What Is an Orgasm?

An orgasm is the intense, pleasurable sensation experienced at the climax of sexual arousal. It is the third and shortest phase of the sexual response cycle.1 It involves a rapid contraction of the vaginal muscles in females and contractions at the base of the penis in males, followed by a relaxing of the muscles after orgasm. The sexual response cycle has four main phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.1 Both men and women experience orgasms with similar bodily reactions, but the length and intensity varies between individuals and sexual experience. The way an orgasm feels varies but it is generally the peak of sexual pleasure in that specific sexual encounter and it feels like a release of built up tension. Sometimes a sexual response cycle may not include an orgasm. A person may still feel sexually satisfied even without experiencing an orgasm, however, others may experience discomfort or disappointment. Becoming familiar with how orgasms work and the techniques that can increase sexual pleasure can help you and your partner each achieve the best orgasm. People can explore what they like and what leads them to orgasm through masturbation.

The general characteristics of orgasms experienced by both male and females include the following:

  • involuntary muscle contractions, including spasms of the feet
  • dramatic increases in heart rate and rise in blood pressure
  • rapid and shallow breathing
  • flush may appear in the face and/or the body
  • sudden release of muscle tension
  • intense, pleasant psychological feeling

These general characteristics are experienced by both males and females. There are, however, some differences experienced by males and females.

In males, the orgasm phase consists of two stages: the emission stage and the expulsion stage.2 During the emission stage, a buildup of semen in the urethral bulb occurs. This accumulation of semen precedes inevitable ejaculation. This stage lasts about 2 to 3 seconds.2 The next stage is the ejaculation stage, which consists of the release of the accumulated semen. This release is caused by muscle contractions surrounding the urethral bulb and the urethra every 0.8 seconds.2 Males generally experience intense sensation during the first few contractions and less intense sensations during later contractions. Males generally enter into a refractory period, the next stage of the sexual response cycle, before being able to orgasm again.

Females also experience muscular contractions and intense sensations during the orgasm phase.2 These contractions occur about 3 to 15 times in the pelvic muscles surrounding the vagina and each one lasts less than 1 second.2 Females experience lubrication during this stage, referred to as female ejaculation. This lubrication varies in volume and expulsion, including descriptions of the fluids expulsing in a squirting motion. These intense contractions are followed by weaker and slower contractions. Because females generally do not have a refractory period before being capable of experiencing another orgasm, they are more likely than males to be multiorgasmic. Orgasms for females also tend to last longer than for males.

Not everyone who is sexually active has experienced an orgasm and even fewer experienced an orgasm their first time having sexual intercourse. Females have a more difficult time reaching orgasm than do males. Research shows that about 75% of females do not reach orgasm with penile-vaginal intercourse alone.3 That is, they usually need the extra help of manual or oral stimulation or sex toys. And about 10 to 15% of females have never experienced an orgasm under any circumstances.3 Men, on the other hand, reach orgasm much more often. In fact, research shows that 75% of men orgasm every time they have intercourse.3 Males can orgasm without ejaculation, and, they can ejaculate without reaching orgasm.2 Men who have difficulty achieving maintaining an erection or reaching an orgasm can choose from 26 FDA sexual enhancement treatments to help them.3Women, however, do not have any FDA approved sexual enhancement treatments for them.3 Although women may not have any drugs at their disposal, there are other ways to treat an orgasm deficit. The two main reasons for the female orgasmic problem are lack of knowledge or skill and presence of negative feelings.


Stimulating Areas

The first step to being able to please a female is understanding how to effectively provide positive stimulation. Although intercourse alone usually brings males to orgasm, vaginal stimulation and penetration alone does not always work for females. There are many parts to female’s external genitalia and each vary in how sexually stimulating they can be. Because of this variety, there are multiple ways in which a female can reachx orgasm. The most sexually stimulating area of a female’s body is her clitoris. The clitoris is located at the top of the vulva and contains at least 8,000 nerve endings, making it a highly sensitive area.4 Because of its location, it is not always stimulated with vaginal stimulation alone. The clitoris is often best stimulated with hand or oral stimulation. A female and her partner can experiment with what kind of stimulation feels best. You can explore different patterns of stimulation, including circular, up and down, and back and forth. You can also change the pressure of stimulation by moving from gentle to stronger stimulation, especially as you near orgasm, and pulsing motions. This can be done with fingers or with a tongue.You can also attempt to stimulate  more areas by inserting a finger or two into thevagina while still continuing to stimulate the clitoris with another finger or your partner can stimulate your clitoris with their tongue. Females often require consistent and repetitive stimulation to reach orgasm. Sometimes it helps to masturbate on your own to explore what you like and to later let your partner watch you stimulate yourself so they can learn what you like.

