If discussion of sexuality offends you, please skip this post.
Welcome to part two of this three-part series. Although over the next year I plan to write similar articles here and there, I have no intention of turning this into a dedicated 'sex blog'. But if the subject of sexuality interests you, I hope you'll get something from these posts. Numbers in (red) refer to articles or books from which I’ve drawn information or to back up my own writing.
The Physical Experience
"You get caught up in the moment. You start aching, and sweating. You can feel every inch of your partner beside you. You feel the warmth from their body and start letting your imagination run."
-heterosexual woman, age 21 (1)
In "Human Sexual Response", Masters and Johnson determined that there are four stages in the process of orgasm:
In the excitement stage a woman's blood pressure and heart rate rise, her nipples harden, breasts plump and the areolae (surrounding the nipples) swell. Chest and tummy may become flushed, breathing increases. Within about thirty seconds from the point of stimulation the vagina becomes increasingly moist with natural lubricant. This lubrication isn't produced by a gland as you might think but is blood plasma squeezed through the vaginal tissue during vascocongestion, engorgement of this tissue due to blood rushing to these areas. A smaller amount of lubrication is secreted by the Bartholin's glands (click here for illustration) slightly below and to the left and right of the vaginal opening.
The deepest part of the vagina (in which the walls usually rest against each other) opens up like a tent. As blood flow increases the outer labia (lips) begin to draw apart. The inner lips receive extra blood and become flush with colour, and in some women the clitoris becomes erect.
The plateau stage occurs just before orgasm. The breasts, nipples and areola grow even larger, your body may become hot and flushed. Muscle tone increases, accompanied by involuntary shuddering. Heart rate and breathing increase and become irregular. The inner two-thirds of the vagina expands significantly in width and length, allowing for penetration. The upper part of the vagina balloons out, the uterus expands and lifts up from the pelvic floor muscles, tilting forward. The lower portion of the vagina swells, allowing it to "grasp" any object that enters it. Inner lips double or triple in thickness as they fill with blood, pushing the outer lips apart to ease entry. As arousal increases, the clitoris increases in length and diameter and the hood swells to protect it from too much stimulation.
At this stage there's often a tremendous amount of emotion involved, so I'll dedicate that part of it to my last post. Physiological reactions are probably more straightforward. The skin becomes more flushed, nipples, areolae and breasts larger and firmer. A series of muscle contractions occur involuntarily, spreading from the circles of muscle near the base of the spine and around the rectum, through to those that form a circle about halfway up around the vagina and deeper inside, in the muscles near the uterus.These contractions are lightning-fast and last about an eighth of a second. The muscles in the lower abdomen contract as well, with the perineum clasping and unclasping in accelerated clenches. The uterus contracts; each squeezing movement starts at the top of the uterus and flows down into the vagina. (2)
During orgasm a woman's cervix dips into her vagina. Many argue this increases the chances of pregnancy, as any semen that is present will be drawn into the uterus. Click here for some amazing photos from The Beautiful Cervix Project which show this clearly. (3)
Some also believe that the reason orgasm exists is to facilitate pregnancy. It allows the woman to remain laying down (presumably motionless), which allows her partner's sperm to travel upwards in search of an egg. This argument has a few flaws. Not all women who become pregnant have had orgasms, their partners may ejaculate before they reach orgasm, women can achieve orgasm in multiple positions and, finally, not all sexual positions require her to be lying down.
Gets the mind going, doesn't it? Does for me. :)
The final stage. Party's over, at least temporarily. The clitoris returns to its normal position, the increased colour of the inner lips fades. Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing slow within a few minutes of climax. The cervix, which hangs in the vagina from the lowest part of the uterus, stays open for about half an hour after orgasm. The uterus then goes back to its normal position. (2)
Blood also flows quickly from the nipples and areolae immediately after orgasm. This blood loss happens so quickly that the areolae become corrugated before returning to their flat, unaroused state.
Prolactin is considered to be responsible for the refractory period in men (the time after ejaculation when we're anxiously hoping to attain another erection). In women prolactin levels double immediately after you've orgasmed and stay elevated for about an hour following. It doesn't have the same effect in women, and allows for multiple orgasms. (1)
I'm so jealous.
Although this can occur during the climax stage, I want to talk about it separately because I don't think it's understood by most people. Fortunately female ejaculation is getting more attention; I believe it's something that's more common than most think and very real (a partner of mine once experienced this). It's also nothing new, having been recorded as far back as Galen in the time of Aristotle.
Female ejaculate is produced during a G-Spot orgasm. The urethral sponge (which I mentioned in the last post) is made up of erectile tissue; during arousal it becomes swollen with blood, compressing the urethra and helping prevent urination during sexual activity. As this area is stimulated, the surrounding tissue swells with fluid from the Skene's gland (click here for illustration). Contractions of the pelvic muscle during a G-Spot orgasm can cause this fluid to be expelled through the urethra. The fluid isn't urine. Tests have indicated that female ejaculate contains PAP (prostatic acid phosphatase) which is also a major component of male semen. The fluid is similar to the prostate fluid within male ejaculate, it just doesn't contain any sperm. In small quantities it can be clear, milky or yellowish. As the volume of expelled fluid increases it turns clear like water. (4) (5) (6)
Some studies have estimated that between 10%-50% of women ejaculate. It's a wide margin isn't it? But research on this is still relatively new and there's still debate on whether the G-Spot and female ejaculation even exist. For me there's no question.
From everything I've heard, G-Spot orgasms can be mind-blowing. Still I think there's far too much made of it, by both men and women. Putting on pressure to find it takes away the point of sex, that the journey's as important as the destination.
Next: The Psychological Experience
(1) "Why Women Have Sex" by Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D. and David M. Buss, Ph.D.
(2) Master's and Johnson's findings from "Woman's Experience Of Sex" by Sheila Kitzinger, 1983. Information on lubrication and Bartholin's glands through research on the internet.
(3) "The Beautiful Cervix Project"
(4) "Female Ejaculation"
(5) Female Ejaculation, the G-Spot, and the Female Prostate Gland (excellent article!)
(6) Unraveling the ancient mysteries of female ejaculation and the G-spot
Photo credit here. "woman orgasm smoke" by sombreroloco 2009-2010