Climax. Coming. The Big O. We have a lot of words for the experience of orgasm. But what actually happens to our bodies during a sexual peak?
William Masters and Virginia Johnson are widely recognized as the first researchers to propose a physiological theory of sexual response, dubbed the human sexual response cycle. Although they first published their theory way back 1966, it's still used today to describe the physiological and hormonal effects of sexual activity.
Here's your guide to the deconstructed orgasm.
Physically, sexual activity often begins here. The skin may become flushed as blood rushes to sensitive places like nipples and genitals, and triggers swelling and the release of lubrication. Heart rate and breathing increase and muscles tense, while the brain starts releasing dopamine, increasing general feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
During the plateau, the effects from the previous phase continue to intensify and genitals sometimes become so sensitive that they are almost painful to touch. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all continue to increase and muscles may begin to spasm. Dopamine is still flowing and serves to boost all of these physiological changes.
Finally, the moment arrives. The brain signals the release of even more dopamine, along with serotonin and oxytocin. Oxytocin can trigger strong uterine contractions that coincide with the general involuntary contractions of the pelvic muscles during orgasm, and ejaculation may occur. Breathing and heart rate reach their peak and the entire body can become flushed.
The final phase of sexual response often coincides with a refractory period during which the body is non-responsive to sexual stimuli. This occurs to varying degrees for different people and may be shorter or longer depending on individual biology. General feelings of contentment, intimacy and sleepiness mark this stage.
In short, orgasms are good for the body and the mind—so playing hooky to stay in bed is all part of keeping yourself healthy and happy.
Words by Kathleen Morrison