Weird Wednesdays: Anatomy of an orgasm


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The Big O. The little death. The Rootin’ Tootin Ally-Whoopin’. Cumming. Whatever you call it, you can’t deny that an orgasm is a beautiful thing.

An orgasm is defined as a climax of sexual pleasure and stimulation through mechanical or neurological methods. Both sexes can experience orgasms, though it’s harder for some people than others to reach climax.

Orgasming is primarily under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls functions such as digestion, breathing and metabolism to maintain bodily homeostasis. The sympathetic nervous system, or your fight/flight response system, is in direct competition with this system. This system is regulated by adrenaline (or epinephrine), which disrupts sexual function.

For the majority of the population, a burst of adrenaline is enough to kill the mood. Fear in particular redirects the blood from the sexual organs to the muscles, making them ready to fight — or run away. This is why a jump scare, someone walking in on the the act, not being comfortable with your partner or images of your disapproving grandmother can kill the mood real quick.

Of course, everyone is different, and everyone has their own way to get to O-Town. Let’s take a look at how people with different anatomies experience it.

For people with penises:

Orgasming is pretty straightforward. Just stimulate the somatosensory pathways connected to the dorsal nerves in the glans penis until ejaculate is released from the epididymal tube network in the testes, supplemented with seminal fluid and released through the urethra. Got it?

Let me put it in simple terms. Orgasming starts with stimulation, and stimulation starts with the nervous system. To ejaculate, the penis needs to be engorged with blood — it needs to be erect. This can occur when the owner of said penis looks at erotic imagery, stimulates their genitals, thinks “happy” thoughts or stands up in a classroom to give a presentation. Or, just like, no reason. Penises can be dicks that way.

The brain then releases neurotransmitters, which travel through the nervous system and signal arteries to open up, veins to close, muscles to relax and blood pressure to increase, which makes the penis swell up. Nerve endings on the head become more sensitive, and testosterone is released, which increases libido. If the penis is further stimulated through friction and pressure, the nerves are further excited. (This can also be achieved with the prostate during anal stimulation.) The orgasm starts building up as smooth muscles within the epididymis (the tubes that store the sperm) begin to contract.

During ejaculation, muscles in the penis contract as the sperm is pushed through the seminal tubules, and seminal fluid (which is made of protein and saline, giving it its salty taste) is added. The ejaculate is squirted through the urethra as climax is reached, and the penis slowly loses its erect state as blood rushes back to the body and dopamine floods the brain, giving a sense of pleasure. Oxytocin and prolactin — the same stuff that causes lactation — are also released, which often causes a feeling of exhaustion and relaxation.

After this point, there is what’s known as a ‘refractory period’ where the penis cannot achieve erection (or orgasm) again for a set time (sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes an hour, depending on the individual). During this time, the head of the penis is highly sensitive.

Fun fact: The more you cum, the better it gets. Research has shown that individuals who orgasm more often have longer, more satisfying orgasms than infrequent climaxers. As well, a long buildup to orgasm leads to a more intense climax than a short one-off.

For people with clitorises:

Notice how I say ‘clitoris’ and not ‘vagina.’ This is because the vast majority of female orgasms are achieved through clitoral stimulation, not vaginal stimulation.

Why? Because the clitoris is like a tiny penis! Much of female anatomy is an analogue for male anatomy, and vice-versa, because of the way a fetus develops in the womb. Physiologically, the clit is pretty much a glans penis — a big ol’ bundle of hair-trigger nerves. Like the male orgasm, when aroused, blood flow to the genitals increases.

In this case, vaginal secretions increase, acting as a lubricant. The clitoris becomes more sensitive as it’s stimulated and can even engorge with blood like a tiny little penis. When the orgasm releases, the vagina, uterus and anus contract in a series of waves. Sometimes the vagina will ‘squirt’ in the process. Unlike males, biological females can climax multiple times in a row.


Why is it so hard for many ladies to get to orgasm? Mostly because the clitoris isn’t being stimulated properly. Vaginal orgasms, while possible, are far rarer to achieve than clitoral orgasms. While clitoris owners can climax while having penetrative sex, it often depends on the size and shape of what’s penetrating, and/or the position (doggy style and cowgirl style are good ones for maximum stimulation).

Fun fact: Orgasms have been shown to help relieve menstrual cramps, lead to a more restful sleeping period and lower blood pressure.

Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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