If you took sex ed at school, you probably learned all about
pregnancy and STIs, and safe sex practices, but there's a pretty good
chance that your teacher never once uttered the word "orgasm" at any
point throughout the semester. When you think about it, that's pretty
weird, considering it's a natural biological function, and sexual
pleasure is a perfectly normal, healthy part of life.
So let's actually talk about orgasms for a sec. An orgasm is what happens when a person reaches the height of sexual excitement. The moment comes with feelings of pleasure and muscle contractions in the genitals. For some people, this is also the moment when they ejaculate, but vaginal orgasms are a thing too! And they're...awesome.
So, since sex-ed teachers aren't doing it, I talked to Dr. Melisa Holmes, adolescent gynecologist and cofounder of Girlology and we're answering your most pressing questions about the biological reaction so you can feel more comfortable with your body and the sexual pleasure you deserve.
What is an orgasm?
An orgasm is a physical reflex, brought on through sexual
stimulation, most commonly that of the clitoris, which is the most
sensitive organ in the vagina. "It's a build up to a time frame during
sexual stimulation where there's just this big release of pleasure,"
says Dr. Holmes. During sexual arousal, blood flow increases to the
genitals and your muscles tense throughout your body. The orgasm then
"reverses this process through a series of rhythmic contractions,"
according to Brown University. During an orgasm, "endorphins are
released into the bloodstream and these chemicals might make you feel
happy, giddy, flushed, warm or sleepy."
How do I orgasm?
Different people are stimulated by different sexual acts, but
it really all comes back to the clitoris. Some people may also require
the additional sensation of vaginal penetration to orgasm. In general,
when you're reaching climax, the clitoris will get engorged and
lubricated. "The clitoris may just look like a little bump on the
outside, but it actually has a lot more to it on the inside and just the
stimulation of that creates this intense kind of burst of pleasurable
feelings," says Dr. Holmes.
There are other erogenous zones that feel good when kissed and touched, but they probably won't stimulate an orgasm. "A true orgasm really does require genital stimulation and most medical providers will tell you it stems from the clitoris," Dr. Holmes says.
There's nothing wrong with experimenting and figuring out what allows you to reach sexual climax. It could be oral stimulation of the clitoris, rubbing on the inner thigh, or a mix of multiple things. "The best way to learn, if you're curious, is to teach yourself, give yourself an orgasm," Dr. Holmes says. "Don't rely on other people. I think that's really important to understand that they can make themselves have an orgasm probably better than anyone else can. And they don't need a partner to do that."
What does it feel like?
An orgasm feels different for everyone, but there are some
common experiences like heavy breathing, body vibrations, and sweating.
Orgasms can be mild or overwhelming, they range from person to person
and time to time. We asked some real girls what orgasms feel like and
this is what they said:
"It's like the burst you feel when you get a text from your crush... but in your vagina." — Cam, 15
"I would compare orgasms to going out to eat. You wait and wait for your food, very excited for this meal, then the meal gets there and you take your first bite and you're flooded with happiness. Take a food orgasm and times it by 10!" — Evie, 17
"My clit pulses — a lot. It gets super, super sensitive. Also, I can feel my vaginal walls involuntarily clench, too." — Annie, 20
"Having orgasms makes me feel connected to my own body. It was revolutionary to me the first time I had one. I've had this body my whole life and was missing out on something so big." — Alexis, 17
"Uncontrollable, amazing tingling sensation all over the body." — Kendra, 18
"Like I have no control over my body whatsoever with a ticklish sensation... in the most sexy way possible." — Taylor, 22
As you can see, it feels a little different for everyone, but the common denominator is...it feels good.
Why didn't I orgasm?
According to Brown University, one in three people have trouble
orgasming from sex with their partner. Since some need clitoral
stimulation to climax, simple penetrative sex might not get you there.
When you first start exploring your sexuality, it can take a little bit of time to discover what makes you climax.
Masturbation is the easiest way to explore what will allow you to reach sexual stimulation. Different rhythms, sensations, and pleasures affect people differently. If you're exploring with a partner, there's nothing wrong with asking them to focus on a specific area or action.
There are also external factors, like stress, that may affect your ability to orgasm. "A lot of an orgasm also stems from our brain," Dr. Holmes says. "We have to feel comfortable and safe to have good sexual function." Using drugs and alcohol can also affect one’s ability to climax.
"Everyone thinks alcohol makes sex better," Dr. Holmes says. "And a tiny little bit of alcohol might enhance your sexual experience because it decreases your inhibitions, but too much alcohol can absolutely prevent orgasm. If you're drunk, you may not even notice the stimulation as much, you're a little more numb." Prescription drugs can have a similar affect. "Especially the SSRIs that are used for depression and anxiety. Those are the most common drugs that prevent or inhibit orgasm," Dr. Holmes says.
Do I have to orgasm during sex?
This is a complicated question because, no, technically you
don't have to orgasm during sex. Vaginal penetration or stimulation can
still feel good without reaching sexual climax. And
biologically-speaking, even if you're trying to have a baby, a vaginal
orgasm isn't necessary (of course, the penis must ejaculate because
sperm is needed to fertilize the egg). That being said, there may be a
biological reason why we have vaginal orgasms: so that we want to have
sex again. "It makes sense that sex feels good so that you are willing
to have sex," Dr. Holmes says. "So the species can be perpetuated."
So, if you're not orgasming every time with your partner, it's NBD. That being said, if you want to orgasm, and you feel like your partner isn't spending the time on you to reach climax, have a conversation about it! If they care about you, they'll put in the extra work to make you feel good.