What are orgasms? What are they like?
An orgasm is “an intense, pleasurable response to sexual stimulation”  that is most often experienced at the height of sexual arousal. The sources of this stimulation may be genital or non-genital. Reports of experiences vary according to individual, though most people have likened it to a form of release (of sexual tension), accompanied by a feeling of lightheadedness and an intense feeling of pleasure. Physiologically, muscle spasms of the body may be involved; it is much easier to spot an orgasm in a man as an orgasm usually culminates in ejaculation, though that is not always the case. It is important to know that not every orgasm is the same. Some orgasms may be described as “mind-blowing” while others may simply be described as “ordinary”.
Orgasms often occur when the stimulation of certain parts of the body (e.g., genitals) sends down ‘messages’ via the nervous system to the brain, which results in the activation of the hypothalamus and the release of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, has been known to contribute to the intensity of an orgasm.
For individuals with a penis, it is easier to know when you are having an orgasm as it usually leads to an ejaculation. It may be trickier for those without a penis to know if and when you are having an orgasm. However, there are some bodily changes to suggest that in a woman. For example, your vagina or your pelvic muscles may contract involuntarily, your body may go into spasms, and your breathing and heart rate may increase. There are also women who “squirt”* when they experience an orgasm.
An orgasm is a subjective experience. Some people call it a warm tingling sensation, while others describe it as an electrical sensation or a wave of overwhelming euphoria. Some may experience not one, but multiple orgasms at a time.
They may be incredibly satisfying, but for those who experience it for the first time, they may be quite confronting and even uncomfortable. It may be underwhelming for some people, while it may be one of the most gratifying experiences one has ever had.
Long story short, it is difficult to tell if you are having an orgasm for the first time. Therefore, do not assume that orgasms are always “mind-blowing” and always result in screams of euphoria. Porn does not always depict sex in reality; in fact, they are often exaggerated.
However, give yourself a little time. Practise with different masturbation techniques. Try exploring the various parts of your body, particularly your genital area. Notice how each part of the body, when touched, makes you feel. In time, you may learn to touch yourself in the most pleasurable way.
Why can’t I orgasm?
There are many reasons for why someone may be unable to orgasm. There may be a medical or a psychological barrier involved, however there are also times when there is no particular reason as to why one is unable to achieve an orgasm.
Some medical causes include:
Post-surgical (e.g., hysterectomy, vaginal repair)
Neurological (e.g., spinal cord lesion, nerve disorders, multiple sclerosis)
Endocrine (e.g., thyroid disorders)
Cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., previous heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes)
Medications (e.g., antidepressants, hormonal pills)
The above causes may directly lead to anorgasmia, or the difficulty of reaching an orgasm despite multiple sexual stimulation, but may also lead to erectile dysfunction in men, which is one of the causes of anorgasmia.
For women, apart from the above causes, they may also have dyspareunia, a condition that causes painful intercourse. The causes of dyspareunia may be physiological, such as inadequate lubrication, but may also be from medical conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis. Vaginismus may also cause dyspareunia. It refers to the involuntary contraction of vaginal muscles during penetration.
Note that this does not mean that sex is unpleasurable for you or your partner if either one does not orgasm. It is perfectly normal to not always orgasm during sex or to never have an orgasm in your life. Whether or not you are able to orgasm should not affect the quality of sex life.
What are the best ways to achieve an orgasm?
There are no hard and fast rules to achieving an orgasm.
Most people commonly experience an orgasm by stimulating the reproductive organs, such as the penis, clitoris, anus, prostate, and nipples. As there is a psychological component involved in an orgasm, it is best to communicate openly with your partner about your preferences and concerns. An honest and open relationship with your sexual partner has been shown to improve the quality of sex lives.
Here are other tips to try out alone or with your partner:
Kegel exercises have also been found to increase the intensity of your orgasms by strengthening the pelvic muscles. Try it out with or without kegel balls.
Try stimulating the clitoris*. The clitoris is known to have thousands of nerve endings, which make it an incredibly sensitive spot for most women. Many women have found external stimulation more satisfying than penetration alone.
Foreplay increases the chances of sexual arousal in most women. The more aroused you are, the more likely you will have an orgasm. Try to avoid rushing into sexual intercourse; take your time to explore your body with your partner.
Try out different sex positions. Some positions that are known for stimulating the clitoris and the g-spot* may help you reach an orgasm faster. Get adventurous! Try going on top, cowgirl, or doggy-style!
The anatomy of the vulva
It is important for us to have at least a basic understanding of the female anatomy, as identifying the most common erogenous zones of the genitalia may not only help us understand our bodies better but also allow us to develop ways to touch ourselves and give us maximal pleasure.
