This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.


The culmination of sexual arousal is orgasm. Male and female orgasms are virtually indistinguishable. Panels of judges are unable to pick out descriptions written by males or females. Both sexes report tingling or urges to thrust as excitement increases, followed by waves of contractions and pleasure during the orgasm and an after-effect of warmth and relaxation.

How do male and female orgasms compare?

The autonomic nervous system is involved in orgasms. Parasympathetic activation is necessary for arousal, strong sympathetic activation accompanies orgasm, and then there is a parasympathetic rebound. Some men sleep during this phase; women are more likely to feel activated.

Masters and Johnson found at least three distinct patterns of orgasms in women. Some women almost always had a single large orgasm but never a second; others typically had two medium size ones; a third group had many small orgasms over a longer period of time.

What did Davidson suggest about the nature of orgasms?

Julian Davidson (1981) a physiologist at Stanford University, described orgasms as biologically similar in men and women. In both sexes the same brain area triggers the orgasm. According to Davidson, women release a fluid from the vaginal wall during orgasm, and this is analogous to ejaculation in the male. Davidson believes that orgasms consist of two components:

1. Contractions of the pelvic floor and muscles associated with the genitals, linked with an altered state of consciousness characterized by euphoria and "momentary loss of ego and contact with surroundings"

2. Emission of fluids from sex glands. Davidson says, "I believe that this physiological process is necessarily linked to a temporary loss of sexual desire."

Some men and some women have multiple orgasms because they separate the two components. They have the first component—contractions and pleasure—without the second. In men the second component is accompanied by seminal emissions. Davidson believes that contractions of the uterus (rather than the pelvic floor) during female orgasms are the woman's version of the second component, and in women, like men, this phase is followed by loss of sexual desire.

How many women reported never having an orgasm? How many found intercourse a sufficient stimulus? How do men aggravate the problem?

About 10% of women reported never having an orgasm. Over half do not experience one without direct clitoral stimulation and only a third find intercourse by itself a sufficient stimulus for orgasm. Uninformed men aggravate the problem.

Most men automatically start deep, vigorous thrusting during intercourse, but most women become more stimulated by slower, shallower thrusting at least in the early stages of coitus. (Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny, 1982, p.295)

Women frequently resent the question, "Did you come?" The research summarized above suggests that the honest answer will probably be "No" unless the man has taken special time and care to stimulate the woman the way she likes. If the answer is No the woman is put into a conflict. Should she be honest, and hurt the partner's feelings? Or should she inject an element of deception into the relationship? Should she be mildly deceptive by evading the question and mumbling something about how "great" it was?

The truth is that people can enjoy themselves without having orgasms. Many women have orgasms only under comfortable conditions with a skilled and sensitive partner, not (for example) in a car with their first love. If lack of orgasm is perceived as a problem, effective treatments are available. Some will be discussed in the section on sex therapies in this chapter.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey