After an especially mind-blowing session between the sheets, you've probably been asked (or asked your partner), "Was it good for you, too?" Turns out, that's not such a cliched question. Scientific research shows that there are some
major differences between male and female orgasms.
The human body is an amazing thing. Not only do we have the ability to produce new life, we also have the capacity to have a great time while doing it! As researcher Roy J. Levin once wrote in the
journal Cancer and Sexual Health , "The human orgasm, although tantalizingly short, is perhaps the greatest bodily pleasure that most men and women can experience without recourse to drugs."
But when it comes to this uniquely human pleasure, there's a lot that you may not know. For instance, what happens to our brains during sex? Why don't men have multiple orgasms? Is it true that women can ejaculate during climax the way men do? Do women have orgasms as often as men - and what's the secret to more frequent sexual satisfaction?
Here are some fascinating science-based facts about your climax (and his). It may give you some insights into what your partner is experiencing in bed, and perhaps help you understand your own body a little better.
Women can go right back for seconds (and thirds and...)
Our sexual response is a complex process occurring in four stages, according to
experts at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We start with a stage of initial excitement, followed by a plateau, orgasm, and resolution. During the resolution (post-orgasm) stage, men experience what's known as a "refractory period," during which another orgasm is physically impossible. The refractory period can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours, or even days. Women, on the other hand, have no refractory period — so we're capable of climaxing again right away, and again after that (if we're lucky)! Men's orgasms are shorter.
Women have the advantage when it comes to duration, too: The
orgasm stage in women can last as long as 20 seconds (or even longer for some), while male ejaculation lasts from three to 10 seconds, according to University Of California, Santa Barbara's SexInfo Online. Men's orgasms have a biological purpose.
From an evolutionary and anatomical standpoint, it's easy to understand why men come; the process of orgasm helps the sperm-filled fluid reach the uterus and fertilize any eggs that may be waiting there. We rely on the male orgasm to keep humanity going. For women, things are less clear-cut.
Noted biologist Elisabeth Anne Lloyd, author of
The Case of the Female Orgasm, has argued that there's not enough solid evidence to prove that female orgasm has a biological purpose. As quoted by the American Psychological Association, Lloyd claims that women's climaxes may simply be similar to men's nipples: "It has a clear function in one sex, but not in the other." Our brains react differently before climax - but not during. Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Researchers from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, studied the
brain responses of men and women during foreplay and intercourse. Their finding: Different areas of men's and women's brains showed activity during genital stimulation, but at the point of orgasm, both genders showed activation in areas of the cerebellum — the lower portion of the brain which is responsible for motor control. Women ejaculate, but not as often as men.
While a typical climax for men includes ejaculation of seminal fluid, the same isn't necessarily true for women. A report in the
Journal of Sexual Medicine examined various studies on female ejaculation and found that only about 10 to 55 percent of women expel a whitish fluid during sex. Other women may experience what they think is ejaculation, but may actually be a type of incontinence. The experience is similar for everyone.
Despite our obvious physical differences, men's and women's climaxes feel pretty much the same. During orgasm, men's anal sphincter, prostate gland, and penis contract, producing sensations of intense pleasure; for women, the contraction of the vaginal, uterine, and pelvic muscles create a similar result. Both men and women's brains release the "pleasure hormone" oxytocin as well. In
one study cited by the UCSB authors, more than 70 experts were unable to distinguish between the descriptions of men and women discussing their orgasms. Our partner's pleasure triggers our own climax.
So why does sex produce the same sensations in everyone? Salt Lake City psychology professor Alan Fogel, Ph.D.,
explained in that we're neurologically wired to observe, empathize with, and react to human emotions. You know how you and your friends tear up together watching Psychology Today This Is Us? Same concept. Seeing your partner writhe with pleasure cues your body to do the same. "Shared experiences of emotionally intense moments enhance our own and our partner's body sense," explained Fogel in the article. "If orgasms were radically different in males and females, this would be much less likely to happen." There's an "orgasm gap" between the sexes.
When it comes to orgasm frequency, men have the advantage - particularly straight men. In a report published this year in the journal
, researchers from Chapman University, in California, analyzed a large section of sexually active adults and found that an impressive 95 percent of heterosexual men said they almost always climaxed during sex, while only 65 percent of straight women could make that claim. Archives of Sexual Behavior The gap narrows in the LGBTQ community.
The same study showed that gay men and lesbian women were almost equally likely to report usually or always having orgasms during sex (89 percent vs. 86 percent). Bisexual men also reported a high level of satisfaction, with 88 percent climaxing nearly every time. However, only 66 percent of bisexual women said they had frequent orgasms - a percentage similar to that of their straight counterparts.
For women, orgasms take a little more work.
Why the orgasm gender gap? The Chapman University team discovered one possible reason. Women of all sexual orientations reported being more likely to climax if their encounter included such factors as oral sex and manual stimulation. In other words, the vagina isn't necessarily the star player in the orgasm game.
a 2014 report in the journal Clinical Anatomy argued that we need to ditch the terms "vaginal" or "G-spot" orgasm, because women can only reach orgasm if the clitoris is stimulated at some point during sexual contact. This external organ, with its thousands of sensitive nerve endings, helps produce the intense sensations of arousal and climax either on its own or with vaginal penetration.
Noted psychotherapist and sex counselor
Ian Kerner, Ph.D., agrees. He recently told Women's Health magazine, “Research shows it’s clitoral stimulation, not vaginal stimulation, that is the powerhouse of the female orgasm.”
With that in mind, women who have trouble achieving maximum pleasure may want to
try a new sexual position to reach orgasm more easily.