You might have heard an orgasm described as a vaginal sneeze or called “la petit mort” — French for “the little death.” And though both these are common comparisons, let’s be real. They're not exactly sexy. Others might describe orgasms as fireworks or a cresting ocean wave — prettier, sure, but more abstract. With all these euphemisms floating around, it’s totally possible to come and then have to stop and think, “Wait… was that an orgasm?” And if you’ve never had an orgasm before — as is the case for around 10-15% of cis women — questioning what just happened is even more understandable.
Additionally, orgasms feel different to different people, and they can even feel different to the same person at different times. Sexologists even say that people with vulvas can have 14 different types of orgasm. That's right: one person can "experience wildly different orgasms” in different situations, Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist who specializes in teaching women how to orgasm, previously told Refinery29.
Here's how to tell if you had an orgasm
While different people experience orgasms differently, there are some commonalities. You might notice a few of the signs on this list, or you might feel all of them — it's very individual. Basically, if your body had a reaction during sex and you now feel better than you did before, Marin said, you probably had an orgasm.
You feel tension, then a release
The reason some people say orgasms feel like a sneeze is that both experiences begin with a buildup of tension, followed by a sudden release. They're both reflexes — one just feels a whole lot better than the other.
You feel happy and relaxed
When you orgasm, your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals including oxytocin and dopamine. These hormones promote feelings of euphoria, bonding, empathy, and closeness. Basically, you'll feel good.
You feel sleepy
In the same way orgasms can make you feel relaxed, they you may also make you sleepy. One 2017 study found that people who had an orgasm before bed reported getting a better night's rest. More research is needed to confirm the link, but the authors of this study say we can likely thank oxytocin.
Your muscles spasm
Many people experience some sort of involuntary muscle contractions during or just after an orgasm. This can happen in your vaginal walls, butt, thighs, legs, and stomach muscles.
Your breathing and heart rate change
During or just after an orgasm, you may notice that you're breathing more deeply and your heart rate is slower. One 2008 study found that, on average, people's heart rates were highest at the beginning of an orgasm, and they returned to a baseline about ten to twenty minutes after.
Your skin is flushed
Many people may find that the skin on their face, neck, and chest gets red and might feel hot to touch. This is sometimes called a "sex flush" or "orgasm flush" — and NARS' famous "Orgasm" blush is designed to mimic it.
Afterwards, your body feels sensitive
After an orgasm, many people report that their genitals feel sensitive — so sensitive that they don't want to be touched for at least a few minutes. If you'd like to continue the sex session, concentrate on other areas of your body — or your partner's — for a while before returning to your vulva.