The Grafenberg spot, also known as the G-spot is also another very sensitive area of the vagina. It is located about 2 to 3 inches up on the anterior wall of the vagina and generally feels more rough than the surrounding tissue.5 Although the existence of the G-spot has not been proven, many females report feeling enhanced pleasure and orgasms from stimulation of this area. You can try locating the G-spot by inserting a finger or two into the vagina and pressing on the top wall of your vagina and curling the fingers upward.5

The perineum is the hairless area between a female’s introitus and anus, and between a male’s testicles and anus. The perineum has lots of nerve endings and is sexually stimulating when pressed on for both males and females. When manually or orally stimulating a partner, you can gently press on their perineum as well. This is also a great way to give your male partner an even better orgasm. While giving him a blowjob, or when riding him in reverse cowgirl, you can lick your fingers to provide some lubrication, and gently press on his perineum when he is about to climax.6

The testicles are also sexually stimulating for males. Lightly cupping his testicles during oral or penetrative sex, as well as lightly sucking and licking them can increase pleasure as well. Because testicles are very sensitive, be sure not to grab, bite, or suck on them too hard. You can take advantage of the different erogenous zones for males to create a “tri-gasm.”6 When he is about to climax during penetrative sex, lightly cup his testicles and press on his perineum, which effectively stimulates three pleasure points (his penis, tesicles, and perineum).6

Anal stimulation can also be sexually arousing for both males and females. This can be done with manual stimulation or penetration. Whenever engaging in anal stimulation, it is important to always remember to be clean, use protection, lube up, and go slowly and communicate. Your feelings toward engaging in anal sex, just like with any sexual activity, can affect how enjoyable it is or is not for you. Some males and females who feel comfortable engaging in anal sex report being able to achieve orgasms this way. Males have the added benefit of prostate stimulation., The prostate, sometimes referred to as the male G-spot, is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder. The best way to stimulate the prostate is to insert a well lubricated finger into the anus and move the finger in a “come hither” motion. Some sex toys are designed to apply stimulation to the prostate.


Sex Positions

Although hand and oral stimulation is often best for stimulating the clitoris, it can also be stimulated while having intercourse. Explore different sex positions with your partner that help stimulate the clitoris. The female on top position gives the female the ability to control the speed and movement, By sitting on her partner, a female can make make her clitoris rub against her partner’s abdomen, or the clitoris can be manually stimulated.6 Doggy style (from behind) is a commonly used sex position that allows for stimulation of the clitoris and the G-spot.7 Because of the angle the penis enters the vagina in this position, it is more likely to hit the G-spot.

Standing doggy style can put his penis at a even better angle to hit the G-spot.8 While in this position, the male can use one of his hands to manually stimulate his partner’s clitoris or the female can manually stimulate her own clitoris. When having sex with a female, she can also take advantage of this technique by using a strap-on dildo. Always make sure to clean dildos well and use lots of lubrication. If you are more comfortable just doing missionary position, try placing a few pillows under the woman’s butt to place her pelvis in a better position for her partner’s penis to hit her G-spot.8 Women have explained G-spot orgasms as feeling like you have a need to pee. These are just a couple of positions that can help better stimulate the clitoris and G-spot. Feel free to explore with yourself and with your partner.

Negative Emotions

One of the biggest obstacles preventing men and women from reaching orgasm, is the presence of negative emotions, including fear, anxiety, or guilt. With the long history of taboos against women enjoying sexual pleasure, it is not uncommon for women to feel guilty. It is important, however, to let go of those guilty feelings and realize it is healthy and normal to enjoy sex. Both men and women may feel scared or anxious when having sexual intercourse for a variety of reasons, including first time sex worries and performance anxiety. These worries, however, distract you from the pleasure experienced during sex and make it more difficult to reach orgasm. The best way to orgasm is to relax and not worry about it.3 Try to clear your mind of any anxious feelings and just focus on the current sexual pleasures. Looking at your partner as they stimulate you or closing your eyes and just focusing on the bodily sensations can help you with this. The best way to know if your partner is enjoying it or to let your partner know if you are enjoying it is to communicate. Ask your partner if they like what you are doing and let them know if you like it too. Paying attention to the physical reactions and sounds from your partner to can also give you some insight into what they like. Communicating about what you each like can make sex more enjoyable for both people.


Orgasm for Everyone?

If you or your partner have difficulties reaching orgasm, trying different stimulation techniques and thinking more positively during sex can help you and your partner orgasm. Even if you do not have problems achieving orgasm, exploring new techniques and positions can make your orgasms even better. It is important to remember that sex is more than just reaching orgasm.2 Sex can be pleasurable and feel great even without orgasms. Simply enjoying all the physical pleasures that come with sex and the physical and emotional intimacy that it brings between you and your partner can make sex amazing.


  1. "The Sexual Response Cycle." SexInfo Online. N.p., 30 Oct. 2014. Web.
  2. Greenberg, Jerrold S., Clint E. Bruess, and Sara B. Oswalt. "Sexual Response and Arousal." Exploring the Dimensions of Human Sexuality. 5th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2013. 156-81. Print.
  3. Rudulph, Heather Wood. "The Orgasm Deficit." Cosmopolitan. N.p., 08 July 2014. Web.
  4. Laurie, Chiara. "9 Interesting Things You May Not Know About the Clitoris." Alternet. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web.
  5. "The G-Spot." SexInfo Online. N.p., 26 May 2009. Web.
  6. Kylstra, Carolyn. "Give Him the Best Orgasm Ever." Cosmopolitan. N.p., 16 July 2012. Web.
  7. "Sexpert Approved Sex Positions." SexInfo Online. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web.
  8. Miller, Korin. "How to Find Your G-Spot." Cosmopolitan. N.p., 03 Aug. 2012. Web.

Last Updated: 08 March 2016.