Orgasms. It’s a peculiar word. It’s one of those words that can make some people cringe slightly, just in hearing it. Like the word, “Vagina.” I used to not like the word vagina. I wanted to change it because I felt uncomfortable saying and hearing it but the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve fallen in love with what my vagina can do—from pre-pubescent clitoral “wow’s!” to birthing babies and everything in between. Vagina kinda says it all.
And orgasms… well, that’s a word that can get us flushed, interested, embarrassed that someone might think that we have them. Or don’t. Or like them. Or connect us in any way to the actual occurrence of them. And in that nanosecond of acknowledgment of the word, we admit to the world that we are sexual beings. Oh my God!!
Orgasms are fabulous, aren’t they? Look at all we do to achieve more and more orgasms! The person with the most orgasms at the end wins!!
At the same time, though, they can wreak some havoc in our lives.
Orgasms can be a little hard (hmmm….. difficult?) …to come by, for some–or during certain life phases. They can cause a lot of stress if they become too infrequent or not as “potent.” They can create insecurity in relationship, if our partner isn’t having them with us—especially if she’s having them alone!—And the crazy thing that can be both wonderfully intoxicating, or crazy-making, is that they can be the “glue that binds,” so to speak!
Orgasms are most often correlated with a powerful surge of the neurohormones, oxytocin and prolactin, the bonding chemicals that are also released during birth and breastfeeding. When we orgasm with a particular partner—and we do so often with that person—we develop and deepen a connection that can defy logic.
The How & What of the Big “O”
Orgasms, which are controlled by the involuntary—or autonomic nervous system, don’t just occur in our pelvises. Of course you all know that! They occur throughout our entire BodyMinds, in measurable ways. From brain wave alterations to involuntary muscular contractions and spasms throughout the body—including lovely facial grimaces—to spontaneous vocalizations and sweat glands being intensely activated; high sexual arousal that leads to orgasm is the culmination of a complete mind and body experience that is unparalleled when compared to other bodily sensations.
Wikipedia describes orgasm as the sudden discharge of accumulated sexual tension during the sexual response cycle. It comes from the Greek word, οργασμός orgasmos, a derivation of the word organ, meaning to swell, or to be excited.
Most often, stimulation of the penis in males and the clitoris in females is the starting point that leads to orgasm. Whether through self-stimulation, partner stimulation, penetrative or non-penetrative sexual intercourse, genital play, oral sex, a variety of rhythmic types of genital stimulation; or the plethora of other erotic sexual activity, orgasms occur when our bodies are thoroughly engaged and our brains sufficiently relaxed. And climax becomes imminent as blood rushes to our genitalia, heart rates increase, breathing becomes rapid, genitalia and nipples stand erect, the lower part of the vagina narrows and the penis becomes enlarged (hmmm… someone was thinking!) …tension, tension, tension…. And somehow, simultaneous relaxation—of the mind anyway—until… our bodies release the build up of sexual energy in waves of complete pleasure. If all goes well.
(Maybe time for a little breather?)
Scientists now believe that while men and women have obvious anatomical differences, our subjective experience of orgasm—both physiological and psychological—is actually quite similar. In fact, in certain studies, researchers have not been able to reliably determine gender when reading descriptions of orgasms with all anatomical references removed.
The most common descriptor of orgasm, from a physiological perspective, is the rhythmic contractions of the Pubococcygeus (PC) Muscle. Most men and women describe a building and pleasurable intensity that often begins at the clitoris for women (although different types of orgasms occur in different areas of the genitalia—which we’ll …touch on later) and can spread throughout the pelvic area, abdomen, inner thighs, anal sphincter, rectum and perineum, primarily. For women, contractions of the uterus and outer third of the vagina occur as well. A woman’s clitoris and labia will swell during sexual excitement and the inner walls of the vagina will begin to lubricate. For men, orgasms generally begin as a deep sensation of warmth and pressure in the genitalia, leading to a sharper, intensely pleasurable feeling in the genitals, rectum, anal sphincter and perineum. And for men, the ejaculatory ducts and the muscles around the penis simultaneously contract.
