The Physiology of Orgasms

The Physiology of Orgasms

Climax, cumming, “the big O” – whatever you call yours, it’s fair to say that most people love having orgasms! But that pleasurable peak is often such a blur, you may not be aware of exactly what is going on in your body when you reach that pivotal point. Whether you tend to reach orgasm through stimulation of the penis, prostate, clitoris, G-spot, another erogenous zone, or some combination thereof, here’s some of what happens physiologically when you get off…

Faster breathing and increased heart rate

Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate all ramp up in response to the sexual tension that builds during the arousal process, and reach a high point during orgasm. While this might sound like it’d make climaxing dangerous for people with heart problems and other related medical issues, sex inducing a heart attack is actually very rare, and sexual activity may even be good aerobic exercise.

Changes in brain activity

Some neurological research has found that during orgasm, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety shut down entirely. Other emotions are tamped down too, at least for a few moments; this “blank mind” effect may be why some people describe their orgasms as being a “little death” of sorts.

Muscular contractions

Muscles in the pelvic area contract rhythmically during orgasm, dispelling the accumulated tension in that zone and helping to expel semen or (in some cases) causing vaginal ejaculation to occur. These contractions may happen as quickly as once every 0.8 seconds for the duration of the climax. Unlike the voluntary muscle contractions you can do at any time, these involuntary ones often involve muscles we have little-to-no conscious control over in everyday life, such as those of the prostate or the uterus. Naturally, these contractions are usually accompanied by the intensely pleasurable sensation most people associate with orgasm.

Refractory period

Some people experience a period of time post-orgasm during which they can’t immediately come again, because of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and prolactin which inhibit further pleasure and climaxes for a while. It is sometimes thought that only men have a refractory period, and that all women can immediately dive back into sexual stimulation after orgasm, but this isn’t necessarily the case – as with all things sexual, everyone is different and your mileage may vary!

What’s your favorite physiological response to notice in yourself or your partner(s) during orgasm?

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Kate Sloan is a journalist, blogger, podcaster, and educator who has been writing about sex online and in print for over five years. She writes about sex, kink, relationships, fashion, beauty, writing, and mental health. She has been voted a Kinkly.com Sex Blogging Superhero for four years running, and her words reach over 22,000 sex nerds, weirdos and queerdos every month. As a journalist and essayist, Kate has written for Glamour, Teen Vogue, Daily Xtra, the Establishment, Maisonneuve, Herizons, the Plaid Zebra, xoJane, and more.

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