Science of Sex: Physiology of Orgasm

January 20th, 2018

Welcome to the eleventh! installment in a feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this monthly segment, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

It’s hard to follow up last month’s Science of Sex post, in which I lauded over a dozen women who have worked to study sex and educate the world about sexuality, But the second Saturday of this month has already passed. I had better get on it!

So I thought I’d discuss some of the physiological changes that occur during and after orgasm, changes that researchers have used to determine whether orgasm has occurred and help to explain some of the benefits of orgasm from sex or masturbation. This will more or less be a list of the changes in the body and brain due to orgasm.


Physiology of Orgasm

Much of the research into orgasm and physiological changes has focused on women, perhaps because ejaculation makes it easier to determine when a man has had an orgasm. Researchers compare measurements with self-reports of orgasm.

Traditionally, heart rate has been measured to determine if orgasm has occurred, and both vaginal and clitoral orgasms increase heart rate. More intense orgasms may lead to greater increases in heart rate.

Although many of these studies focus on women, few of them have involves fMRIs. One study did look at the female brain during orgasm, finding that activity increased in several areas: sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortical, and brainstem regions. Another test found that men experience increased blood flow in several brain areas after orgasm: the visual cortex, ventral tegmental area (VTA), and ventrolateral thalamus. Blood flow decreased to the prefrontal cortex, however. In patients with epilepsy, the temporal lobe becomes essential for achieving orgasm.

EEGs have previously been used to look at brain activity during orgasm. In one study, participants masturbated to orgasm, and EEG results showed changes in brain laterality. Typically, activity increased significantly in the right hemisphere with smaller increases in the left hemisphere. Interestingly, one left-handed participant exhibited the opposite change in laterality.

Contraction of the PC muscles is another method of determining orgasm, and research has found that rectal pressure is a reliable indicator of orgasm in healthy women. Anal contractions also indicate orgasm in men.

Various chemicals and hormones increase after orgasm. Catecholamines, which include epinephrine, (adrenaline) norepinephrine, and dopamine increase in the body. Prolactin, the protein that helps female mammals breastfeed, increases because of orgasm, even in men. This may help regular sex drive after orgasm.

Men who experienced orgasm after a period of orgasmic inactivity may see an increase in testosterone in their systems after resuming masturbation.

Researchers have found that endocannabinoid levels, specifically endocannabinoid 2-AG, increase in both men and women after orgasm. You may be more familiar with endocannabinoids as they relate to marijuana. Because pot contains a chemical similar to endocannabinoid, THC, it activates the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids help to regulate mood, sleep, pain, and pleasure/rewards, among other functions. Increased endocannabinoids 2-AG after orgasm may help to explain boost to mood, improved sleep and decreased pain perception.

Finally, orgasm can produce behaviors and experiences that you wouldn’t typically consider to be related to sexuality, several of which I have experienced myself. One study combined the phenomena from various case studies, cataloging the following phenomena;

cataplexy (weakness), crying, dysorgasmia, dysphoria, facial and/or ear pain, foot pain, headache, pruritus [itching of the skin], laughter, panic attack, post-orgasm illness syndrome, seizures, and sneezing.

With the profound effect that orgasm has on a person’s physiology, the vast array of effects aren’t really so surprising.

Further Reading


Science of Sex: The Women of Sexology

December 30th, 2017

Welcome to the tenth installment in a feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this monthly segment, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I try to update Science of Sex every second Saturday of the month, so check back soon.  This month’s incredibly late Science of Sex post is a departure from previous posts, but it’s one that I hope you will enjoy.

Science of Sex Women of Sexolofy

While the last few months I’ve posted about what is happening in the science of sex, I decided to depart just a bit this month and discuss the who of science and sex. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the women who researched and studied, taught, and fought for our sexuality. I do this not to minimize what efforts of men but to maximize the efforts of women who were all too often overlooked — and sometimes still are. We’ve all heard of Kinsey and Grafenberg and Bancroft and Janssen. Now, I’d like to introduce you to some lesser-known names!

