Here's What Happens To Your Body When You Have An Orgasm

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Sex is one of the basic pleasures of life, but the orgasm is anything but simple — especially for people with vaginas.

The complexity begins with your anatomy. While you probably know that generally, your journey to orgasm starts with vaginal or clitoral stimulation, you might not realize that there's still debate among researchers about the exact anatomy of the clitoris. The most visible part of this intriguing organ is the small bundle of extra-sensitive nerve endings that sits right underneath where the two inner labia meet up top. From there, the clitoris actually extends internally in two shafts that sit along either side of the vagina. Experts may still be mapping the clitoris in full, but pretty much everyone understands the sexual purpose: pleasure.

To understand your orgasm, you should also know that the vaginal canal is lined with the soft tissue of the mucous membrane covering layers of stretchy muscle. (This canal leads to the cervix, a narrow passageway that sits in front of the uterus. This is the long journey upon which sperm must embark in order to fertilize an egg. Some research suggests that the female orgasm may help improve your chances of getting pregnant by improving "sperm retention," but you have to time it right.)

During arousal, you'll notice your heart rate increase, your skin may begin to feel (and look) flushed, and your genitals will swell with blood. But you're also building up a lot of muscle tension throughout your body.

Once you reach orgasm, the muscles in your vagina, anus, and uterus involuntarily rhythmically contract and then relax. Hence that awesome feeling of "release."

At the same time, your brain is working up quite a potent cocktail of chemicals. That includes the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is commonly associated with pretty much anything that feels good. But during an orgasm, you're also getting a huge release of oxytocin, which can promote feelings of closeness and empathy (among many other things).
Also, according to a small 2006 study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, there's some evidence that, in women, the brain's hippocampus and amygdala show decreased activity during sex — but before climaxing. Both of those areas are associated with emotional regulation, especially fear and anxiety. And, during orgasm, activity decreased in other brain areas, too. That suggests that feeling safe and relaxed may be especially important for women to reach an orgasm.

But every body is different, and there's way more than one way to get to an orgasm. What works for one person won't necessarily work for everyone else. The good news is orgasms all feel great. But the better news is that they come with plenty of health benefits, too.
Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships

Aside from encountering creeps and starting conversations that just don't go anywhere, one major problem online daters face is catfishing. According to a...
A version of this story originally appeared on Shape. When it comes to female pleasure, there's enough misinformation out there to fill a book. One of ...
This article was originally published on December 18, 2015. According to stereotypes, men are the sexually voracious cheaters and women are the ...
Amber Rose doesn't do "off days." "I always feel confident," she tells us. "I never allow myself to not feel confident. I wake up and say, I’m going out ...
We're great fans of accessorizing in the bedroom. Au naturel stimulation is wonderful, but sex toys can do things that people just can't. The sex toy ...
Even as the sex toy market continues to expand, there remain a few vital "firsts" for the industry to tackle. This week, with the arrival of the Buck-Off...
The Halloween-costume-planning frenzy is officially in full swing, and we still have so many questions. Is our costume idea clever without being obscure? ...
(Paid Content) You don't need a degree in common sense to know getting involved with a coworker is a bad idea. Yet, we probably all know someone who has, ...
This article was originally published on April 2, 2015 and has been updated throughout. Lube is a little like masturbation. It's a big part of most people...
It would be an understatement to say that a lot of us love superhero blockbusters. Luckily, there's really no shortage of them, but should you ever need ...
The following is an excerpt from Asa Akira's recently released memoir Dirty Thirty. Another year of wasted eggs because I chose to whore instead. “Do ...
In the best-case scenario, you go on a first date with someone, and you hit it off. The chemistry is off the charts, and you're never at a loss for what to...
Even if you think you’re not kinky, there’s a chance your brain might be. And when it comes to getting turned on and orgasming, our brains deserve more ...
Lord Ivar Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth's, became the first out member of the British Royal Family when he came out as bisexual last week. In ...