What is an orgasm?

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

An orgasm is a feeling of intense sexual pleasure that happens during sexual activity.

It's sometimes called "coming" or "climaxing". Both men and women have orgasms.

What happens during an orgasm?

When you have an orgasm, your heart beats faster and your breathing gets quicker and heavier.

In women, an intense pleasurable release of sexual tension is accompanied by contractions of the genital muscles.

A woman may be able to experience more than one orgasm shortly after the first if she continues to be stimulated.

A minority of women may ejaculate, and a clear fluid spurts from glands close to the urethra during intense sexual excitement or during orgasm. The glands are called the Skene's glands.

In men, muscle contractions cause semen containing sperm to spurt out of the penis (ejaculation). After this, a man can't have another orgasm for a while.

This recovery phase, in which the penis and testicles shrink back to their normal size, can last from a few minutes to a few hours.

Is it necessary to have an orgasm to enjoy sex?

There are lots of ways to enjoy sex without having an orgasm. However, not being able to reach an orgasm at all can be a problem for some people and their partners. If you find having an orgasm difficult and you’re worried about it, talk to your doctor.

Difficulties with orgasms

Some people find it difficult to reach an orgasm through intercourse alone, but can easily climax through masturbation. Some people find it difficult to orgasm at all.

Difficulty having an orgasm can be caused by a number of things, such as worries or lack of knowledge about sex, being unable to relax, not being stimulated enough, relationship problems, feeling depressed or a previous traumatic sexual experience.

If you’re worried about not having an orgasm

If you’re concerned about not having orgasms, your doctor can help you find out if there’s a physical reason. If the cause isn’t physical, they may refer you to a sex therapist. Sex therapy involves exploring your feelings about yourself, sex and your relationship, and can help you overcome sexual problems.

Enjoying sex

Intimacy, love and feeling aroused and sensual can be just as pleasurable as having an orgasm. For some people, these things are more satisfying than always having an orgasm.

Enjoy all the feelings of arousal you share with your partner, not just the orgasm. Take time to be more sensual – for example, by:

  • exploring each other’s bodies
  • taking a bath together
  • massaging
  • kissing
  • touching each other’s skin
  • undressing each other
  • telling each other what you like
  • listening to your partner’s breathing

Many people give each other oral sex or masturbate together as a healthy and enjoyable part of their sex life.

Content supplied by NHS Choices