Double your Pleasure: the Health Benefits of the Magical Mystical Orgasm
Once a topic strictly relegated to hushed conversations, research has taken the orgasm from bedroom to clinic, elucidating the many positive benefits of these happy endings. Great news, right? But before I get into that, I want to talk about the definition and history of the orgasm. What you don’t know might surprise you.
Because it’s hilarious, my favorite clinical description of orgasm is ‘a temporary state of neuromuscular euphoria and paroxysmal climax, often accompanied by vocalization, and generally with the ejaculation of semen in the male and vaginal contractions in the female.’
If you’ve ever wondered, the sensation of an orgasm is basically the same for men and women. This is because the penis and clitoris are homologous organs, meaning they arise from the same tissue in a developing embryo. Whichever part you have is connected to the spinal cord, and hence the brain, through a pair of nerves called the pudendal nerves. It’s a horrible name for the same nerves in males and females, so it makes perfect sense that we have the same perfect sensations of pleasure.
From fascination to repulsion and everything in between, orgasm has been the subject of speculation and debate since the Big Bang. Aristotle actually wrote about orgasm and female ejaculation in the first-century BC… and you thought he was just into philosophy! By the way, that’s not a typo: women can ejaculate, though research estimates that only 10% to 50% of women do; actually a small number considering that the woman must reach orgasm in the first place in order to ejaculate. The moral of that story? Don’t let the pornos fool you- it’s a pretty rare event whose presence or absence says nothing of a male’s or female’s sexual prowess.
In ancient times in Western Europe, women could be medically diagnosed with a disorder called “female hysteria,” during which they exhibited symptoms of nervousness, insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite for food/ sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble.” (this elicited a what-ever! and an eye roll from my wife Debbie) Women diagnosed with the condition would sometimes undergo the proscribed treatment of “pelvic massage” by a medical professional until they experienced “hysterical paroxysm,” which immediately, but not permanently, “cured” them. Captain Obvious says that this diagnosis is no longer recognized as a medical condition. In the early 1900’s, the first electric vibrators hit the market- a decade before vacuum cleaners and electric clothes irons! Evidently, women had gotten their priorities straight. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Thankfully, we’ve clearly come a long way in narrowing the orgasm perception gap. But questions persist: how long does it last, does a woman need one to get pregnant, can all women have them, can men/ women have multiples, what’s the G-spot, where’s the G-spot, do women fake it and how to tell??? Time for answers.
I’ll just get the less pleasant news out of the way first. 10% to 15% of all women are anorgasmic, meaning they cannot orgasm… at all. It can be global, meaning there is no means by which she can orgasm, or it can be situational, meaning she can only orgasm under certain circumstances. In some cases, age and circumstance are factors in the ability to orgasm for both women and men. (Un)Fun fact: Marilyn Monroe was actually anorgasmic until the age of 36, when she reported to her psychiatrist that she had finally had her first orgasm. A sadly ironic circumstance for America’s biggest sex symbol was that her first orgasm, and possibly last, had been just months before her death. In men, anorgasmia typically manifests in an inability to ejaculate, called anejaculation, and usually occurs as part of erectile dysfunction, which can be organic or a side effect of medication.
Fast facts from peer-reviewed studies:
-75% of women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone.
-75% of men and 29% of women always reach orgasm with their partner.
-Women are far more likely to orgasm alone than with a partner. Ouch.
Are orgasms like potato chips? Experts say that if women can have one, they can have more than one. In fact, studies have shown that most women are not only capable of multiples, but they are actually capable of two different types of multiples: sequential and serial multiples. Sequential multiples are a series of orgasms that come fairly close together. Usually from 2 to 10 minutes apart, sequential orgasms have a drop-off in arousal in between; they’re like a roller coaster, with a dip after the first hill before a climb back up the next. According to studies, women report that the most common scenario for sequential multiples is an oral sex orgasm followed by another orgasm during intercourse. In contrast, serial multiples are orgasms that come one after another and are separated by just seconds; with no interruption in arousal, serial orgasms are more like a set of waves breaking on a beach. It’s a different story for men, who have what’s called a refractory period. This is the time needed for a break- and sometimes a nap- between orgasms, but given the right amount of time, male multiples aren’t entirely unusual.
