Considering it only lasts a matter of seconds or minutes, there’s a lot of fuss about orgasms – for good reason.
Few things in life can match the physical ecstasy a climax produces.
But most of us know remarkably little about the science behind orgasms and how they affect our body and brain.
Here’s some of the most fascinating research-based facts out there.
ALL ORGASMS ARE THE SAME
Physically, all orgasms are the same.
When we’re aroused, blood rushes to engorge the genitals, making them super sensitive.
An orgasm is simply the release of blood, back into the bloodstream, through a series of strong contractions.
Sex expert Tracey Cox (right) has shared 27 quirky facts about orgasms, revealing that gay women and pot smokers have more orgasms (stock image)
These contractions also trigger the release of hormones that make us feel euphoric.
What makes each orgasm feel differently is how you’re having them (vibrator orgasms feel different than oral sex orgasms, for instance) and what’s going on psychologically.
Are you drunk or sober? Loved up with your partner or resentful? Highly aroused or scratching an itch? All of these factors affect how you rate the orgasm.
FOR WOMEN, ALL ORGASMS ORIGINATE FROM THE CLITORIS
Stimulating the clitoral glans – the tip of the clitoris that you can see at the top of the vulva – is necessary for the majority of women to orgasm.
Even ‘vaginal orgasms’ provide clitoral stimulation because the ‘inner’ clitoris extends in a wishbone shape and wraps around the vaginal canal.
GET OUT THE TAPE MEASURE
Current thinking says if your clitoris is less than 2.5cm from your urethra, it’s more likely that you will orgasm during intercourse.
This is because the head of the clitoris is more likely to be ‘tugged’ during the act of thrusting, triggering an orgasm.
It was estimated that only 20 per cent of women are able to orgasm from penetration alone, though one recent, reputable study suggests it’s even lower. More like 18 per cent.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A BAD ORGASM
Not all orgasms are wanted.
Some people experience orgasm by accident in non-sexual situations and when they don’t want to – like during breastfeeding or exercise (exercise-induced orgasms do occur).
Tracey Cox (pictured) also shared findings that proved almost 60 per cent of women ejaculate when they orgasm
Some victims of sexual assault experience orgasm during the attack: a clear sign that our brain and body can have an extreme disconnect.
This is called ‘arousal nonconcordance’ – when your mind and body are out of sync.
Some people find orgasm painful, others feel guilty if they’ve had one with someone they shouldn’t be having sex with.
If your partner is pressuring you to have an orgasm, it’s unlikely to be a pleasant experience; for men, ejaculating too early can lead to feelings of shame.
ALMOST 60 PER CENT OF WOMEN EJACULATE WHEN THEY ORGASM
A 2013 study found 54 per cent of women experience female ejaculation – and up to 66 per cent of women excrete urine when they climax.
Female ejaculation involves fluid being expelled from the Skene’s glands (small glands on the side of the urethra).
It’s hard to tell the difference between the two because if it is urine, it’s extremely diluted so doesn’t smell.
ANAL ORGASMS AREN’T A MYTH
We can all experience prostate or ‘P spot’ orgasms – and they can often feel more intense than our ‘usual’ way of climaxing.
It’s thought this is because we pay more attention to the experience – because it’s doesn’t happen as often – rather than an anatomical difference.
YOUR ABILITY TO ORGASM WAS PASSED DOWN BY YOUR MUM AND DAD
Your DNA could be responsible for anything from a third to 60 per cent of your ability to climax, according to a 2005 study conducted on twins.
The research found a significant genetic influence which means if your Mum has no problems having orgasms, you probably don’t either.
A study of 1600 married straight couples found almost 50 per cent 43 per cent of men thought their wives had orgasms more frequently than they actually had (stock image)
ORGASMS CAN HELP EASE PAIN
Got period pain? It’s documented that you’re better giving yourself an orgasm or having sex with your partner than reaching for painkillers or that hot water bottle.
Orgasm increases women’s pain threshold by 75 per cent for as long as 10 to 20 minutes after orgasm. It’s all to do with the intoxicating cocktail of hormones that release on orgasm.
Women’s brains continue to release oxytocin after orgasm, men’s don’t. This is why the pain-dulling effect only happens with women – and why we’re more motivated for post-sex cuddles.
THE BRAIN CAN REMAP ITSELF TO ALLOW ORGASM THROUGH OTHER BODY PARTS
People who have suffered lower paralysis and can’t feel genital stimulation, sometimes find they can achieve orgasm through stimulation of other body parts, such as the skin of the arm or the nipples. Speaking of which…
NIPPLE ORGASMS ARE REAL
It is possible to climax purely through nipple stimulation because it activates the same nerve pathways as genital stimulation.
Some people can also orgasm purely by kissing. But wait, there’s more.
SOME PEOPLE CAN ORGASM WITH NO PHYSICAL STIMULATION AT ALL
A 2016 study suggested some people may be able to orgasm through fantasy alone.
This is different from a ‘hands free’ orgasm which usually includes humping or rubbing yourself against something.
THE MOST ORGASMS SCIENTIFICALLY DOCUMENTED IN ONE HOUR IS 134
And yes, it was a woman. The best a man could clock up was 16.
Running a close second (but for less pleasant reasons) is a woman in Arizona who suffers from persistent genital arousal disorder.
