What Happens During a Female Orgasm?

Sexual Wellness | | Lane Baumeister
5 min read

This article was medically fact-checked by Women’s health expert and Gynaecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck.

What Happens During A Female Orgasm?

Orgasms. They’re one of our favorite parts about being women – most of us just wish they would happen more often. Only a small percent (10-25%) of women can climax from penetration alone and 10-15% of women have trouble reaching orgasm at all.

But how much do you know about what your body is doing when you reach that bliss? Understanding more about what actually happens in your body during arousal and orgasm might help you reach climax more often.

So here’s a quick guide to what your body is doing while you’re working towards that peak. (Click here for 10 Amazing Orgasm Facts!)

Arousal

The anatomy of an orgasm actually begins in the buildup – as most women can attest, an orgasm is a full-body experience, often involving more than one erogenous zone (though most of the time clitoral stimulation is key). For most women it takes, on average, 20 minutes to orgasm.

In the meantime your body is going through changes that increase sensitivity and arousal and get your body ready for the big O. Some of these changes are visible, but others are internal and can only be felt.

That warm, tingling sensation you start to feel when you’re excited is due to increased heart rate and blood pressure, and much (but not all!) of that blood is directed towards your genitals.  The clitoris, which is made up of over 8,000 individual nerve endings, swells, and enlarges.

As you get closer to climax your clitoris will pull back up under the clitoral hood (the sheath of skin that protects your clitoris). Your inner labia also begin to swell and your outer lips separate – this is often accompanied by a darkening of color as more blood fills the tissue.

While it’s true that upwards of 75% of women can’t orgasm from intercourse alone, there are ways to increase arousal and get you closer to the edge. Try a slow, sensual, full-body massage as you’re getting undressed. Or try a couples’ massager, which is a vibrator that is worn by women during sex and rubs against both the clitoris and g-spot while your partner is thrusting.

It creates intense sensations for both of you and leaves your hands free for exploring. Or try both, one after the other. It can take time to figure out what you like, so enjoy the exploration.

Your vagina begins to secrete fluid to lubricate itself to make sex more comfortable – often the more aroused you are the “wetter” you become. However, it’s not always enough – and that’s normal! It happens to many women for different reasons. Just be sure to keep a lubricant on hand to help out. Along with this lubrication, the lower part of your vagina becomes narrower and the upper part lengthens as your cervix and uterus move up slightly, creating more space for your partner’s penis or toy.

Over the course of foreplay you’ll notice the tension and tingling building throughout your body – everywhere from your face to your fingers and feet. It’s the release of that tension in orgasm that feels so incredible. You might start to feel little spasms not just in your pelvis but all over your body – this is called myotonia and is thought to be because the spasming of your pelvic muscles and organs pulls on other muscles, causing them to move as well.

These spasms become even more prevalent during orgasm.

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The Big O

When the peak moment finally comes your muscle spasms will start, especially in the pelvis. This is a combination of the walls of your uterus, vagina, anus, and pelvic floor contacting, causing the waves of pleasure throughout your abdomen and the rest of your body.

Interestingly, scientists have found that the strength of your orgasms can be tied to the health of your pelvic floor muscles. The more toned your pelvic floor muscles are the better they contract during orgasm, adding to the pleasure you feel. By far the easiest way to strengthen these muscles is to start doing Kegel exercises, which involve lifting your pelvic floor upwards, holding the contraction for a few seconds, then relaxing and repeating.

Smart Kegel exercisers like KegelSmart register pelvic floor strength, guiding you through your exercises with gentle vibrations. As you improve, you’re moved up through progressive levels so you achieve pelvic floor strength and its sexy benefits in no time!

Depending on the strength of your climax it can last anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute.

The number of contractions also varies, but the normal range is between 1 and 12 contractions that each last about a second. And don’t think that sex and orgasm are an entirely body-based experience – your brain also gets in on the action, releasing chemicals like oxytocin (aka the cuddle hormone, which helps create intimacy) and dopamine (a reward chemical and natural pain-killer).

Remember that every orgasm is different, and every woman experiences her orgasms differently.  However, having a better understanding of how your body (and mind) react to sexual stimulation can help you unlock the knowledge of what gets you there. Take time either alone or with your partner to figure out what you like and find your own rhythm – we all know that getting there is part of the fun!

Facts checked by:

Dr. Alyssa Dweck

Dr. Alyssa Dweck

Alyssa Dweck MS, MD, FACOG is a practicing gynecologist in Westchester County, New York. She provides care to women of all ages; she has delivered thousands of babies. She is proficient in minimally invasive surgery and has special interest and expertise in female sexual health and medical sex therapy. She is top doctor in New York Magazine and Westchester Magazine. Dr. Dweck has co-authored three books including the most recent release The Complete A to Z For Your V.

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7 thoughts on “What Happens During a Female Orgasm?

  • Dianne says:

    I am about to have a hysterectomy and I am wondering how the intensity of my orgasm will change. How important are the uterus, cervix and anus in the pelvic contractions. Since these parts will be removed will I experience less of an orgasm?

  • Sarah Hickson says:

    Hello Lara, thank you so much for this article. I really like your writing style! Take care. Sarah

  • pollyann riddle says:

    i have great intrest in this subject. i have an extremely sinsitive area which can or cant be be called a gspot. i can activate this area by sqeezing the right pelvic and stomach muscles without having sex. i interalize my feelings, which means I sqeeze my stoach. can this be a cause of over sexuality be be it intentualy or not. can it have caused me mental confusion throughout my life having only found oút be where that confusion has stemmed from? i am 56 now and have suffered rather than had pleasuered from this and need help please!

    • INTIMINA says:

      Hi Pollyan. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re being caused distress. I think it would help to seek guidance from a registered sex therapist. They can help with the feelings of unease, and will come from a place of understanding that may be more helpful than a regular therapist with that specialization. And, it also helps to ‘shop around’ a bit – ask before doing an intake session whether the therapist has any experience with the issue you’re describing. Good luck!

  • Paula Jorgensen says:

    I have a question I’m a 19 years old girl and I do have a adjustable vibrator but I don’t know if I’m having a orgasm or not. What I do is I have the vibrator on and I turn myself on my stomach and move my hips and what not and I keep going and then I will get this intense tingly sensation where I have to stop and it feels good after. My legs feel like they need to stretch so when I do just that it feels good as well. If I try edging agian I can’t because I have to wait because I guess I over stimulated idk. Would this be an Orgasm or what? Sorry if this is a weird question I just don’t know.

    • Intimina says:

      Hi Paula,

      there are no weird questions, just questions. 🙂

      And yes, this sounds like you are having orgasms every time you masturbate. But the only thing you should ask yourself is: do you like it? Is it nice? Do you enjoy it?

      If yes, congrats! You are having an orgasm! 🙂

      Enjoy exploring your body and your sexuality.

      Have a great day

  • Nardia says:

    Hey! Im 25 and Im so confused to weather or not I am orgasming while being eaten out by my partner.. he says it looks like I am having an orgasm by the look of my face and how my whole body shakes!
    It feels so bloody great that it takes my breath away my whole body shakes! I have had the tingling once or twice but not often. It’s such an intense build up to what I believe is an orgasm. And when it feels like it’s over my whole body just drops and I’m exhausted but I still obviously want to have sex.
    I also feel like this can happen during sex as well

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