The average length of a man’s orgasm is approximately 10 seconds, though it is possible for them to last up to 30 seconds. A woman’s orgasm may last slightly longer or much longer than a man’s, with an average length of 20 seconds, but possibly up to 30 seconds or more. There is a very rare and misunderstood disorder called Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD) found in women. PGAD is spontaneous, persistent, unwanted, and uncontrollable genital arousal in the absence of sexual stimulation or sexual desire, and which is typically not relieved by orgasm. Women with this disorder report feeling constantly and uncomfortably on the brink of orgasm for weeks or months at a time. If you’re thinking that would be cool, you’re wrong; for the sufferer, it is a very debilitating and embarrassing disorder with no cure and little potential for future therapeutic intervention. There is concern that the word ‘arousal’ in the title may be misleading, because it connotes pleasure, and having PGAD is the polar opposite of pleasure. Though vastly more common in women, PGAD is considered an analogous version of priapism, and is called such; this is when men have persistent and often painful erections for various reasons, the most well known being a side effect of the ‘little purple pill’ Viagra.
According to a published study, straight women only have orgasms 62% of the time they have sex, while lesbians orgasm 75% of the time they have sex. I guess there’s something to be said about being familiar with the tools you’re working with.
G-whiz! There’s much ado about the female G-spot, and most people don’t even have a clue what the G in G-spot stands for. The Gräfenberg Spot was named for German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, who unknowingly started a furor when he characterized an erogenous area of the vagina that, when stimulated, can lead to strong sexual arousal, powerful orgasms, and potential female ejaculation. While some people think the G-spot is as real as a unicorn, most say that every woman has one, but that it’s not necessarily the magical button of fable and lore. So for reals, what is it? The G-spot is a quarter-sized area in the vagina that swells with blood when women are aroused, and some “experts” say it is directly connected to the ‘orgasm center’ in the brain. For the record, I call bullshit on this ‘orgasm center’ stuff- it sounds like it comes from a Cosmo article. Being board certified in psychiatry and neurology, I know a few things about the brain, and there isn’t an ‘orgasm center.’ In reality, orgasms are not localized, discrete events. Researchers have used PET-scans and functional-MRI’s to show that up to 30 major brain systems are activated during orgasm, so it’s more like a wave that washes over the brain in a global manner. There is an analogous male G-spot called the P-spot, where P stands for prostate. This organ is located internally, between the base of the penis and the rectum, and produces pleasant sensations on stimulation.
Though an orgasm isn’t strictly necessary to feel pleasure, most people will admit that reaching the big “O” with a partner or ‘Han Solo’ is a great added bonus. But beyond just feeling great, an orgasm also brings with it a host of unexpected health benefits, from lowering stress levels and heart attack risk to giving skin a fabulous natural glow. Read on to learn all the good stuff that comes from the fun stuff.
Several hormones are released during orgasm in both males and females, including oxytocin and DHEA. Studies suggest that these hormones could have protective qualities against cancers and heart disease. Oxytocin and other endorphins released during male and female orgasm have also been found to work as relaxants, in both a physical sense and psychological sense, as a mood elevator. Oxytocin is the bonding and cuddling chemical, aka the ‘tend and befriend’ chemical, and makes both sexes feel a desire to be closer to their partner during and after sex. Women actually release four times the normal amount of oxytocin on orgasm. In fact, evidence shows that the bonding and cuddling mechanism is so reliable and predictable that if a woman doesn’t feel cuddly after sex, it is strongly suggestive that she faked her orgasm. Whoa, people.
Orgasms can help lower the risk of prostate cancer in older men. Ward off prostate cancer by having sex? True story! A decade-long and well-reviewed study demonstrated that regular and frequent ejaculation (defined as at least four times per week) in men over age 50 can lower the risk for prostate cancer by up to 30%. One of the authors of the study said, “We know that having sex and orgasms is beneficial for every aspect of male health. The male reproductive system fares best with regular use, and the prostate belongs to that system. The more ejaculations, the better off he’ll be.” Hey, no argument here.
Orgasms can help regulate the female menstrual cycle, even during times when women are not actively on their periods. According to a published and peer-reviewed scientific journal, the mechanism is linked to the apparent circadian rhythm of ovaries and their response to inflammation. Regular orgasms in females lower inflammation, improving immune health, mental health, and circadian health, which fosters regular cycles.
Orgasms can also help boost female fertility.
Regular sexual activity triggers physiological changes in the body that increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, even outside the window of ovulation, meaning that orgasms bring benefits at any and all points in the fertility cycle.
