Ask the Doctors: Are My Orgasms “Right”?

Are there different kinds of orgasms? The orgasms I experience on my own feel different than the pleasure I get during sex with my boyfriend. So I’m curious if one is the real thing, or if there are different types.

A lot of sexologists say that all orgasms are the same because orgasm happens in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Among its other jobs, the hypothalamus releases a whole mixture of chemicals during arousal and orgasm and in a sense, it doesn’t really matter what sets it off. This is one of the ways that some people respond to the idea that women are supposed to orgasm from vaginal stimulation which is a holdover from Freud that we’re well rid of. Since a majority of women need some sort of clitoral sensation to orgasm, this old-fashioned idea has caused a lot of grief, so some experts will say that all orgasms are the same to try to overcome it.

On the other hand, a lot of people report that orgasms feel different depending on how they happen. Perhaps using a vibrator feels more intense to you, or an orgasm during oral sex seems bigger, or a certain sex position makes the buildup seem milder. I’ve heard these sorts of things from enough people that I can’t buy the “all orgasms are the same argument. While I’m not aware of any research on this specifically, I believe that it’s because sexual arousal happens in the nervous system, not just the brain. And the nervous system is distributed all over the body, so stimulating different parts of it creates different results.

There’s a lot more variety in the ways that people experience arousal and orgasm than you might think. Masters & Johnson promoted a 4-stage model of sexual response: arousal-plateau-orgasm-resolution. But that was based on their observations in a lab and in the real world, there are many different ways that sexual response takes place. In fact, we might experience different versions of it with different people or at different points in our lifetime, or even from day to day. Rather than comparing ourselves with something out of a book, I think we’ll be much happier if we learn to enjoy what works for us.

So as far as I’m concerned, all orgasms are the “real thing. It doesn’t really matter how you get there, as long as you’re enjoying the experience and you’re taking care of yourself. Just as you might enjoy different types of food or music, you can enjoy different types of arousal and orgasm. If they leave you with a smile on your face, then I don’t think it really matters that they feel different. And while I don’t think that it’s important to categorize them, it can be really good to know how your different orgasms feel so that you can have the one that you want, in that moment, whether solo or with your boyfriend.

There are some great books with lots of excellent ideas, if you want to try some different ways to have fun. I Love Female Orgasmis full of interesting facts, useful suggestions, and lots of info on sexual pleasure. Orgasms is a great guide to both female and male orgasms, along with some really useful tips you won’t find in most other books. And How to Give Her Absolute Pleasure is written for men who want to learn new ways to please a woman.


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Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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