A buildup of sexual arousal and stimulation can lead men and women to the intense and pleasurable release of sexual tension known as the orgasm. Having an orgasm may also be referred to as "climaxing" or "coming." During orgasm, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, breath becomes quicker and heavier, and involuntary muscle contractions occur in the genitals and often throughout the body.
Orgasm has many psychological effects. Most notably, orgasm is associated with the release in the brain of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which facilitates the experience of pleasure. In addition, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin, and it reinforces feelings of love and attachment. Other neurochemical changes induce alternations in pain sensation, a state of relaxation, and positive mood.
For men, orgasm is required for conception. Genital muscle contractions result in ejaculation or the release of sperm-filled semen from the penis that can be used to fertilize the egg. After ejaculation, men generally require a period of anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours or even days before another orgasm is possible.
The hormone testosterone is highly active in enhancing male sexual desire and arousal. When a man’s testosterone levels are low, it’s harder to achieve orgasm. Once reached, the male orgasm floods the brain with rewarding neurochemicals that create a pleasurable experience and enhance pair-bonding.
Both men and women can masturbate to achieve orgasm. There are different types of orgasms, and for women, orgasms that result from oral sex tend to be more satisfying. Despite differences in the frequency of reaching orgasm, the subjective experience of orgasm is the same in men and women.
The majority of men can achieve orgasm from intercourse. Contrary to popular belief, men want foreplay too, at similar levels to women. Foreplay increases their relationship satisfaction and reduces the number of sexual problems men experience, particularly older men.
Some men cannot get or maintain an erection, fail to reach a climax, fear their genitals are too small, or simply aren’t that interested in sex in the first place. They may experience sexual impairments related to age, sickness, or certain medications they may be taking. These sexual difficulties often have nothing to do with their partner or their satisfaction with the relationship
In women, orgasm is not required for conception, and it does not always accompany sexual arousal. Women often have difficulty reaching orgasm through intercourse alone. Masturbation and spending more time on foreplay can greatly increase their chances of climaxing, especially when more attention is paid to stimulating the clitoris.
The female orgasm tends to be driven by both physical and psychological arousal. Women can often experience simultaneous and multiple orgasms within a short period of time if stimulating activities continue. Oral sex, experimentation with fantasies and new sexual positions, and asking for what they want can all help women achieve orgasm.
In women, the nerves that induce orgasm are located in the clitoris, not the vagina, and as such, they rarely orgasm during penetrative sex. For women far more than men, sexual arousal and orgasm are highly dependent on context, including relationship factors, the urgency of household chores, and feelings of self-esteem.
Women are held back from enjoying orgasms by a variety of factors, including discomfort with their body or genitals, reluctance to “return the favor” of oral sex, not enough time spent warming up sexually, and old-fashioned sexual scripts that prioritize male orgasm.
Some women are too embarrassed to communicate clearly what they want to their partners; as a result, they wind up faking enthusiasm that they don’t feel, which only hurts intimacy in the relationship in the long run. Women who are more vocal about what they need generally are more satisfied with their sex lives.
While it is possible to enjoy sexual activity without reaching orgasm, difficulty reaching or inability to experience orgasm can become a problem for some individuals and their sexual partners. Some men and women have disorders that make it difficult to orgasm, which can cause shame, frustration, and distress for the person involved, as well as their partner. It’s important to remember that sexual encounters don’t have to always result in an orgasm to be satisfying. Many orgasm problems, and their effects on relationships, can be resolved with the help of a sexual health professional.
Some research shows that only 25 percent of women reliably reach orgasm during vaginal intercourse. For men, the rate is between 75 and 95 percent. For both men and women, orgasm is usually achieved more quickly and reliably with masturbation.
Researchers believe that the health benefits of orgasms include not only increased blood flow to the brain and body but protection against some cancers and heart disease. Sexual activity that leads to orgasm also produces more oxytocin in the body, which can promote pair-bonding and intimacy between partners.
Especially for women, stress and anxiety can contribute to low sexual desire. Some women may fear that their partners don’t enjoy having sex with them, which can make them self-conscious and decrease their libido. Better communication and changes in technique can help solve these issues.