An associated concept is that female orgasm appears to improve the odds of conception. Now, I’ve been surprised and frightened by the prevailing ignorance on this topic, so let me be clear here: a female orgasm is not required for a woman to get pregnant; all that is required is the male’s sperm (part of the ejaculate) to meet the female’s egg(s), which is/ are released automatically and independently each month during ovulation. The basic premise of orgasm improving the odds of conception centers on the vaginal and cervical contractions during orgasm. It is believed that the ligaments involved in the muscular pulsations and contractions from the female orgasm cause the cervix to dip down and pull in any semen pooled in the vagina. That brings in more sperm, and more sperm means it’s more likely for one or more of those wiley guys to win the race to any unsuspecting egg that may be hanging out up there. This is all borne out by findings in women who have had intercourse with orgasm having more sperm in their cervical mucus than women who have had intercourse without orgasm. The moral of this story is that orgasmic pulsations are some next-level shit, and those baby-making parts have minds of their own, grabbing around in the dark to continue the genetic line. Science, people!
Orgasms as the next homeopathic treatment for colds and flu? Consider going to the bedroom instead of the drugstore. Orgasms are killer for your immune system, no pun intended. A small German study found that immediately after sexual arousal and masturbation to climax, men showed increased levels of leukocytes, which are the white blood cells that help protect the body from illness and infectious disease. But the ladies haven’t been left out here. Another study demonstrated a correlation between female sexual activity, and therefore female orgasm, and levels of Helper T cells, which help to activate the cells the body needs to fight off foreign invaders that cause disease and illness. In addition, orgasm in both males and females releases those feel-good hormones called endorphins, and these are known to reduce general inflammation, the arch enemy of the immune system and other biological pathways. Reduction of inflammation, wherever it may be, does a body good.
In both men and women, orgasm is shown to help alleviate pain and increase one’s threshold for pain. This is also due to the release of those feel-good endorphins and their ability to reduce inflammation. Studies have shown a direct link between sexual activity and migraines, with 60% of participants reporting some improvement of their migraine attack, and 70% reporting moderate to complete relief. It is believed that orgasm impacts perceived pain through the down-regulation of pain sensitization pathways and by modulating the immune system to reduce levels of inflammation, thus reducing pain levels. Orgasm as an anti-inflammatory once again… O-lieve?
Evidently, orgasm is also useful for relieving the pain of menstrual cramps. In addition to the reduction of inflammation for general pain relief, the pleasurable muscular pulsations and contractions of the female orgasm also use up specific lipid compounds called prostaglandins, which are the cause of menstrual cramps. Lower concentrations of free prostaglandins translates to less cramping-type muscle pain, which is a very good thing.
Orgasms can help keep your brain sharp. The flood of hormones released in both male and female orgasm sends a ton of messages throughout the body, increasing brain activity. This is particularly true in women. An imaging study of brain function and orgasm showed that while masturbating and upon orgasm, women’s brains light up with activity in the cortical, subcortical, and brainstem regions. The researchers stated that these benefits are more powerful than doing challenging crossword puzzles. Hmmm… Sunday New York Times puzzle, roll in the hay; New York Times, roll in the hay… Frustration, satiation… Duh- this one’s what you call a no-brainer. At least, that’s the technical term.
Orgasm reduces levels of stress and anxiety in males and females. Though an orgasm initially releases a flood of stress hormones, studies have shown that the end-game effect is stress reduction. Experts have long agreed that the post-coital payoff in terms of anxiety reduction is also major, as during an orgasm, the parts of the brain that process fear shut down. All of this is thanks to our friend oxytocin, the bonding, snuggling, tend and befriend chemical.
What makes for a happy heart can also make for a healthy heart. Since any sort of physical activity helps your heart pump more efficiently, it’s no surprise that sex can too. But published studies indicate that regular sexual activity seriously benefits heart health, helping to lower cardiovascular risk in older men and women. More specifically, they demonstrated that frequent sex and orgasms reduced instances of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and rapid heart rate among those over age 65, especially in comparison to those that don’t have frequent sex and orgasms. This study didn’t define “frequent,” so take away from that what you will. Or what you can get away with.
Orgasm as the mystical fountain of youth? That radiant flushed look is post-coital glow; it’s for reals, and all thanks to the increased blood flow from your orgasm. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and also the biggest tell. If you’re under stress, it shows by way of a sallow, stressed out complexion. But when men and women climax, blood vessels throughout the body open up, allowing them to carry greater quantities of blood, which is the source of the flushed and blushed look. The increased blood flow also helps to stimulate the production of collagen, a protein that keeps skin looking plumped and youthful, which is why orgasms may be the quickest- and cheapest- way to gorgeous skin. Some British shrink did a survey of 3,500 people, including both men and women, and determined that regular orgasms were the second most common factor/ cause for people looking younger, the first being regular exercise. Nobody called me, so I don’t know who appointed this guy the chief judge of orgasm and youngness, but it is what it is.