Vulva: The external female genitalia. This includes the mons pubis (the tissue surrounding the pubic bone), the labia majora and minora, clitoris, and vaginal opening
Vagina: The part between the uterus (womb) and the external opening. It is situated in between the urethral opening and anus.
Clitoral hood: The fold of skin surrounding the clitoris.
Clitoris: Sometimes known as "the female penis". A sensitive part seated just above the urethral opening. One of the common parts to stimulate to achieve female orgasms.
Labia majora (outer lips): The external folds of skin surrounding vaginal opening
Labia minora (inner lips): The external folds surrounding vaginal opening, just underneath the labia majora
Urethral opening: The urethra connects to the bladder. The opening allows urine to be released.
Anus: Connects to the rectum. The opening allows faeces to be released.
Some may find that the area surrounding the anus to be most pleasurable, as it is quite sensitive to touch and controls the external sphincter muscles. Nonetheless, people generally find that the clitoris is one of the most effective ways to achieve an orgasm. The various ways to stimulate these erogenous zones are usually through oral or tactile stimulation.
The clitoris is one of the most elusive parts of the human body. While it is often featured in the human anatomy, its function is less often talked about. Most of the clitoris is underneath the vulva. It averages 9-11cm in size, and serves only to provide pleasure. The clitoris has an extensive supply of nerve endings, so when the external part of the clitoris (often known as “the bean”) is stimulated, blood rushes to the vulva and causes it to swell in response.
There are many sex toys targeted at external stimulation, which tend to focus on the clitoris. They can range from suction toys to vibrators. You may consider including these toys in your foreplay with your partner or even when masturbating alone.
The G-spot is purportedly located at the anterior wall of the vagina, just 5-8cm from the vaginal opening. It is often stimulated by inserting a finger or two into the vagina and curling the fingers towards the bladder (like in a “come here” motion). At first, there may be some discomfort, as the bladder may be stimulated and make you feel as though you are about to urinate. This discomfort may then turn into pleasure for some women. There are also others who do not receive much pleasure from this action.
It is a mystery as to whether or not the g-spot exists. Named after Ernst Grafenberg, a German gynaecologist who wrote about this region in the 1940s, it has never been proven to be the source of female ejaculation, nor has its location ever been verified. However, there are people who believe that the g-spot is an extension of the clitoris, thus explaining its link to orgasms.
Extragenital erogenous zones
Extragenital erogenous zones of the body that are equally powerful include the breasts, ears, neck, lips, thighs, and buttocks. These areas, when stimulated, are equally likely to cause great satisfaction and increase the chances of having an orgasm.
Squirting vs female ejaculation
There is a lack of research in this field of sexual health; however, studies have suggested that squirting, which is a form of urine, results from strong pelvic contractions around the bladder whereas female ejaculation is milky-white fluid contributed by the Skene’s glands (also known as the female prostate) . The former is more commonly associated with clitoral orgasms, while the latter has been often linked to the stimulation of the g-spot.
All in all, whether or not you have squirted or ejaculated before, each woman’s responses to stimuli are definitely not the same. While squirting has been featured prominently in pornographic material, they do not always happen in real life. If you find yourself unable to squirt (or ejaculate), fret not. It does not mean that sex is less pleasurable for you.
Faking an orgasm
Contrary to popular belief, men (or individuals with penises) can also fake an orgasm.
There are many reasons as to why someone would fake an orgasm. Some may want their partners to believe they are good in bed to boost their egos, or to avoid hurting their feelings. Others may do it so that sex would end. Either way, if the partner were to find out that the other has been faking an orgasm, he/she/they may feel betrayed and hurt. Furthermore, if your partner thinks that they have satisfied you, they will continue to ‘pleasure’ you in the same way in future. Without any open discussions about what your preferences are with your partner, they do not know what you like or dislike. Contrary to popular belief, sex does not always lead to mind-blowing orgasms. Unfortunately, this stereotype is often perpetuated in the media.
While orgasms may be an extra bonus to some people, there are also others who have never had an orgasm in their entire lives. This does not diminish the quality of their sex lives. Therefore, it is important to have an honest and open conversation with your partner. Sex is a great way to boost emotional and physical intimacy with your partner; it allows you to be entirely vulnerable with each other, and to bond through the act of touching.
Remember - sex does not need to culminate in a mind-blowing orgasm to be fulfilling.
 Komisaruk, B. R., Beyer-Flores, C., & Whipple, B. (2006). The Science of Orgasm (Illustrated ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press.
 Pastor, Z., & Chmel, R. (2017). Differential diagnostics of female “sexual” fluids: a narrative review. International Urogynecology Journal, 29(5), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00192-017-3527-9