Marie Bonaparte

You’ll more often hear Bonaparte listed as a French princess, which she was, but she was also a psychoanalyst and friend of Freud. After growing tired of her inability to orgasm, Bonaparte took matters into her own hands. It’s to her credit that we have the rule of thumb (albeit, this was unknown to me until earlier this year, so women’s voices still need to be promoted!). After consulting with hundreds of women, Marie suggested that the reason that so many women were anorgasmic wasn’t because of what was in their heads: it was because of what was between their legs.

The rule of thumb states that if the distance between a woman’s clitoris and vaginal opening is more than the length from the tip of thumb to the first knuckle (around 2.5cm), a woman is unlikely to achieve orgasm through intercourse because the clit won’t be stimulated.

Virginia Johnson

You’ve likely heard of Virginia Johnson’s work if you’re interested in sex research, but her name always followers her partner and husband, William Masters. Together, the pair discovered different stages of arousal, that women could achieve multiple orgasms and that flexibility of a vagina when it comes to penetration. Johnson contributed to something great, but it wasn’t perfect. Early research with Masters encouraged conversion of gays, which Johnson didn’t approve.

Johnson seems a complicated woman, and neither her professional and personal relationship with Masters is no less complex. But who knows what we would know without her?

Lisa Diamond

Lisa Diamond examined the fluidity of woman’s sexuality, which she published under the name Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Diamond’s research supports the idea that many women experience a sexual fluidity that may not be properly addressed by existing labels. Lisa Diamond also suggest that a woman’s sexuality has more variables, including menstruation, than a man’s.

April Burns

April Burns surveyed girls and young women to discover their attitudes and behavior toward sex. The result is sometimes frustrating and disappointing (a comparison between oral sex and performing a chore or taking a test was common) but always enlightening (oral sex is one way in which these girls felt empowered in their sexual encounters — perhaps the only way). Burns has also examined the relationship that young women of color have with sex.

Debby Herbenick

It wasn’t until I read Girls and Sex that I realized how many women defined good sex as sex that was simply without pain. I guess I had been fortunate.  This knowledge comes from the results of several studies that Debby Herbernick has contributed to. Of particular note is the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, the most extensive sexual survey of recent years, Herbernick and her team at Indiana University released results in 2009 and 2012 that offered a look into modern bedrooms, just like Kinsey or Johnson had done decades prior.

Katherine Bement Davis

Davis was the superintendent of a woman’s prison and used her network to survey women about topics such as sexual orientation and desire. Although she isn’t often credited for her work and it took the world a while to accept the results, Davis was a proponent of both the idea that homosexuality in women wasn’t pathological and that women had sexual desires much the same as men.

Evelyn Hooker

Evelyn Hooker worked with the gay community to perform psychological evaluations in an attempt to remove the stigma of homosexuality as a mental illness or insanity. In the end, she surveyed two groups of people, one gay and one straight, and produced results that were virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Celia Mosher

Mosher was studying sex well before Kinsey, and it even earned her the moniker of the “sex scholar.” Mosher was responsible for a Victorian sex survey, the earliest of its type. Unfortunately, the results of the survey weren’t published until after her death. The results showed that women were not ready to admit that their sexual desires were nonexistent or abnormal.

Lori Brotto

More recently, Lori Brotto has studied the disconnect that women often experience between mental and physical arousal. Brotto’s research suggests that the way that women multitask and tend to be detached from their bodies contributes to this. Brotto suggests mindfulness as one possible solution. However, Brotto’s research also indicates that in the sexual moment, men and women experience fewer differences in desire than most people believe. Another myth Brotto is helping to dispel is how much testosterone affects a woman’s desire.

Sari van Anders

Van Anders has also looked into the role of testosterone and arousal, finding only an indirect link. She has researched responsive desire in women and the interplay between thoughts and desire. The van Anders lab frequently tackles topics about sex, women, feminism, gender, and diversity, going so far as to research how to perform feminist research.

