"My body doesn't stimulate physically. It's more of a mental process for me."

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what does an orgasm feel like
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Not everyone's comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people's bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG's monthly column Sex IRL, we'll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.

An orgasm can be similar to the experience of falling in love-at least that's what some people seem to say about it. Movies and porn constantly opine that you'll just know if you've had the big O because it'll be that explosively obvious-complete with fireworks, curled toes, and body convulsions. For some people, that really may be the case. But when pleasure is framed in a way that feels cinematically larger-than-life and with total certainty, it's easy to think something is wrong with your body and that you're missing out on something if you don't have quite the same experience in the bedroom. When, in fact, pleasure comes in waves and peaks and that's totally normal. After all, the experience of sex is a unique experience for everyone.

A 2016 study frames the orgasm as something similar to a "sexual trance," a highly stimulating act and one of the most pleasurable experiences humans can feel, and yet, the mechanics can still be poorly understood. Research shows that it's not just about sexual prowess and technique, it's important for everyone, and especially for women, to feel mentally and physically engaged to relax fully in bed to feel pleasure and be satisfied.

But despite knowing what an orgasm is, what does it actually look and feel like? To get to the bottom of this, I spoke to six people to unravel the physical sensations they experience when they orgasm and what moves and positions help them get there. Here's what they told me.

"Even if I ejaculated recently, I still get this feeling as if it's been forever."

"I first discovered masturbation when I was 13. I did not know what was happening or what it was called. All I knew was that if I touched my penis, it would grow and ejaculate. Sex wasn't really talked about when I was growing up, so I learned as I went along.

"For me, as I reach closer to an orgasm, I get a feeling in my stomach, almost like a flutter. My body becomes very sensitive, and any kissing or touching of my erogenous zones, like ears, feels really good. At the moment of ejaculation, the best way I can describe it is that it feels like when I have to urinate for quite some time, and then I am finally able to, and there is a rush of relief. A feeling of relief washes over me. Even if I ejaculated recently, I still get this feeling as if it's been forever. I don't have a feeling throughout my entire body, as some people have described, the feeling is really just in my penis.

"I can pretty much orgasm whenever, I don't have to be in a particular mood. I don't have trouble getting an erection or climaxing, however, I would say I climax much quicker if I have other areas of my body stimulated as well. I don't masturbate anymore and only climax with my wife. If she is kissing me or playing with my ears, or even talking to me about what she is doing, while stroking my penis, I will definitely orgasm much faster."

- Jeff, 28, Wisconsin, US

"My body does not actually get stimulated much physically. It's more of a mental process for me."

"I struggle with anxiety big time. I'm currently in a super busy place in my life so the stress is high. As the owner of three businesses, I am always in a leading/controlling role day-to-day. I like to be released of that during sex and mentally let go. I find it takes, even more, to mentally stimulate me in times like this because now it's about calming my mind down from the anxiety, too.

"I love setting the mood with red lights. Setting up a relaxing vibe and talking dirty with light touching/finger play usually does the trick for me. This could be anywhere from a 10-minute to 1-hour process, depending on how much mental stimulation I need that day to relax and release control, allowing my body to ease into orgasm.

"When I have an orgasm, I experience full mental relaxation and release of control. My body does not actually get stimulated much physically. It's more of a mental process for me. My whole body goes into deep relaxation, and I feel very present to the euphoric experience of the orgasm. It's as if my focus zones in on the feeling.

"I prefer to orgasm with a partner. I was having sex with my primary partner at the time (and first sexual partner ever). I was aware of what orgasms were, but didn't really understand them as I'd never had one. I experienced my first one with him then. I was explaining the experience, not sure of what it was, and he told me I had orgasmed. Once I knew the feeling of that experience, I started to understand them better and became more able to have them. I never really felt feelings of nervousness about orgasming. Sex has always intrigued me.

"It's much harder for me to mentally get myself there on my own. I can please myself physically well, but not to the full extent of an orgasm as I would have with a partner. I've never actually been able to orgasm through penetrative sex. I orgasm more through outercourse. I love outercourse! Things like talking, teasing, toys, or BDSM roleplay gets me very mentally stimulated. I also enjoy compersion to mentally stimulate me. Talking turns me on the most-about things like fantasies or former sexual experiences my partner has had."

