that between 10 and 15% of women actually 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 to be touched or otherwise interacted with (including friction from moving labia and a clitoral hood) after orgasm, making additional stimulation painful; they may not able to experience multiple orgasms for this reason.

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

Debate rages over the "purpose" of female orgasms. Many different theories have been advanced by different scientists, feminists, doctors, and religious groups.

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 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 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 this theory, because it understates the value of female orgasm.

Vaginal vs. 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. [1] 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. [2] 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 instead feel the clitoral orgasm robs females of the source of the 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 (eg 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 (i.e. neck).

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 tightly associated with performance pressure in intercourse, and an unwillingness to pursue pleasure as such, as separate from the other person's satisfaction.

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

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.
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