Marie Stopes

Stopes not only penned the first sex manual in England, but she also opened the country’s first reproductive health clinic in 1921, she used it to gather data about contraception. Her clinic inspired others and eventually led to the Family Planning Association.  The Marie Stopes Foundation still promotes access to contraception around the world and continues research into abortion.


Emily Nagoski

Emily Nagoski has done a ton to educate the world about sexual desire, especially as experienced by women, as well as risk and sexual behavior. Hers is the book that introduced me (and many others!) to the dual-control model of sexual desire and is also responsible for me finally coming to understand my body’s stress response cycle. I’ve referenced it countless times since reading it.

Do yourself a favor, boys and girls, and read Come As You Are. Nagoski’s blog, The Dirty Normal, contains helpful entries and comics to further illustrate these concepts.

Beverly Whipple

Finally, we have a name with which many of you may already be familiar. Whipple has orchestrated over 170 studies into sexuality, the best known of which may be on the G-spot. A paper she helped write on the topic in 1981 was the first publication to use the G-spot, which she named in honor of Dr. Gränfenberg, who had earlier studied it. Her studies have also found how food affects the G-spot, “diets heavy in spicy chilies may block the naturally occurring analgesic affect of the G-spot, therefore causing childbirth to be more painful,” women who can think themselves to orgasm and those suffering from persistent genital arousal disorder.

Whipple has received many well-deserved awards and commendations for her work, which covers myriad angles of sexual response.

One of the things that I love about nearly all these women was their attention on women’s sexuality. When men wouldn’t take it seriously, women took up arms to shed light on the subject.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There are those whose work has been overlooked, is still in the process, or are simply unknown to me. I relish the thought of learning about more women researching the field of sexuality, so please leave comments with anyone who should be added to this list!

Further Reading

Several books I’ve read provided me with information for this post, and I’d like to recommend them in addition to the usual articles and studies that I post. They include Bonk by Mary Roach, Girls and Sex. I’d also recommend checking out Masters of Sex; although, I haven’t had a chance to read it.


I haven’t gotten off in, like, a week

May 5th, 2014

Am I even alive?


The Number of Orgasms Doesn’t Count

September 8th, 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve written something other than a review or personal experience on here. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so passionate about something that I felt like I should write it, even if someone else had already written about it or, even worse, written about it better. But here it is.

The Number of Orgasms Doesn’t Count

Read it a second time. Maybe in italic.

The Number of Orgasms Doesn’t Count

Orgasms are, generally, good. For more heterosexual sex, the man’s orgasm indicates the end of a session. The ability to finally attain orgasm is a big deal for many people, especially women. I understand. I like having orgasms. I wouldn’t last long in a sexual relationship with a person who didn’t care whether I was having any orgasms or who left them completely up to me without any (oral) assistance.

...orgasm is a sincere gift from GOD.But, and this is a big but, sex shouldn’t necessarily lead to orgasm. That is, orgasm shouldn’t be the only goal. When you’re focused on getting off, your sex can become mechanical. Your eye is on the finish line, and you miss out on the journey. Now, this doesn’t always happen, but I frequently find that if you focus on enjoying the moment and feeling good over where you’re going, you’ll feel like your time’s well spent, even if you don’t get off.

Furthermore, focusing on achieving orgasm is the very thing that makes some people unable to orgasm. I notice that when I sufficiently distract my mind, I get off quicker and better.

I have literally had sex where I’ve had multiple orgasms, and it was unenjoyable overall. I’ve also had sex where I just didn’t manage to orgasm, but it was pretty much amazing. It felt more toe-curling, tear-inducing and intimate than sex where I achieved orgasm multiple times. I think, for some people, this doesn’t compute. They associate orgasms with pleasure. The more orgasms, the greater the pleasure except..

It’s just not true.

