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What’s an orgasm?

An orgasm is what usually happens when you reach the height of sexual arousal. It usually feels really good. When you have an orgasm — aka cum or climax — sexual tension increases until it reaches a peak, and pressure in your body and genitals is released.  

What happens when you have an orgasm?

Every person’s body is different, but there are a few physical signs of an orgasm. The most noticeable sign is a very intense, pleasurable feeling in your genitals and throughout your body. The muscles in your vagina or penis, as well as your anus, contract (squeeze) about once per second, 5-8 times. Your heart rate and breathing levels also go up. 

During an orgasm, your penis usually squirts a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of semen (cum) — this is called ejaculation. It’s possible to have an orgasm without ejaculating or to ejaculate without having an orgasm, but they usually happen together.

It’s common for your vagina to get really wet before and during an orgasm. It’s also possible for a different fluid to squirt or dribble out of your vulva before or during an orgasm (this is sometimes called female ejaculation, or squirting). This fluid isn’t pee. Ejaculation from a vulva is less common than ejaculation from a penis  — some people do it and some people don’t — either is totally normal. 

Right after an orgasm, your clitoris or the glans (head) of your penis can feel very sensitive or uncomfortable to touch. You may have “sex flush” — your chest, neck, and face turn red for a short amount of time. Orgasms release endorphins (feel-good hormones), so you might feel sleepy, relaxed, and happy afterwards — this is why some people orgasm to relieve pain, stress, or help them go to sleep.

Orgasms don’t feel the same for every person, or every time you have one — some are very intense, some are very mild, and some are in-between. They vary for a number of reasons, including how comfortable you are, how sexually excited you are, and how much sexual tension you built up before you had your orgasm. 

How do you know how to orgasm? 

Most orgasms happen during masturbation or sex (like oral, anal, or vaginal sex), when you or a partner stimulates (touches or rubs) your genitals. People with vulvas usually have orgasms through stimulation of their clitoris, vagina, and/or anus. People with penises usually have orgasms through stimulation of their penis, testicles, and/or anus. A few people can have orgasms from other things, like nipple stimulation or even just thinking sexy thoughts.

Many things can impact your ability to have an orgasm, like your hormones, emotions, past experiences, beliefs, lifestyle, relationships, physical or mental health, taking certain medicines, and using alcohol or drugs.

Some people can have orgasms quickly and easily, others need more time and effort. You might be able to have an orgasm in some circumstances but not others, depending on who you’re with or what you’re doing. Everyone’s body is different and there’s not one “right” way to have an orgasm. 

Some people need to have certain parts of their body stimulated in a very specific way or with certain objects (like vibrators) to have an orgasm. A lot of people with vulvas have orgasms by stimulating their clitorises, but not by penetrating their vaginas — some can’t have an orgasm through their vagina at all. All of these differences are normal. It may take time and practice to learn how to have an orgasm. Experimenting with what feels good can help you understand your body and what feels good for you.

Try not to put any pressure on yourself or your partner to have an orgasm. Not everybody can have orgasms during sex or with other people around. Or sometimes the circumstances just aren’t right (you’re nervous, tired, or distracted for example). Some people never have orgasms at all. If you and/or your partner don’t have an orgasm, it doesn’t mean you’re not into each other or you’re bad at sex. Sex and masturbation can be intimate, enjoyable, and fun with or without orgasms. If you’re struggling to have orgasms and it bothers you, you may have orgasm disorder. It’s really common, and there are treatments to help.

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