Orgasm

Orgasm occurs after stimulation of the genitals or erogenous zones. It’s the peak of sexual arousal and causes intense feelings of pleasure. Orgasms have several positive effects on overall health. Everyone experiences sexual climax differently, which is normal and healthy. But some factors can make it difficult to achieve orgasm.

What is an orgasm?

An orgasm is the height or peak of sexual arousal when the body releases sexual tension and pressure. It involves very intense feelings of pleasure in your genitals and throughout your body.

An orgasm usually lasts a few seconds and feels very good.

Orgasm occurs during sexual stimulation of your genitals and sexual (erogenous) zones of your body. These include the:

  • Penis.
  • Testicles.
  • Clitoris.
  • Vagina.
  • Nipples.
  • Anus.

An orgasm can occur during masturbation or during sex with a partner. It is one of four stages in the body’s sexual response cycle:

  1. Desire (libido).
  2. Excitement (arousal).
  3. Orgasm.
  4. Resolution.

Having an orgasm is also called climaxing, cumming, or having the “big O.”

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What happens during an orgasm?

Certain things happen throughout your body during orgasm:

  • Your body suddenly releases sexual tension that built up during the first two phases of the sexual response cycle.
  • Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increase.
  • Hormones are released into your bloodstream.
  • Muscles in your genitals and anus rhythmically contract repeatedly (about once per second for several seconds).

Muscle contractions play an important role in orgasm. For example, the muscles of your vagina and uterus often contract. This may cause a small amount of fluid to release from your genitals. Likewise, the muscles at the base of your penis contract, which usually leads to ejaculation (when the body releases semen).

What happens after an orgasm?

In the few minutes after orgasm, your body slowly returns to its normal state. As you recover:

  • Body parts that became swollen or erect, such as your penis or clitoris, go back to their previous size and color.
  • Genitals may feel overly sensitive or uncomfortable to touch.
  • Skin all over your body can look and feel flushed (pink or red).
  • You may feel satisfied, relaxed or tired.

Some people may become sexually aroused again a few minutes after orgasm and can have multiple orgasms. Some need more time before they can orgasm again. This differs widely from person to person.

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Are there different types of orgasms?

There are different kinds of orgasms, including:

  • Anal orgasm: This type of orgasm is achieved by stimulating the anus (the opening in your butt).
  • Clitoral orgasm: The clitoris is the external, or outside, part of the female genitalia. It’s located at the top of the vaginal opening, where the inner labia (lips) meet. (This is called the clitoral hood.) Clit orgasms are felt most on the body’s surface, such as a tingling on the skin.
  • Vaginal orgasm: The vagina is the opening to the female reproductive system. Vaginal orgasms are felt deeper in the body.
  • Combo: If a person experiences orgasm through the clitoris and vagina at the same time, this can cause a more intense orgasm.
  • Erogenous zones: More rarely, some people may reach a climax with stimulation of the erogenous zones. Examples include ears, elbows, knees, neck, breasts, nipples and wrist.

What does an orgasm feel like?

Orgasm is generally intense and pleasurable. But it can feel different for everyone, and it can even feel different for a person each time. All of the differences are normal and healthy.

  • People of all genders may or may not ejaculate or release fluids.
  • Orgasm usually lasts a few seconds but can last longer.
  • Orgasmic sensations can be mild or intense.
  • Some people need specific stimulation or sexual aids, such as vibrators, to climax.
  • Sometimes you may reach orgasm quickly and easily, without much stimulation. But sometimes, orgasm requires more time and effort.
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Why does an orgasm feel good?

During orgasm, your body releases dopamine, known as “the feel-good hormone,” and oxytocin, sometimes called “the love drug.” These hormones increase feelings of happiness and other positive emotions, and they counteract the “stress hormone,” cortisol.

Why am I having trouble having an orgasm?

Many people have to experiment with different methods and communicate well with their partners before they can achieve orgasm.

Other factors also can interfere with the ability to reach sexual climax:

  • Advancing age.
  • Beliefs or taboos about sex.
  • Expectations.
  • Hormone imbalances such as hypogonadism.
  • Lack of emotional connection or comfort with a partner.
  • Past bad experiences with sex.
  • Poor physical or mental health, including some medical and psychological conditions.
  • Stress.
  • Use of certain medications, drugs or alcohol.

If you have trouble having an orgasm and it bothers you, talk to a healthcare provider. Some people have sexual dysfunction, disorders that interfere with orgasm. You can speak to a primary care provider (PCP) to learn more. Or, to address sexual dysfunction in females, you may want to visit a gynecologist.

Are there health benefits of orgasm?

Research indicates that orgasms have several health benefits, including improvements in:

  • Headaches and other pain.
  • Heart health.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Sleep.
  • Stress.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An orgasm is a pleasurable feeling at the height of sexual arousal. Everyone experiences orgasm differently, and many factors can affect your ability to climax. Talk to a healthcare provider if trouble reaching orgasm is bothering you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/09/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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