Orgasms can help boost your self-esteem and well-being. When your desires are being satiated, it makes sense that you would feel better about yourself, but it turns out that there’s a proven and demonstrable link between sexual health and self-esteem. So say researchers at Johns Hopkins (well…la tee da) as they found that sexual pleasure among young adults (ages 18-26, both male and female) is linked to healthy psychological and social development. They specifically looked at measures of self-esteem, autonomy, and empathy, and found that sexual pleasure increased all three of these measures in both males and females. However, they also found that the level of increase was not uniform: measures of self-esteem increased the most in young women particularly, while young men showed higher levels of empathy. The explanatory hypotheses for these findings are similar: that the effect of a female’s orgasm on self-esteem is circular, so the ability to easily achieve orgasm increases a woman’s self-esteem, which, in turn, better facilitates her achieving orgasm, which again feeds her self-esteem, and so on. In an analogous way, empathetic males are more responsive to their partner’s needs, and this initiates a positive feedback cycle: being more responsive to their partner’s needs increases the male partner’s ability to reach orgasm, which feeds the male’s empathetic nature and makes them more responsive to their partner’s needs, and so on… Now, I can’t say that I’m calling bullshit on this, but it seems to me that this is back-asswards: while I totally buy that orgasm in both men and women would lead to increases in all three measures, I would think that levels of self-esteem would be more increased in men, resulting from a sort of evolutionary caveman pride ‘look what I can do’ kind of thing. And I would think that greater empathy levels would be higher in women, because of the super intensive release of oxytocin that results in the huggy cuddly ‘oh how I love this person’ feelings. Then again, maybe it’s that women have a higher increase in self-esteem because their orgasm assures them that they are sexually attractive, and men have a higher increase in empathy because their partner has had a simultaneous orgasm? I’m not sure, and you probably don’t care, so we’ll just step away from this one for now.
Orgasms can help you live longer, so say some experts. Additionally, the health benefits of orgasm increase with age, and extend throughout a person’s life. Some Brits studied men between the ages of 45 and 59, and found that those with “high orgasmic frequency” lowered their mortality risk by as much as 50%. The men that had two or more orgasms a week died at a rate that was half the rate of the men who had orgasms less than once a month; in other (less confusing) words, the men that had fewer than one orgasm per month died twice as fast as the men that had eight or more orgasms per month. Like wow, people! These findings prove that sexual activity and orgasm have a protective effect on men’s health. As for the ladies: over the course of an eight-decade study on married, heterosexual couples, researchers found a demonstrable link between orgasms, health, and longevity: specifically, results indicated that women who orgasmed frequently lived longer than their female counterparts who didn’t, though they did not disclose a longevity estimation or definitive ratio of the number of orgasms required to attain greater longevity.
Orgasms aren’t exactly a miraculous method for weight loss, but getting there might be a different story. Sex is an aerobic activity; it gets your heart rate up, and there’s no better way to burn calories than when your heart is pumping. Beats a treadmill, stairclimber, or pilates any day of the week. Researchers have attempted to measure the number of calories burned during sex for many years and on numerous occasions, but the results have varied wildly. Accepted averages indicate that most people burn about 150 to 200 calories each time they have sex, but there are some really fun ways to set that number on fi’ya… a heated make-out session can burn as many as 85 calories per hour in a 150-pound person, while 15 minutes of heavy foreplay will burn about 25 calories. So, figure you make-out for 15 minutes, then another 15 minutes of foreplay, followed by intercourse, will burn about 250 calories- that’s the same number burned in a 30-minute run, but it’s way more fun than a run. If that’s not enough burn for you, add in a sensual and arousing massage at a burn rate of 80 calories per hour. Or, employ the magic of multiples: reaching a second orgasm can burn an additional 60 to 100 calories, depending on the amount of work required to get there; and since it’s a bonus score, why stop after just one? The ultimate formula for burning more calories during sex is fairly simple: just pour on more heat and more passion for a longer period of time.
You have probably always known that orgasms are awesome, but now you know the why and how of everything orgasmic, and are all set to impress and amaze your friends with your dazzling sexual intellect at the next cocktail party.
And even though I wrote this blog on the benefits of orgasm, I don’t want to contribute to society’s historical relationship with sex and orgasm: typically seen as goal-based, a skill to be practiced and reward to be achieved, rather than something to explore, experience and enjoy. So go forth, explore, experience, enjoy, orgasm, and spread the word, people!
But first, google ‘Dr. Mark Agresti YouTube’ to check out my videos, leave comments, like, and subscribe to my YouTube channel. As always, you can find tons of content and patient stories in my book, Tales from the Couch, available in office or on Amazon. Thanks people.Learn More