Your heartbeat races, your muscles clench, you start to sweat as your breathing becomes heavier. You’re not in the gym, you’re not having a panic attack. You’re onto something so much nicer: an orgasm. Orgasms are great! Not just because they feel good, but because while feeling good they do good; there are proven health benefits to having them. Orgasms have been proven to reduce stress, help relax the body before sleep and even alleviate pain. As amazing as a good orgasm can be, orgasms and sexual pleasure have been culturally mystified for generations. Sex and sexual pleasure was associated with sin, and many people believed that overindulging in activities such as masturbation could lead to blindness.
Although today those myths may not hold so much weight, there seems to still be the undercurrent of stigma around sex and sexual pleasure, but as this lifts we are discovering that there is lot to left to explore from the physical to the mental and emotional benefits, as well as the creative ways we do, can and could go about achieving this ‘la petite mort’ or ‘little death’.
What is an orgasm?
An orgasm happens when a sudden release of built-up sexual tension in the body occurs, resulting in muscular contractions around the pelvic region, all of which are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This sudden release of built-up tension, as part of the sexual response cycle, can result in involuntary actions including muscle spasms, moaning and that overall euphoric sensation associated with reaching climax.
Let’s get physical
Masters and Johnson theorized that penile orgasm occurred in four linear phases; excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. Their theory is one of many, but what actually happens to our bodies when we orgasm? At least two occurrences are common across genitalia, in one way or another; they are – increased blood flow (to parts of the labia or to the penile tissue) and lubrication (from the [something] glands of the vagina or precum from the penis).
When we’re aroused both the penis cap and the clitoris begin to swell and harden, the cervix and uterus pull back from the vagina and the breasts start to swell. Building up toward orgasm contractions begin to happen in the lower walls of the vagina and urethra, the scrotum also begins to tighten and the testes begin to ‘leak’ precum. Rhythmic thrusting, muscle contractions, increased heart rate, as well as an increase in oxygen uptake occur as breathing gets heavier and intensifies until the body finally reaches its climax and … ORGASM. The penis then releases semen and the vagina spasms and relaxes into its normal state. Sometimes vaginal ejaculation or ‘squirting’ can occur.
It’s all in your brain
When we reach orgasm, our bodies release a highly concentrated amount of tension which is why you often feel a warm post euphoric feeling after you have orgasmed; you feel much more relaxed, open and content. This is due to the release of oxytocin or ‘the love hormone’ most commonly associated with bonding between humans – this lovely hormone is also responsible for you telling your entire life story to a stranger you met at Chambers after a fumble in the bathroom. Oxytocin is also one of the main reason orgasms can be so beneficial to your health as it aids stress and pain relief!
Is cumming the same as having an orgasm?
A lot of the time we use orgasm and cumming interchangeably, but are they the same thing or are they two completely different processes that happen to coincide with each other? The jury seems to be out, but the general consensus is that the one aspect that differs between the two is that orgasm can happen ‘in the brain’ whereas cumming is characterised by what happens physically, the ejaculation, for example. It is possible to have one without the other.
One example of this is the ejaculation of semen that occurs when reaching penile orgasm. There is a vaginal equivalent to penile cum. Although more common in porn than in real life, it can occur. When reaching climax, the vagina produces a significant amount of lubricating fluid. ‘Squirting’ is believed to be the vaginal equivalent of penile cum and can be produced from the vagina when climax is reached.
One of the most common ways to reach orgasm is masturbation. How you go about touching yourself is completely down to your own preferences. You can be as simple or get as creative as your heart desires, incorporating toys, trying new positions, touching other erogenous parts of the body like your chest or your butt or taking the party to the bath/shower. Masturbation is completely normal, and apart from climaxing, gives you some alone time to get to know your body, and your likes and dislikes, when it comes to pleasure.
Nothing Seems To Be Happening?
What if I can’t orgasm? Orgasmic dysfunction – otherwise known as the inability to reach orgasm can occur for a number of reasons. For vaginal orgasms, it’s been proven that people with vagina’s are less likely to reach climax through vaginal intercourse than through stimulation of the clitoris. Penile orgasmic dysfunction, although less common, can also occur. Difficulty in reaching orgasm can occur due to illness, stress, a change in medication, insecurity or because of past trauma. It’s important to keep in mind that there is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ about you if you can’t reach orgasm and that reaching orgasm is NOT the be all and end all of sexual interaction; it’s just one aspect of the fun!
I would argue the fun of orgasms is in the doing. Either solo or with a partner, using toys or not, there are 100’s of ways to go about it. Every person’s body is different, with varying thresholds, wants, needs and different ideas of what feels good and what doesn’t. The key is exploring and trying new things, getting comfortable with your own body, taking time to check in with yourself and knowing how to communicate your needs to others.