Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Did You Have An Orgasm? Did I?

Depending on whose statistics you believe and how they are gathered, anywhere from 30 percent to 75 percent of women do not experience orgasm through intercourse alone. General agreement puts the figure at “more than half of American women”. Read More

orgasm--an ancient history

Psychology today comment
The function of the orgasm has long been questioned. Wilhelm Reich published his famous book by that title in 1940, long before dopamine was known and understood. In the mid ‘60s, Masters and Johnson published their watershed work, the Human Sexual Response, and Margaret Mead wondered whether or not orgasm was a culturally determined phenomenon. In the late 1940s she questioned if “the human female’s capacity for orgasm is to be viewed …as a potentiality that may or may not be developed by a given culture”. Yet Master’s and Johnson had found orgasm to be an involuntary, physiological response to neuronal stimulation. I picked up the challenge to find out how deep in primate history this sexual response would go, assuming anthropoids—in particular macaque monkeys—to be the proxy for earlier primate history, and assuming if a behavior is ingrained in monkeys, then chances are, it is part of human physical behavior as well. The work was published in the early 70s (Sexual Climax in Female Macaca mulatta. Proceedings, 3rd Internat.Cong of Primat. 3:181-191.), and confirmed a few years later by David Goldfoot and colleagues in Science. (Behavioral and physiological evidence of sexual climax in the female stump-tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides) 208(4551):1477-1479.) Orgasm clearly was part of primate physiology. I had wondered if its function was more than a ‘pump’ to push sperm towards the egg; rather, it seemed with the then burgeoning science of brain hormones in the early 1970s, to have a major role in mate bonding, through hormones like dopamine.

Thank you for your comments

It's good to hear from you, Dr. Burton.

Orgasm is not only a subjective phenomenon

I think there is a lot of false beliefs about female orgasm. Not only many women have no idea of what it is, but also some sexperts come forward with “information“ about female orgasm which is not accurate. Although orgasm is subjectively experienced as a feeling of utmost pleasure, it should not be forgotten that it is not a mere subjective phenomenon. It is a PHYSIOLOGICAL response! It is accompanied not only with subjective feelings but also with objective manifestations on the physiological level (which could be observed also in a laboratory setting -see for example the work of Masters and Johnson). This makes orgasm an OBJECTIVE phenomenon. So I cannot agree with your statement that “Every woman really needs to decide for herself what is an orgasm for her...“ From my point of view, every woman may decide for herself what sexual satisfaction / satisfactory sexual experience is but she cannot decide for herself what an orgasm is for her because it is an objective phenomenon which she either experienced at a particular time or not. It is a matter of FACT, not a subjective decission. An important question may be why she needs to call her satisfactory sexual experience an orgasm at all costs. Ok, she may not know what orgasm is but I think that it is ridiculous to support misconceptions and hundreds of inaccurate definitions of orgasm. It is well-known that quite a lot of women do not need an orgasm to feel sexually satisfied and that they can have a feeling of pleasant lassitude after sexual episode also without the experience of orgasm during sex. That is why I think that your statement “In many cases one can tell in retrospect because of the feeling of pleasant lassitude that follows a sexual episode“ is quite misleading and simply not true.

I beg to differ

Physiological phenomenon or not, every woman will interpret her sensations differently and experience them differently. My own first orgasm felt like a "joy buzzer", shocking and intense and not pleasant in the least.

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Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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