Humans are a weird bunch. Not knowing the definition of something, rarely stops us from debating, judging, or even doing this “something.”

Take for example, orgasms: We debate their origins and judge others for having them while trying ourselves, to have as many as possible, but few of us can define what they are.

This paper, about what exactly an orgasm is…


By adulthood, we all SHOULD know what orgasms are.

We SHOULD know what brings us pleasure.

Indeed, 21st century American society is pretty good with “allowing” us to explore pleasure, if pleasure is associated with the physiological drives of eating, drinking, or sleeping.

If, however, pleasure is associated with the physiological drive of sex, then our American society goes haywire. It allows sexual pleasure to be implicitly and often ambiguously explored in the virtual worlds of art, media, and advertising, but suppresses explicit and clear explorations of sexual pleasure in the real worlds of learning, understanding, and education.

This brings me to the real reason I am writing this paper: I am allowing you to have real orgasms.

You heard me right.

I am allowing you to have orgasms without feeling guilty about having orgasms.

I am allowing you to have an orgasm that you have not had for a very long time.

I am allowing you to have the orgasm you have never had before.

All this allowing comes with an understanding of what an orgasm is, and for that matter, what an orgasm is not.

AN ORGASM IS… A Release of Neuromuscular Tension

An orgasm maybe compared to the effects of a massage. Whereas a massage releases tension within specific muscular groups of the body, an orgasm has the potential of releasing tension throughout muscular areas of the entire body.

Because both the central and peripheral nervous systems are involved in controlling the release of this muscular tension, orgasms can and often do occur outside of a person’s control. Thus, WANTING or NOT WANTING an orgasm is not necessarily predictive of having an orgasm.

AN ORGASM IS… Measurable

How do you rate an orgasm?

Subjectively, an orgasm can be measured using a Likert Scale.

For example, subsequent to your next orgasm, you may ask yourself, on a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 equaling “feeling nothing” (aka., faking it) and 5 equaling “feeling the greatest pleasure anyone or anything has ever experienced in the history of the world” (aka., Oh God!, Oh Krishna!, Oh Ganesh!), how would you rate your orgasm?”

Most people rate their orgasms as being 3s, 4s or 5s on this Likert scale, interestingly though, these ratings vary from one orgasm to the next.

This subjective variability is explained by the objective aspects of an orgasm.

Objective aspects of an orgasm are measured using plethysmography.

Plethysmography measures blood and oxygen flows to parts of the body including breasts, skin, various muscle structures, bladder, rectum, external sex organs, and lungs; and includes measurements of a person’s pulse and blood pressure.

As plethysmography measures increase, showing more tension buildup and greater potential for its release, so too do subjective ratings of pleasure increase.

AN ORGASM IS… A Brain Experience

Consistent with the subjective and objective measures of an orgasm, neuroimaging techniques show extensive regions of the brain and brainstem being active during orgasms, including the insular cortex, temporal cortex, limbic system, nucleus accumbens, basal ganglia, superior parietal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum.

AN ORGASM IS NOT… An Ejaculation

Since an orgasm and ejaculating being the same thing is one of the biggest myths associated with sex, maybe I should repeat this.

An orgasm is not ejaculating!

Although they often occur near one another in time, an orgasm and ejaculating are in fact, two different physiological responses.

There is no more pleasure associated with ejaculating than there is with urinating.

An ejaculation simply involves the emission of fluid from the body, this fluid may be semen from the seminal vesicles and prostate gland (men) or a hormonal-based fluid from the vestibular glands (women).

Yes, women can, and do ejaculate.

No, women’s ejaculation is not urine.

Yes, orgasms can be so powerful in their releasing of muscular tension, this tension release can include the smooth muscles of the bladder and urine may be released during an orgasm because of this. This occurs for both men and women and is not to be confused with the physiological processes associated with ejaculating.

Now that you officially know exactly what an orgasm is and what it is not, you are officially allowed to have one for the first time, or one after a long time since the last one, or one without guilt and shame. With all this said, I will end this paper with three things people do, that scientists say, guarantee orgasms.

  1. Method

Debby Herbenick and her colleagues at the Kinsey Sex Research Institute found in sexual encounters with a partner, the method most likely leading to orgasm for both men (100%) and women (94%) is receiving anal intercourse; the second most likely method leading to orgasm for men is vaginal intercourse (95%) and for women it’s receiving oral intercourse (81%); and the third most likely method leading to orgasm for men is mutual masturbation (92%) and for women it’s giving oral intercourse (72%).

These data have a couple of caveats, although anal intercourse is the method most likely leading to orgasm, it is also the most infrequent method used; and although women report having orgasms giving oral intercourse, this is likely associated with women masturbating while giving oral intercourse.

Indeed, the strongest predictor of having an orgasm for both men and women is less about which method is being used, and more about how many methods are being used. Simply put, the more methods men and women use during a sexual encounter, the more likely they will be having an orgasm.

The more methods people use during a sexual encounter, the more likely they will be having an orgasm.

2. Partner

David Frederick and his colleagues at Chapman University found more than 85% of gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men — and lesbian women, say they “usually-always” orgasm when sexually intimate with a partner; but less than 67% of bisexual and heterosexual women say they “usually-always” orgasm when sexually intimate with a partner.

Frederick’s data make clear the differences between people who are always and people who are rarely having orgasms are based upon who they are having sex with.

3. Method + Partner

Ultimately, increasing the chances of having an orgasm is due to the combination of methods used and who you are using these methods with during a sexual encounter.

As Frederick concludes, regardless of people’s biological sex, gender, or sexual orientation, people who frequently orgasm are more likely to be:

(1) Deep kissing during their sexual encounters.

(2) Receiving oral sex, manual genital stimulation, or anal stimulation.

(3) Trying new sexual positions.

(4) Asking for what they want during their sexual encounters.

(5) Incorporating “sexy talk.”

(6) Having longer sexual encounters.

(7) Verbally expressing love.

(8) More satisfied with their relationships.


Frederick, D. R, St. John, H. K., Garcia, J. R., & Lloyd, E. A. (2017). Differences in orgasm frequency among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual men and women in a U.S. national sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 273–288.

Herbenick, D., Reece. M., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14–94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 255–265.

Mah, K., & Binik, Y. M. (2002). Do all orgasms feel alike? Evaluating a two-dimensional model of the orgasm experience across gender and sexual context. Journal of Sex Research, 39(2), 104–113.

Ortigue, S., Grafton, S.T., & Bianchi-Demicheli, F. (2007). Correlation between insula activation and self-reported quality of orgasm in women. Neuroimage, 37, 551–560.

Safron A. (2016). What is orgasm? A model of sexual trance and climax via rhythmic entrainment. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 6, 31763.

Dr. Don Lucas, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.

If you like this story, then check out Don’s videos on his YouTube channel, 5MIweekly:, follow him on Instagram @5MIweekly, like him on Facebook:, and check out his website:

I am a Professor of Psychology at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. My research focus is human sexuality. I also host a YouTube channel, 5MIweekly.

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