January 11, 2020

What Does an Orgasm Feel Like?

Curious about what orgasm *really* feels like? Here are some IRL responses!
Written by
Louise Bourchier, MPH
Published on
January 11, 2020
Updated on
What's changed?
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If you’ve never orgasmed, aren’t sure if you’ve orgasmed and want to know if you had one, or if you're curious what an orgasm might feel like for you or for someone of different biological sex, you’ve come to the right place. It’s time to explore the weird and wonderful sensations of orgasm.

What happens when you orgasm?

There’s a reason so many people describe an orgasm as a kind of full-body sneeze. Like a sneeze, an orgasm is one big release in your body that usually feels great. When it comes to orgasms, that release is the result of sexual tension building up in your body. When the tension is released it causes a series of rhythmic muscle contractions that send pleasurable waves through the pelvis, focused on the area that has been receiving stimulation (like your clit or penis), and with sensations extending throughout the body. 

Ejaculation happens if you have a penis, and may occur in the form of squirting if you have a vulva.

When you orgasm, your heart rate increases and your breathing becomes deeper and quicker. Your mind may go blank and you may feel a kind of sensory overload. Dopamine is released in the brain which makes you feel good, and oxytocin is released which makes you feel connected.

After you orgasm, your clit or penis may feel too sensitive to continue touching, and receiving more stimulation can be even painful. Some people find they can just carry on with stimulation and have multiple orgasms, which is more common if you have a clit, but others find they need some time before they can begin stimulation again. This is known as a refractory period and can last any amount of time, whether that’s 15 minutes or a number of hours, but generally lasts longer for penis-owners.

What does a female orgasm feel like?

Everyone experiences the female orgasm differently, and one orgasm can feel totally different from another even in the same session. Still, there are some general sensations people normally experience, to some degree, when they reach the big “O.” 

For more insight oh what an orgasm feels like for people who identify as female, we asked our followers on Instagram:

“Mini seizures. Feeling like I’m momentarily outside my body.” -Female, 25

“Like an imploding sneeze” -Female, 24

“To me, it feels like stretching your body after sitting for a long time” -Female, 21

“It feels like waves of water: gentle, then stronger. You’re submerged to pleasure.” -Female, 25

“It’s like a tightening of basically everything, a burning feeling, and then a nice release.” -Female, 18

“A luscious hike up a mountain and then waves and oceans of pleasure surrounding me” -Female, 29 

“When you get the best news ever and you immediately wanna tell everyone you can!” -Female, 22

“Like white light, energy trying to get out of my body, almost too much to handle,” -Female, 19

“Like climbing to the top of a mountain and then skydiving off.” follower, 33

What does a male orgasm feel like?

Similar to the female orgasm, there is no one way to experience the male orgasm. Different people have different sensations at different intensity levels. These sensations can change from orgasm to orgasm, partner to partner, situation to situation, age, and a slew of other factors. 

Here’s what our male-identifying Instagram followers told us an orgasm feels like. Note, for the sake of privacy, our quoted followers requested to remain anonymous.

“A rush of positive sensations all over my nerves” -Male, 34

“Feels like a few bursts of warmth; release like a weight being lifted off your shoulders,” -Male, 29

“Depends. Intense, pulsating burst also radiating warmth.” -Male, 53

“Every muscle in the body fully gets contracted, and then explodes.” -Male, 25

“It's basically an explosion. Like you really really had to pee and it all comes out at once. Coupled with all of the good penis feels. Then there's some nice throbbing. And after I feel like I drained poison out of myself and I feel more normal.” -Male, 43

“It’s like 3 or 4 waves of pleasure and high sensitivity. Coupled with some pressure during ejaculation. It’s like a body high and then after my mind is just clear, not focused on anything, just relaxed.” -Male, 31

How long does an orgasm last?

A typical orgasm lasts about 20 to 35 seconds but can vary in duration from a few seconds to a minute or more. It also depends exactly how you measure the orgasm (whether you measure the muscle contractions using lab equipment, or if you ask a person to indicate when their experience of orgasm starts and finishes) since different timing methods give slightly different results. 

There doesn’t seem to be much difference in orgasm duration between different types of genitals. One study on clitoral orgasm from masturbation found the average duration was 19.9 seconds and another study found it was 35.6 seconds. Meanwhile, a study of orgasm from penis masturbation found the average duration to be 25 seconds.

Why do orgasms feel good?

Having an orgasm feels good because of the physical sensations in the body, and from the neurochemicals that are released in the brain. 

Stimulating the clit or penis (or other parts) in the lead up to orgasm provides a lot of pleasure as arousal heightens and the nerves become super sensitive. 

With orgasm, physical pleasure comes from the rhythmic waves of muscle contractions. It’s hard to say exactly why this is pleasurable, but the sensations in the muscles feel good and there is an enjoyable feeling of release afterward. 

In the brain, the dopamine released makes you feel pleasure and euphoria and the oxytocin gives you a happy, blissed-out feeling.

Orgasms are mysterious and can be elusive. If you’re new to masturbation or sex you might still be figuring out the best masturbation techniques for you. Even if you’re not new to it, you might be wondering why you’re having trouble orgasming. Experimenting with different techniques, a vibrator, and taking your time can all help. 

*Female orgasm here refers to people who self identify as female, male orgasm to people who self identify as male.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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