The Science of Orgasms


It goes without saying that our culture has an obsession with orgasms. And that's completely fair because it's an important aspect of the human experience. But how do these mysterious outbursts work?

To begin, you have to understand that the body's sexual response is broken down into four stages: excitement, plateau of arousal, orgasm, and resolution. Following arousal, the brain stimulates blood flow to your genitals, your heartbeat and breathing increases, and the central nervous system becomes fully engaged, sending signals of enjoyment to your brain's reward system. These thousands of nerve endings constantly relay pleasure signals to your brain, resulting in an orgasm.

For both men and women, the orgasm includes rapid contractions of the anal sphincter and the muscles around the genitalia. For men, that's the prostate and the muscles around the penis. And for women, that's the uterus, vagina and pelvis muscles. This part is followed by a release of fluid (for men, that's the semen). This tends to lead to a three to ten second burst of intense pleasure in men, followed by a refractory period in which they cannot achieve another orgasm for minutes to hours afterwards. Women, on the other hand, don't experience this refractory period, allowing them to experience multiple consecutive orgasms over a single period. On average, these orgasms last for about 20 seconds or longer depending on the person and the level of pleasure they are experiencing.

But what happens in the brain is just as magical. Using MRI scans, scientists saw brain activity in over 30 discreet regions of the brain during orgasm. Not only this, but your brain becomes flooded with anticipatory and feel-good chemicals (like dopamine), making you crave another. This is tandem with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that mediates bonding and love between mates.

Is there a difference between male and female brains during orgasm?

Surprisingly, positron-emission tomography (PET) scans show that brain activity during an orgasm is the same between men and women. In both sexes, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is turned off, which controls self-evaluation, reason and control. So basically, your orgasm turns you into a mindless heap of happiness. Which completely makes sense, as you often lose control during orgasm. And this is a good thing. This process shuts down any fear and anxiety you could be having. And for women, the relaxation of the amygdala and hippocampus further reduces emotions, producing a trance-like state, and for men, it lowers aggression. 

Watch our video (above) to learn why there may be a link between pain and pleasure!

Mitch Moffit