A common characteristic of orgasm is also a pelvic throbbing or pulsing sensation, rhythmic muscular contractions—especially powerful for men during ejaculatory inevitability, which is the point when ejaculation is unavoidable—not that most men would want to avoid it! (However, on this point, there are some sexual and spiritual practices that call for just that—another topic that we’ll discuss later). Finally, for men, a warm rushing of fluid sometimes described as a “shooting” sensation occurs when semen travels through the urethra during ejaculation. Of course it’s important to note that orgasm and ejaculation are not one in the same—while they most often occur together, a man can have an orgasm without ejaculating. There are women who also experience a warm rush of fluid—some, even to the point of ejaculating.
Together, these physiological responses constitute the “reflex of orgasm.” Contractions are the most intense initially, at the point we call “climax,” and occur at about 0.8-second intervals, and then lessen in both intensity and frequency of intervals as orgasm subsides. While orgasms can differ depending on the person describing them and their unique experiences, these are the most common characteristics.
And Our Minds
For both men and women, orgasm brings forth descriptive words like warmth, blissful, intense, tingly, pleasurable, electric; feelings of suspension followed by intense or even violent pleasure, and then ultimately leading to deep relaxation and release. These words are used not only for feelings in the genitals but throughout at least some portion of the whole body. And they correlate, as well, with emotional feelings of euphoria, of “losing oneself,” and often a sense of connectedness with a partner—or with oneself, depending on the circumstances of the particular experience.
As many of us—men and women—are well aware, it’s far more common for women to be multi-orgasmic, meaning ….well, that we’re really lucky, for one! It also means that we don’t necessarily go into the phase of orgasm called the “refractory period,” upon climaxing, which men generally do—however, not all men and not every time. The refractory period is a recovery phase and during that time, further ejaculation is physiologically impossible. Some men have learned to have orgasms without ejaculating, however, and can therefore become multi-orgasmic.
A Woman’s Orgasm
Now, there is a downside for women as well. Some surveys have concluded that only 25% of women have orgasms every time they have sex with a partner, as compared to 90% of men having sex. Seems a little imbalanced, I’d say! And sadly, about 10% of women have never had an orgasm at all—either via masturbation or sex. Now this is an issue that needs addressing, in my opinion!
The idea that women are different than men in how, how often, and how quickly we orgasm has set us up for some struggles in the area of feeling empowered sexually, and has set men up for a load of confusion about women’s bodies. And we are equally responsible for the state of things.
For much of our history, women didn’t speak to their own need for sexual satisfaction—or how that might occur. The patriarchal society that is at our foundation set men’s sexual needs on a pedestal and essentially left women out in the cold, at times even providing the medical diagnosis of Hysteria—historically a common name given to women who were clearly just sexually frustrated! And a common cure…? Genital massage from a doctor until the woman reached “hysterical paroxysm” (Orgasms). Duh! (Either that or she was sent to an asylum!)
Currently, women have cum into our own, so to speak. (These are getting fun!) Many women are completely comfortable speaking to how we orgasm, what turns us on, what doesn’t; and showing men—or other women (because every woman is different), step by step, our own journey to our bodies deepest treasures. Yet we’re still not quite there, are we?
I speak to women all the time who are scared to show their partners—mostly men—how to help them reach orgasm, some who simply don’t know how to relax enough with a man to allow their bodies to climax, and some who simply don’t know how to even bring themselves to orgasm. When women confess to struggling with orgasm with their partners, I’ll ask, “Do you masturbate in front of him?” The return I often get is one of shock and sometimes statements like, “I wouldn’t even know what to do!” And that’s when I get concerned.
Many of us were not taught practices of self-love, let alone practices of self-satisfaction! In fact, many of us were taught that our bodies were not to be touched, “down there.” And so we grew to feel shame connected to the very beauty of our bodies delicious sexual natures—because our curiosity made others uncomfortable. So we need to re-teach ourselves. And for our health—individually, relationally, collectively—it’s time to own our orgasms!
This is Part One of the delicious discussion of Orgasms. And depending on the questions, comments, and sharing that may ensue; we’ll see how many more “Parts” it will take to dig into the juicy dialogue of all that we can learn about this wonderful, powerful phenomenon!
Thanks for reading!