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Multiple Orgasms: What Exactly Is Happening?

Jul. 29, 2011
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This week's question was kindly supplied by a new acquaintance during post-dinner conversation. "My friends always say, 'Oh, he gave me multiple orgasms,'" she mused. "What exactly do they mean by that?" This led to a brief debate about whether "multiple orgasms" is commonly used to mean having more than one orgasm throughout the night or having more than one orgasm in quick succession.

You can use the term however you want—no sex nerd police are going to come arrest you. When I use this phrase, I am referring to successive orgasms that take place without having the usual "resolution" phase in the Masters and Johnson model of human sexual response. This model has four stages—excitement/arousal, plateau, orgasm and resolution. Resolution, the post-orgasm stage, is when the increased heart rate, blood pressure, etc. return to normal levels. Men also usually experience what's called the refractory period following orgasm, when they cannot get another erection or have another orgasm for a time, which can vary from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the man's age and health and other factors. Women don't experience a refractory period, which means that if stimulation is continued, they can return to the pre-orgasmic plateau phase and then have another orgasm.

The Masters and Johnson model has been criticized for being too linear or goal-oriented, and no one model can adequately describe every person's sexual experience. Even if women don't technically have a refractory period, some ladies may find that continued stimulation following an orgasm may be unpleasant or even painful. Also, men can learn to experience multiple orgasms if they are able to separate ejaculation from orgasm. These two phenomena are often thought of as the same thing, but they are not.

An orgasm in its most basic form, regardless of gender, is the rapid, involuntary contraction of the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle in the lower pelvis, accompanied by contractions in the penis, vagina or uterus. So multiple orgasms are simply one series of muscular contractions, followed by a return to the plateau phase, then back up to another series of muscular contractions, and so on. This is often accompanied by feelings of euphoria, involuntary cries for the deity of your choice, the sensation of one's head exploding, etc.

Although multiple orgasms are often held up as some kind of sexual Holy Grail, they are not for everyone (like any other type of sexual activity). It's perfectly fine to be satisfied with one orgasm or none at all. If it's uncomfortable to continue stimulation after an orgasm, that's fine, too. "Giving" someone multiple orgasms is not the yardstick of someone's sexual prowess. If you're interested in experimenting with moving beyond a first orgasm, by all means do so, but remember that sexual pleasure can't be so easily quantified for many people.


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