- Carly, 23, Irvine, CA

"As an older woman, the longer, more drawn out the foreplay, the higher the chances I will experience an orgasm with my partner."

"I was born in 1975, so there was no real opportunity for me to witness sex or an orgasm on television. Growing up, we didn't have cable, and cable channels were where you could find risque programming. The first time I experienced an orgasm I was completely caught off guard and my mind was blown! I found a vibrator under my mom's bathroom sink and turned it on. From that point on, I masturbated regularly. Knowing the pleasure, sense of release, and calm it brought to my body made it a no-brainer.

what does an orgasm feel like
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"From my experience, orgasming through penetration leads to a much more cataclysmic orgasm where my muscles contract for longer, thus lengthening the orgasmic experience. At its best, an orgasm is a full-body experience originating at the apex between [my] legs and generating outward to encompass the whole body. Unfortunately, an orgasm is oftentimes an elusive achievement. As an older woman, the longer, more drawn out the foreplay, the higher the chances I will experience an orgasm with my partner. The absence or rushed nature of foreplay will oftentimes lead to a disappointing, orgasm-free experience. For this reason, I take it upon myself to communicate clearly with my sexual partner to be sure he understands what turns me on and how I like to be touched. My orgasms occur solely through clitoral stimulation. As such, I make sure when I'm close to having an orgasm to put myself into a highly stimulating position. For me, that involves closing my legs with a man straddling my legs. To achieve a euphoric orgasm, I find communication and foreplay will get the job done almost every time.

"My relationship with my orgasm changed drastically in my 40's compared to my 20's. First and foremost, I know what I need now in order to achieve orgasm: great foreplay, passion, and a man who touches me the right way. I'm confident and communicative now and am not afraid to tell a man how to touch me and what I need to have an orgasm. I now know how to give myself an orgasm, which is something I would never have dreamed of doing in front of a man when I was in my twenties."

- Lacie, 46, Colorado, US

"The best orgasm I ever had was the first time I was tied up and blindfolded."

"The first orgasm I had was when I was 18 with a female and 21 with a male. Neither experience was anything to write home about. It was more of a 'let's get this over with' type of vibe. I was young and nervous. With females, I was young and didn't know I was gay. I would get hard with females but it was way more work to get to completion. With guys, it was way more natural and my orgasms were way more intense. Throughout my exploration into adulthood, I have learned how much the body and mind contribute to the overall sensation and experience. Not all orgasms are created equal. Overall, it's a mixture of headspace, company, and environment. For me, the type and quality of the orgasm really depend on situational context. When did I get off last? How attracted am I to this person? How sexually charged am I feeling [at] the moment? Is it 2 a.m. after a night out? Each of these circumstances changes from experience to experience and can have an impact on my orgasm.

"I have a very healthy sexual appetite and it has as much variation as my desires for food. Some days I want a salad, others pizza, steak, Indian food, etc. The same goes for my sexual experiences-sometimes I want something more intimate or more adventurous, taboo or kinky, and sometimes it's out of boredom and not wanting to get off alone. I have never been nervous about having [orgasms] alone. With partners, the only time I was 'concerned' was when it was taking a long time to get there. It was more of a fixation on completion vs. being nervous about the orgasm itself.

"The best orgasm I ever had was the first time I was tied up and blindfolded. It was with someone I had met a few times but didn't know that well. I knew him enough that I was 90% sure a train of men weren't going to come through the door as soon as he had me restricted, but there was still that other 10% that made it dangerous-and thrilling. Also, when you restrict one sense, other senses heighten. Between the 'risk' of the situation and the eroticism of the restraints and blindfolds, I had my best release. Thoughtful lovers-meaning [they] understand my sexual desires and triggers-make the best lovers. Amazing orgasms can result from me taking control of the situation with positioning, technique, etc, letting go of control (eg. bondage and blindfolds) or because my partner is really focused on getting me off."

