What is and what isn't an orgasm? What happens in the body? Faking an orgasm.

The orgasm is different for everyone and notoriously hard to define. Psychosexual therapist Paula Hall explains the physical and emotional factors involved for men and women, why quality matters more than quantity and why faking it is a waste of time.

What is an orgasm?

In 1953 a well-known therapist defined it as "an explosive discharge of neuromuscular tension". There are other definitions, but the word 'tension' comes up in most. Which suggests that when you have sex you deliberately wind yourself up just so that you can experience the pleasure of returning to normal afterward. Bizarre!

What happens in the body?

The technical stuff that creates all this tension is pretty amazing.

  • Your heart pumps faster and your breathing gets heavier to fuel those tensing muscles.
  • Hormones such as endorphins and oxytocin are pumped round your brain and body, telling you this is fun.
  • Blood is pumped to your genitals to create the tension that will ultimately trigger a pudendal reflex (muscular spasm of the genitals).
  • That reflex will result in your pelvic-floor muscles contracting between five and 15 times at 0.8-second intervals. This is an orgasm as we know it.
  • A wandering neural pathway that bypasses the spine has recently been discovered, explaining why some paraplegics say they can experience orgasms.

What an orgasm isn't

An orgasm should never be the objective of sex. You can have a great time with a partner, feeling aroused, sensual, intimate and loving, and not have an orgasm. Yes, it's fun - but unless you're trying to get pregnant it shouldn't be your primary goal.

You can't make someone have an orgasm. What you can do, besides physically stimulating your partner, is create a safe, comfortable and caring environment for them in which an orgasm might happen.

Orgasm is not limited to the genitals; some people can experience orgasm without their genitals being touched. Some people describe the sensation as a "tingle"; for others, the feelings go all over the body.

Faking it

Why do some people - male and female - fake orgasms? Maybe because we tend to see orgasm as the signal to stop sex. If, for some reason, your mind or body doesn't fancy an orgasm you could be at it forever.

Most people who fake it do so to please their partner. They feel they're letting them down if they don't make it. Instead of pretending, try and create a relationship where, if you're not in the mood or you've lost the momentum, you can say so honestly.

Quality not quantity

We tend to make a huge fuss about orgasms in our society. Most articles about enhancing your sex life focus on improving orgasms or having more of them. But the intensity of an orgasm is not an indication of sexual satisfaction. If you want a good orgasm, you can do it yourself. If you want a satisfying sexual relationship, you'll need a lot more.

In psychosexual therapy, people are told about the 2-6-2 rule. Out of every ten times you have sex, the chances are that twice it'll be fantastic and mind-blowing, and the earth will move; six times it'll be nice but nothing special; and twice you'll wish you hadn't bothered.

Related Information:

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 19). Orgasms, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info