You can still feel pleasure without orgasm. Sex can be intimate. It can be rough. It can be carnal. It can teach you about yourself or your partner. It can just be a fun time — and all without orgasm.

And if either you or your partner is having difficulty achieving orgasm, the added pressure may just not be worth it.

Maybe someone will read this and something will click. Maybe they’ll stop pressuring their partner to cum or blaming themselves for their inability to bring their partner to orgasm an arbitrary number of times. Perhaps someone who has felt guilty over their inability to orgasm. Maybe you’ll let go long enough to just enjoy the moment. Because there are so many moments to enjoy and so many ways to enjoy them. Orgasm is not the only way.


In Which Adriana Talks About Rabbits

December 15th, 2009

My review for the Double Dare 4-Play was just posted on EdenFantasys. I had a hard time writing it, word constraints and all but think I managed to get everything in there. If you will excuse me, I will take the time to count my rabbit vibes.

Still there? With the newest additions straight from the UPS last night, I have 13 rabbit vibrators. Strictly rabbit style. None of those smaller dual stimulators or pseudo rabbits. I’ve also gone through 2 Rabbit Habits which decided to break on me (so I’ve tried 15 in all). I have used and loved many rabbit vibrators. Rabbits used to be my surefire way to get off.

But I didn’t get off with the Double Dare 4-Play. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was able to orgasm with a rabbit, using it the normal way. I’ve spent a while focusing on squirting which while mentally pleasurable and exciting, has never done a lot for me physically. Actually the Double Dare 4-play offered truly pleasurable G-spot stimulation but that’s not where I’m going with this. I’ve fallen out of practice with clitoral orgasms so every time I get a rabbit up there, my clit is confused. Before, I just sort of subdued my body into orgasm but now it’s fighting back. Now those vibrations are too rough, too buzzy, that material too hard, that shape too giving, so on and so forth. Honestly, I think my clit has become more sensitive in a negative way, much like my G-spot has become more sensitive in a positive way. I need to relearn my body but old habits die hard – unless it’s a Rabbit Habit which is a cheap piece of crap.

So here I am, with a pile of rabbits that call to me. Some I’ve had amazing interactions with. Some barely registered on my radar but they all make me a little sad, a little nostalgic for how things used to be. I miss knowing how things were going down. I miss how I could ignore my anatomy, unlike all those women who have never had a rabbit which fit. How did I avoid that? And, god dammit, I miss getting off. So you know what? Go read my review. I’m going to masturbate.

1 Comment


October 13th, 2009

I’ve been a bit more inspired lately when it comes to posting on my blogs. I’ve also written a couple of articles for EdenCafe including one about cheating and another about my first orgasm. The former was submitted to Divine Caroline and is even being linked on their relationships page (although, in rather small text ;)). It’s awesome nonetheless.


The Ins and Outs of Female Masutrbation

June 9th, 2009

It’s been a while since my last article and I apologize. Inspiration is sometimes fleeting. Also, I admit it: I think the title is pretty clever.

In one of my previous articles, I touched on just how unknown female sexuality is to males and females alike. Female masturbation is a sometimes overlooked aspect of female sexuality and although I like to consider myself somewhat enlightened about sex, much of the world is is still in the dark about the subject.

While some of us are avid connoisseurs have been masturbating for what seems like a lifetime, there are a few who aren’t even aware that, yes, females can masturbate. Some women stimulate themselves without even realize what they’re doing. It’s likely that some of those ladies are the ones who don’t know females can masturbate.

Heads up!

Females can masturbate. Without exploration, some women would never know about these powerful little buttons which can be so key so sexual pleasure. We can touch ourselves or use objects like vibrators or even pillows or teddy bears to make ourselves feel good. And you may have been doing it since you were just a little girl, developing you masturbatory style subconsciously. Many times, these styles focus on one external sweet spot, as opposed to internal stimulation: the clitoris.