She says she endures up to six hours of sexual arousal a day and once had more than 180 orgasms in just two hours.
PGAD sufferers experience intrusive and unwanted spontaneous genital arousal that can last hours, days or even longer.
MULTIPLE ORGASMS MAY JUST BE THE TAIL END OF A BIG ORGASM
A famous study of 800 female college graduates in 1991 found 43 per cent reported having had multiple orgasms. There appears to be no doubt that most women are capable of having more than one orgasm in a row.
But US sex educator and feminist Betty Dodson, who died last year, said many women who claim to have multiples, could actually be counting the naturally occurring autonomic reflexes that can follow an orgasm.
In other words, they’re experiencing a series of orgasmic aftershocks.
Some women could simply have long, cascading orgasms with contractions that stretch over a longer period of time.
Either that or you smoke a lot of weed…
STONERS HAVE MORE ORGASMS
Pot smokers were 109 per cent more likely to have multiple orgasms, according to one study.
People who are passionate about politics also have more orgasms, as do people who work with computers or electronics. Go figure.
MEN FAKE IT TOO
Thirty-seven per cent of men in one survey said they’d faked orgasms before.
The most common reasons why include being too drunk to climax, wanting sex to be over with and wanting to avoid offending their partner.
IT’S NOT JUST MEN WHO PREMATURELY CLIMAX
Around 20 to 30 per cent of men climax before they want to but a study of Portuguese women found that 14 per cent of women occasionally orgasm before they intend to as well.
MEN TAKE SEVEN MINUTES TO ORGASM
How long it takes us to orgasm depends on many factors including when we last had sex, who we’re having sex with, our stress level, how much we’ve had to drink and general health.
But research suggests the average man takes seven minutes to orgasm, timing it from penetration to ejaculation.
GAY WOMEN HAVE MORE ORGASMS THAN STRAIGHT WOMEN
Ninety-five percent of straight men say they usually or always orgasm during sex while only 65 per cent of straight women say the same.
The orgasm rate rises to eighty-six per cent for women in same sex relationships.
Why? Sex is less penetration based and both have a clitoris so are more likely to know how best to simulate it.
ORGASM AND EJACULATION ARE TWO SEPARATE THINGS
Men can have an orgasm without ejaculating – and they can ejaculate without having an orgasm.
Orgasms happen in the brain; ejaculation is the physical act of expelling semen from the prostate. They usually occur together but you can have one without the other.
THE AVERAGE FEMAIL ORGASM LASTS UP TO TWO MINUTES
It was initially thought to be mere seconds – around 15-20 to be exact.
But a more recent study suggests 40 per cent of women estimate their orgasms to last around 30 seconds to a minute longer than that.
Forty-eight percent of women experienced even longer orgasms.
IT’S NOT UNCOMMON TO FEEL SAD AFTER SEX
It’s called ‘la petite mort’ or ‘the little death’. Men more than women experience post-orgasm blues.
No-one quite knows why orgasm can trigger feelings of sadness and anxiety but it could be because the pleasure-enhancing chemicals released on orgasm (dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin) drop drastically after it’s all over.
OR TO GET A HEADACHE
Sixty per cent of migraine sufferers experience moderate or complete relief on orgasm, according to research by the International Headache Society.
But it’s not uncommon for an orgasm to cause a headache either.
Some people feel a mild headache during arousal or orgasm. This is nothing to worry about (but if you experience an intensely painful headache that feels explosive when you orgasm, off to the doctor immediately).
Some people experience sneezing fits when they orgasm.
ALMOST 50 PER CENT OF MEN CAN’T TELL WHEN THEIR WIFE HAS AN ORGASM
A study of 1600 married straight couples, found 43 per cent of men thought their wives were having orgasms a lot more frequently than their wives actually reported having them.
While we’re on the topic: there is no way to tell if a woman has had an orgasm simply by looking.
PART OF YOUR BRAIN SHUTS DOWN DURING ORGASM
There’s an area behind your left eye, called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, that shuts down when you climax.
This area is responsible for reason and behaviour control – which explains why everything else ceases to matter during those precious moments of pleasure.
How do they know?
Researchers asked women to masturbate inside an MRI machine to see how the brain functions during orgasm.
They found 30 areas of the brain lit up during orgasm, but some shut down to allow us to focus on pleasure.
Areas associated with fear and anxiety, memory and spatial awareness turn off.
IF YOU WANT TO UP YOUR CHANCES OR ORGASM, BE ‘IN THE ROOM’
A study in the Journal of Sexual Research found orgasm ability increased 30 per cent for women after they completed a mindfulness program.
Meditation also helps: another study found women who meditate score higher than those who don’t on sexual function and desire.
SEX CAN MAKE YOU SMARTER
A study of adult rats suggests regular sex can improve cognitive function.
When the rats were sexually stimulated (yup, it’s a weird world in those laboratories) it stimulated neuron growth over time.
ORGASMS CAN GET BETTER WITH AGE
The more you know your body and what triggers arousal and orgasm, the better your orgasms will be.
This is particularly true for women. There’s a reason why my new book is called, ‘Great Sex Starts at 50’!
You can buy Tracey’s book, Great Sex Starts at 50, wherever good books are sold.
You’ll find more info about Tracey, her blog and products ranges at traceycox.com.