The orgasm, which is perceived as the peak of sexual excitement, is probably one of the most mysterious concepts. Over the past century, several definitions and theories about orgasm have been put forward, adding to the mystery and confusion. When explaining what an orgasm is, two approaches can be used:
1) Psychological changes
Using this approach, an orgasm is the intense feeling of sexual pleasure that occurs during sexual activity, leading to the release of the sexual tension that has accumulated in your body. Often referred to as climaxing, this approach is used mostly by psychologists and mental health experts.
2) Physiological changes
This approach is used in clinical contexts, and it uses the physiological changes that occur in your body during the peak of sexual activity. According to this approach, an orgasm refers to the muscular contractions, followed by certain changes in the body that include increased heart rate, increased blood pleasure, increased respiration rate, release of hormones, and in some people, discharge of fluids (ejaculation).
When defining what an orgasm is, it is important to note that both men and women can experience an orgasm.
What causes orgasm?
An orgasm is a sexual response that mostly occurs following the continuous stimulation of erogenous regions of the body, such as the penis, vagina, nipples and perineum. An orgasm can be caused by any sexual activity including;
- Self stimulation, commonly known as masturbation
- Penetrative sex – both vaginal and anal sex
- Oral sex
- Stimulation of the clitoris
However, people have also reported having orgasms during non-sexual activity. For example, it is possible to achieve an orgasm when sleeping, in what is commonly referred to as wet dreams. Some people have also reported achieving orgasms through mental stimulation alone. In addition, there have been several cases of exercise-induced orgasms, where women climaxed while engaging in physical exercises such as weight lifting.
What happens during orgasm?
Different changes in the body occur during orgasm, depending on your gender. In men, an orgasm starts with physical or psychological stimulation, which causes blood to flow to the soft tissues of the penis leading to an erection. The glands and the testicles also increase in size, while other changes such as increased blood pressure, muscle tension in the pelvic area, and increased breathing rate occurs.
Continuous stimulation results in the release of the sexual tension and contraction of muscles in the prostate gland and the pelvic region. The muscular contraction that occurs forces semen to spurt out of the penis through the urethra, in what is commonly known as ejaculation. After ejaculation, the body enters into a recovery phase where the blood flows out of the penis tissues, returning it to its normal size.
In women, an orgasm starts with the build-up of arousal resulting from physical or mental stimulation. This causes a number of changes in the body, such as the dilation of blood vessels in the genital areas, increase in heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. The dilation of the blood vessels in the genital areas causes an increase in the blood flow to the vulva, which causes it to swell. Fluids also flow into the vaginal wall, lubricating the vagina in readiness for penetration.
Continuous stimulation causes the clitoris to pull back, and ultimately, the genital muscles contract rhythmically leading to a release of the sexual tension. In some women, ejaculation is also possible, where clear fluids spurt out of the glands that are near the urethra. Continuous physical stimulation of the genitals can also lead to more than one orgasm, shortly after the first one has occurred.