Orgasms 101: Everything you need to know about reaching your pleasure points

A sex expert breaks down the all-important facts about female orgasms, including how to reach yours...

Caucasian woman wearing bra laying on wooden floor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s time to talk about our favorite sex topic: orgasms. While most of us know by now that there’s more to sex than reaching climax, it doesn’t make it any less desirable (and has us reaching for the best app-controlled vibrators). But how many of us actually get to experience the mind-blowing pleasure we hear about so often (that can even leave your legs shaking after sex)? 

A recent survey by sex toy brand LELO revealed that out of 4,400 heterosexual couples, the women experienced orgasms only 43% of the time during sex with their partner. Similarly, other studies and research projects have identified an "orgasm gap" between straight men and straight women.  So what exactly is it that causes this disparity? 

From trying out different types of vibrators to experimenting with different positions during intercourse, there are a number of methods to explore to find out what gets you going. However, the first step is to understand what an orgasm is, the different types of orgasms you can have, and what those acts set off in your body to result in your pleasure. Plus, you might have questions like "do orgasms help you lose weight" and "do orgasm help with period cramps"? To help us break it all down, we’ve called on some sex experts to help... 

What exactly is an orgasm? 

An orgasm is a feeling of intense pleasure that happens in the body during sexual activity. It is often referred to as ‘coming’ or ‘climaxing’ and the way it is achieved varies from person to person. 

close up of couple on bed with hands blocking camera

(Image credit: Beatriz Vera / EyeEm via Getty)

How many different ‘types’ of orgasms can you have?

There are no specific ‘types’ of orgasms but rather different ways to experience one. They can, however, be classified into distinctive categories depending on a number of factors, including which body part is being stimulated and the type of touch used, all the way to intensity and the mind-body connection.

“The exact amount of differing female orgasms can be debated, but there are at least 20 kinds that women can experience. The interesting thing to note, however, is that the research suggests that all orgasms are the same physical experience, physiologically speaking,” says Dr. Luke McCabe, who specializes in female hormones and health. 

To make it easier to understand, the diverse types can be put into two categories:

Physical

This includes pleasure felt through the following... 

- Clitoral 

-  Vaginal

- Blended  (combination of clitoris and vaginal)

- Anal

- Cervical (cervix area that requires deep penetration. Best accessed two to three days before menstruation as the cervix is at its lowest point.) 

- Nipple 

- Oral

 - Spot orgasms

 

Experience

This includes pleasure felt through the following...

- Squirting orgasms

- Multiple orgasms (one after another)

- Full-bodied orgasms (orgasm ripples through the body)

- Hands-free (without hands)

- Exercise (coregasm by working out or training abdominal muscles)

- Mental (fantasy orgasm)

- Energy (tantric sex, which could be combined with breath orgasms)

- Spontaneous

- Breath 

- Sleep (orgasms during sleep are quite common among women) 

As explained by Dr Laura Vowels, principal researcher and therapist at sex therapy app Blueheart, some women orgasm only by stimulating the external part of the clitoris (glans clitoris), others can orgasm from vaginal intercourse by stimulating the inner parts of the clitoris, while some orgasm from anal stimulation as the other end of the clitoris can be accessed that way. 

“Because of the internal parts of the clitoris, there are many ‘entry points’ to stimulating it, but how sensitive each area is depends a lot on the woman,” she says. “Some women can orgasm without any genital stimulation at all. Different vibrators or different types of stimulation can also create different sensations and lead to different ‘types’ of orgasms.”

What actually happens in the body when you orgasm?

Dr. McCabe breaks the process down into six steps... 

1. The logical part of your brain basically shuts down during sex. The part that shuts down is the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which when activated can interrupt arousal and lead to problems like performance anxiety.

2. Multiple spatially remote parts of your brain are involved in having an orgasm. The thalamus integrates information of touch, feel, memories, fantasies, and movements while the hypothalamus is producing oxytocin.

3. When you orgasm, your brain releases a surge of dopamine.

4. Oxytocin is released during orgasm.

5. After an orgasm, the brain releases hormones that can make you feel happy and sleepy. Hormones like serotonin are known to promote good mood and relaxation.

6. However, the brains of women tend to keep releasing oxytocin even after orgasm, which may explain the motivation for post-sex cuddles.

Midsection of two women cuddling in bed

(Image credit: Getty)

Do orgasms help period cramps?

Many women claim that orgasms actually help ease their period cramps. But is this really true? According to Dr. Vowels, it can be. “The chemicals released in your brain (dopamine and oxytocin) can act as painkillers, and blood rushing to the uterus during an orgasm can help relieve cramps,” she says. 

Dr. McCabe agrees, adding that “serotonin and dopamine are mood-enhancing hormones. While having an orgasm, blood flow increases and pain tolerance goes up. Overall, this results in a happy, relaxed, and warm fuzzy state.” 

Time to try out the best sex positions for menstrual cramps then...

Do orgasms help you lose weight? 

The answer to this isn’t so straightforward. “Looking at it from an energy balance point of view, then no, not directly," says Dr. McCabe. “But indirectly, orgasms can be from regular sex, which increases calorie consumption, but, more importantly, can improve mood and decrease the need to binge eat. Additionally, orgasms in women can mildly increase their testosterone levels, which results in better overall muscle control, and thus the ability to burn more fat.” 

And there you have it—time to start bridging the O gap...

Sagal Mohammed
Sagal Mohammed

Sagal is a journalist, specialising in lifestyle, pop culture, fashion and beauty.  She has written for a number of publications including Vogue, Glamour, Stylist, Evening Standard, Bustle, You Magazine, Dazed and Wonderland to name a few.