- Craig, 41, New York, NY

"The only thing that consistently gets me to orgasm is through clitoral stimulation with my finger or a vibrator."

"I've dated lots [of people] in my life, but I've probably only orgasmed a handful of times from PIV sex. It was only with my college hookup who had a penis with a curve that helped me hit my G-spot. When we would have sex, intense pressure and these contractions would build up in my stomach. At first, I was super uncomfortable. The sensation felt like I had to pee but it was really me orgasming. The first time it ever happened, I remember being nervous, yelling gotta go, and running to the bathroom in case my bladder was full. I was scared I would get a UTI or pee all over him in bed. When I saw that my bladder was empty in the bathroom, I realized that was my first orgasm! I remember being surprised that an orgasm could feel like that. I thought it would be this experience where I would be sighing and moaning all over the bed. It wasn't anything like that at all. What helped me was putting my legs on his shoulders, having a pillow under the small of my back, and having him pound me as hard as he could so my G-spot could be stimulated.

"What surprised me was I thought once I had an orgasm, it would be this achievement my body would unlock and it would make it easier to get there later on. However, that hasn't been the case. If anything, it's continued to be elusive and mysterious. Because of that, I am more comfortable orgasming alone than with a partner. Inevitably, they become disappointed if I don't orgasm through intercourse, which adds extra pressure I don't need. It's frustrating because I feel like my body is betraying me but I'm noticing the more stress I put on its performance, the more it evades me. I'm learning how to be more communicative about what I need in hopes of getting there again with a partner. It's fun to mess around in bed tantrically than have a sexual release because it feels good anyway and that's what I care about. It's rewarding in a different way and I still feel satisfied. For now, the only thing that consistently gets me to orgasm is through clitoral stimulation with my finger or a vibrator."

- Anonymous, 31, New York, NY

"The key for me wasn't new experiences-it was about understanding my present experiences."

"[Growing up] after a few halfhearted explorative forays into clit-touching, one night was...different. I started to feel an intense pressure that made me want to keep going. Suddenly, I felt a sort of involuntary craving for more pressure and touch, deeper and harder. It felt so intense, I remember moaning and worrying that my brothers across the hall would hear.

what does an orgasm feel like
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"I started reading sex books and tawdry stuff in an attempt to figure things out. I didn't really have anyone to talk to about my discoveries. I've never thought of sex in movies and TV as real. There was always an inherent fakeness about it. Plus, as a heavy kid and fat adult, the people involved didn't look anything like me-so it didn't occur to me to compare actors with my own experiences. Honestly, it still doesn't. By the time I started having sex with partners, I already had a good sense of what I liked and when I was approaching orgasm. Once the right spots were being stimulated-heavy on the G-spot, light on the clit is my preference-it was easy for me to know when pressure was building and orgasm was imminent. We might not think of orgasms as something we get better at. Giving them, sure. But I've learned over time that having orgasms can also be a skill that can be learned, developed, and improved upon over time.

"I found that by doing Kegels and yoga to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, I had orgasms that were much more intense. As I gained more control and understanding over my own body, I was able to do cool stuff like Kegels during intercourse or skimming for an hour or two while delaying orgasm for a big finish.

"Many medications have side effects that include drastic changes in libido (high and low) or the inability to have an orgasm. Medications have made orgasm more difficult at times, and sometimes even impossible. This is something I discuss openly with my doctor, who understands that sexual side effects are not something I can tolerate for long. I've been with my husband for more than 20 years, and have learned more than I did in my 20's dating a wide variety of people and trying every new thing that comes my way. The key for me wasn't new experiences-it was about understanding my present experiences.

"Being in the moment, feeling trust, and having an attentive partner all enhance my ability to have an orgasm and enjoy it fully once it's happening. I have my own mental process for reaching orgasm alone, which is fantasy-based. With my husband, though, it's all about being in the moment. We like music and a constellation light because we're romantics at heart. We also put the cats out of the bedroom so they don't pounce on us at an inopportune moment. Otherwise, we just like a big comfy bed and each other."

- Wednes, 50, Michigan

Interviews have been condensed and edited for length and/or clarity.