If you are interested in orgasms — and who in their right-mind is not, then you are in the right place, because this paper is about “where” orgasms occur.
Orgasms occur in the sexual response cycle. The sexual response cycle is the biological, psychological, and sociological factors surrounding and including an orgasm.
Biological factors are associated with genetics, physiology, and anatomy.
Psychological factors are associated with self, identity, feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and perceptions.
And sociological factors are associated with culture, society, groups, and ethics.
Masters and Johnson
The sexual response cycle was scientifically discovered by William Masters (b. 1915, d. 2001) and Virginia Johnson (b. 1925, d. 2013).
The two made an interesting pair of scientists. Masters was a former Navy lieutenant and trained gynecologist — who had an interest in studying prostitutes; while Johnson was a former country music singer and two-time college dropout — who had an interest in studying sociology.
They were lovers who eventually married, but later divorced.
Despite Masters and Johnson colorful private lives, they were dedicated scientists and the first to understand sex from a physiological perspective.
They discovered the sexual response cycle by measuring men’s and women’s anatomies and physiologies while the men and women were having sex. Masters and Johnson measured 700 individuals, ranging in age from 18 to 89 years, having more than 10,000 orgasms. From these measurements, they concluded the sexual response cycle, for both men and women, is composed of four phases.
Phases of the Sexual Response Cycle
Phase 1: EXCITEMENT
The excitement phase of the sexual response cycle is defined by activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system builds muscular tension; accelerates breathing and heart rate; increases pain thresholds; and significantly increases blood flows to the penis, vaginal walls, clitoris, and nipples.
Additionally, involuntary muscular movements called myotonia are seen within the excitement phase; and are often in the form of facial grimaces.
Phase 2: PLATEAU
The plateau phase of the sexual response cycle is defined by muscular tension, breathing, heart rate, and blood flow intensifying.
Females experience an orgasmic platform during this phase, in which the outer third of the vaginal walls begin tightening; while males experience a release of pre-seminal fluid that is produced by the Cowper’s glands.
Euphemistically speaking, the plateau phase is referred to as “foreplay.”
And typically, the longer the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle is, the more likely an orgasm will occur with greater intensity and duration.
Phase 3: ORGASM
The orgasm phase of the sexual response cycle is the shortest, typically lasting between 15 and 55 seconds. Yet it is reported as being by far the most pleasurable phase. This phase marks the climax of muscular tension, breathing, heart rate, and blood flow.
Neuromuscular tension is released after reaching this climax and the hormones oxytocin, serotonin, and a variety of endorphins flood the bloodstream — facilitating emotional bonding, and relieving depression, stress, and anxiety.
Phase 4: RESOLUTION
The resolution phase of the sexual response cycle has the body returning to its pre-aroused state.
During this phase, males enter a refractory period of being unresponsive to sexual stimuli. The length of this period depends on age, frequency of recent sexual relations, level of intimacy with partner, and novelty.
Females do not have a refractory period, and therefore have a greater physiological potential of having multiple orgasms.
But ironically, females are also more likely to “fake” having orgasms.
Now That I Know Where an Orgasm is, How Do I Get One?
A Variety of Methods
Masters and Johnson found sexual response cycles occur regardless of whether people are masturbating by themselves or with others; or having oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse.
Take Your Time
And they found the length of time from the beginning of the excitement phase to the end of the orgasm phase typically ranged from 3 to 20 minutes.
Although the time it takes for men to orgasm is often shorter (about 7 to 14 minutes) than that for women (about 10 to 20 minutes), this difference appears to be less due to whether you are a man or a woman and more due to whether there is a suitable stimulus present during the excitement and plateau phases of the sexual response cycle.
It is About Your Senses
Whether a stimulus is “suitable” is less determined by our brain and more determined by our senses.
Touch is the most likely suitable sense to bring about orgasms for both men and women; sight is the second most likely sense facilitating orgasms for men, while hearing is the second most likely for women; hearing is the third most likely sense facilitating orgasms for men, while sight is the third most likely for women.
If a person is going to have any “brain control,” over having an orgasm, then this person must have at least two pieces of information BEFORE engaging in social sexual activities.
The FIRST piece of information a person must know is: What parts of their body they want their partner touching (men are more likely than woman to know this about themselves).
And the SECOND piece of information a person must know is: What do they want to be seeing or hearing during their sexual activities.
A person may gathering these two pieces of information by exploring and communicating.
Exploring and Communicating
By “exploring” I am talking about masturbating, which is best defined as an exploration of self. Not only is masturbation “okay,” it is directly and positively associated with one’s mental, physical and social health.
By “communicating,” I am talking about open, honest, and non-judgmental partner discussions about what one wants, to sexually explore. These discussions are best driven by three lists that may be titled: YES! I want to explore this with you, I MAY want to explore this with you, and NOPE! I do not want to explore this with you.
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Hurlbert, D. F., & Whittaker, K. E. (1991). The role of masturbation in marital and sexual satisfaction: A comparative study of female masturbators and nonmasturbators. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 17(4), 272–282.
Lucas, D. & Fox, J. (2018). Human sexual anatomy and physiology. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers.
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Wise, N. J., Frangos, E., & Komisaruk, B. R. (2017). Brain activity unique to orgasm in women: An fMRI analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14, 1380–1391.
Woodard, T. L., & Diamond, M. P. (2009). Physiologic measures of sexual function in women: A review. Fertility and Sterility, 92, 19–34.
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.
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