What Happens During Female Orgasm?

Women can experience orgasms by stimulating the G-spot, an area that sits at the top of her vagina and where her inner labia (lips) meet. They can also orgasm by stimulating their anus or clitoral hood.

During an orgasm, the brain experiences overwhelming activity, which includes a release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and the bonding hormone oxytocin. The heart and breathing rate increase as blood rushes to the genitals.

The Buildup

During orgasms, the anal and uterine muscles (which run from the pelvic bone to the tailbone) may contract involuntarily, creating the feeling of pulsing. The G-spot (aka Grafenberg spot)—an area inside the vagina on the upper wall that swells during sexual excitement—may also be stimulated. During orgasms, women can feel the sensation in the G-spot, which feels bumpy and looks a little like a walnut.

The clitoral hood—which extends from the two inner labia in two shafts that meet up top—can also be stimulated to create orgasms. The clitoral hood has an unusual texture that many describe as feeling bumpy, spongy or walnut-like. It’s a little hard to reach and can be difficult for some women, which is why it’s important for women to have open communication with their partners about what kinds of stimulation they find most orgasmic.

Researchers studied fMRI scans of women who were masturbating in order to see what happened in their brains during an orgasm. An animation created by one of the researchers, Nan Wise, shows that brain activity increased as a woman approached orgasm and peaked during it. The areas that lit up included the frontal cortex, sensory, reward and motor regions.

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When a woman is at the height of her orgasm, her body releases massive amounts of oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin is thought to help people bond with their partners, while dopamine is connected to the reward center of the brain and can make you feel really good.

The Climax

During this period of arousal, you might notice that your heart rate and breathing quicken. Your skin may feel flushed and your genitals enlarge as the blood flow to them increases. At the same time, a cocktail of chemicals is being worked up in your brain, including dopamine (which is associated with pretty much anything that feels good), and the bonding hormone oxytocin.

This is also when you might start feeling little spasms — called myotonia — all over your body, from your face to your fingers and toes. These are the muscle contractions that make up orgasm and they’re what makes it so pleasurable.

Then, during the climax phase, your muscles in your pelvic area (including your vagina, uterus, and anus) contract and you might even feel a squirt of fluid. This happens as the vestibular bulbs in your labia – which is tissue under the surface of your outer labia skin – fill with blood and become puffy and enlarged. As a result, your inner and outer lips might feel like they’re wet and your clitoris might become erect, too.

At this point, your brain’s activity has reached a peak that’s been compared to an epileptic seizure. The amygdala – the part of the brain that processes emotions — is activated; the orbitofrontal cortex (involved in behavioral control) shuts down; and the hypothalamus gets a hefty dose of the feel-good chemical dopamine.

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The Release

As a woman approaches orgasm she can feel her heart rate and blood pressure increase. She may blush all over — or in other cases the whole body may appear flushed, and her clitoris and labia (the nipples and vulva) become engorged with blood. Testosterone and neurotransmitters are released to create the feeling of arousal that most women describe as warm, tingly and sexually exciting.

As she continues to focus on her sexual desire and is pushed closer to a climax, her genital muscles start to contract in rhythmic bursts. The clitoris, which is made up of over 8,000 nerve endings, can become erect and the vestibular bulbs fill with blood, making them look puffy or swollen. The nipples and areola also get larger, and the vulva expands as blood flows to them.

Some scientists have suggested that female orgasm is an evolutionary holdover from a time when the hormones associated with it were necessary for ovulation, but as females’ ability to ovulate without orgasms evolved, these same hormones became a part of arousal and sexual pleasure. Other research has shown that female orgasms can encourage bonding and the release of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.

In the brain, areas of the limbic system are activated by sexual arousal and peak with orgasm. These areas include the hippocampus, which is involved in emotions and memory, the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with higher-level thinking, and the right angular gyrus, which is involved in motor functions. These parts of the brain send signals to other organs and tissues, such as the vagina, uterus and pelvic muscles.

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The Finale

During this stage, the focus on sexual stimulation drowns out other sensations and the muscle contractions become more rhythmic. Blood flows to the genitals, and they may engorge and feel enlarged and intensely pleasurable to the touch. During this phase, the brain is also working up a potent cocktail of chemicals including oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin is the so-called “love hormone” that promotes feelings of bonding and closeness, while dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to feeling pleasure.

The peak moment of the orgasm arrives when the clitoral muscles and the walls of the uterus, vagina, and anus contact each other and trigger waves of pleasure throughout the body. Stimulation of other erogenous zones, like the A-spot and G-spot, can help women reach orgasm as well. But in most cases, a female orgasm requires clitoral stimulation.

Scientists have found that the clitoral muscles are packed with delicate nerve connections that make them particularly sensitive and responsive to sexual stimuli. As a result, they can be very quickly stimulated to produce an orgasm in most women. Other research shows that the health of the pelvic floor muscles is also a key factor in whether or not a woman will experience an orgasm. The more toned these muscles are, the more likely a woman is to orgasm. The best way to strengthen these muscles is through Kegel exercises, which involve tightening and holding the pelvic floor muscles for a few seconds.

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