Am I having an orgasm?


How do you know when you've reached orgasm?

— Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Everyone experiences an orgasm in their own way, time, and to a varying degree. Some people report soaking the sheets and screaming to wake the neighbors, while others may experience a more subdued response. An orgasm is a reflex, usually accompanied by pleasurable feelings, that occurs when the body experiences sexual stimulation. Orgasm reverses the bodily processes of increased blood flow into the genitals and muscular tension that occur during sexual arousal, suddenly releasing built-up tension and allowing the body to return to its un-aroused state.

Men and women have different anatomy and accordingly, orgasm in different ways. For both sexes, orgasm is a full body response. For men, rhythmic contractions occur along the penis, urethra, prostate gland, seminal vesicles, pelvic muscles, and anus, and are usually accompanied by ejaculation. For women, contractions occur in the lower part of the vagina, in the uterus, and in the anus.

However, where the contractions occur and what sensations you experience are two different things. Each person can have different sensations each time an orgasm occurs — for example, changes in breathing, a feeling of warmth, sweating, body vibrations, altered consciousness, or need/desire to moan or cry out are common experiences. Both sexes have erogenous zones, or areas of the body that are particularly responsive to sexual stimulation. Stimulating these zones may help you achieve arousal and orgasm. Common erogenous zones include the neck, the lips, earlobes, nipples, and many others.  Any place on your body that causes you to have a sexual response qualifies as an erogenous zone.

Perhaps some descriptions of arousal and orgasm from others might be helpful:

  • "I feel very excited, a good tension from my head to my toes."
  • "Being touched all over my body, not just my genitals, takes me over the edge to orgasm."
  • "My toes curl and I feel a release all over my body."
  • "I don't know how to describe it, but I know it when I feel it."

For men, orgasm is generally, though not always, accompanied by ejaculation. Women may also ejaculate clear liquid during an orgasm. Some people do not know if they have had an orgasm. This may be because the sensations they feel seem too mild to be considered an orgasm. It's good to concentrate on and enjoy what you do feel. Both women and men can teach themselves to orgasm by touching their genitals in pleasurable ways until the intensity turns into sexual release. If at first you don't orgasm, try, try again, and again, and again!

Last updated Apr 23, 2014
Originally published Apr 10, 1995

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