Unfortunately, the clitoris isn’t really stimulated during sex, without making a point of it. Sex doesn’t simulate masturbation. Nor does masturbation tend to simulate sex (although some females focus on internal masturbation, the clitoris usually takes center stage). This leaves all parties involved confused as to just how get a woman off. The media portrays men as having not a clue and, in order to perform well, they need instructions like the secret book in American Pie. Unfortunately, it’s not just the men who don’t understand their partners; females have just as difficult time understanding their own bodies and the masturbation techniques which can work best for them.

The fact of it is, male masturbation is pretty obvious. It’s easy to simulate intercourse and it works. That’s not to say that it can’t be expanded upon but it doesn’t need to be and there’s a lot less grey area. Female masturbation, on the other hand, isn’t always so cut and dry. Mimicking intercourse doesn’t necessarily cut it for a lot of women, yet that is the accepted expectation. Although it seems like that are a lot more variations to female masturbation, it may take more work to uncover them than with male masturbation.

Female Masturbation
I wonder just what she’s doing?

The aforementioned teddy bears and pillows are high on the list of what a young girl may have used to masturbate. I preferred a blanket and never considered using my stuffed animals for such intimate matters but I was apart of the humping school of thought. Sometimes I gravitate back toward the ol’ blanket method, balled up between my legs, but these days I also find a lover’s thigh or even face make wonderful humping instruments as well – and away I grind – for humping involves a lot of hip.

Of course, like males, we also have built in masturbate toys: our hands. Using a palm for diffuse pressure or fingers to stroke, tap, pinch and rub provide various methods of stimulation. Another popular selling point of fingers any hands are that they’re super portable; if you dare it, you can masturbate just about anywhere.

Another group of female masturbators have come to love water play. Whether it’s the spray of a removable shower head or the flow of a tub faucet, women have been using water to creatively stimulate genitals for who-knows-how-long. And what better place to get dirty than when cleaning up privately, in the bathroom?

Another popular method of masturbation (which is not just limited to the vaginally-enabled like) is thigh and muscles squeezing. Although I could never get off from squeezing my thighs alone, I recall doing so whilst sitting in class, prompting arousal while no one else was none the wiser. Some believe that squeezing thighs muscles indirectly stimulates the clitoris but I personally felt arousal within – it was G-spot stimulation. This could be a result of squeezing PC muscles (subconsciously) along with thighs muscles.

I would not pretend that internal stimulation isn’t pleasurable for many women, because it is, and I know I wasn’t the only girl who experimented with a taper candle. Honestly, the jokes about bananas, cucumbers and hot dogs did have to start somewhere. They’re just a sampling of the objects girls have perverted into makeshift dildos and almost anything with a handle can work: brushes, lint rollers, ice cream scoops, razors and flashlights all serve nefarious purposes that some would never suspect. But while others were discovering which buttons to press vaginally, I soon found myself traveling a different road.

Let us not forget the ever popular vibrator. Internal, external, dual stimulators (and sometimes more) are staples in many a nightstand. While I would never presume to downplay the significance of these instruments, as many women who have been sexual frustrated have finally found release through mechanical friends, it is usually not the first step in our natural progression of masturbation. At least, I find myself using vibrators (and dildos) in ways that can be used similarly to how I masturbated without toys.

This article by no means covers every method of female masturbation. I knew of a women who would lean forward, one leg in front, while she ground her clit against her heel. Women have been enjoying the vibrations of household appliances (spin cycle, anyone?) for years. Many women are turned on and can achieve orgasm through the seam of their jeans rubbing against their vulva. And masturbation is not limited to genitals, alone. I would hazard a guess that nearly all body parts can be stimulated to produce orgasm.

Female masturbation is still a more taboo subject than its male counterpart which is unfortunate because even the tip of this iceberg is more vast than some male masturbation routines ever will be. I can personally attest to the merits of every method listed, even if I prefer some over the others and I invite all women to do so because masturbation is healthy.