Male and female orgasms are surprisingly similar in a number of ways. Both have very similar effects in the brain and the same hormones are released at similar levels during orgasm. But there are some key differences between the two, including the duration of orgasm and how long it takes before you can have another one. But the human orgasm is a diverse thing, and there are also many individual differences within a gender, as well as between genders.
Here are 9 ways to compare male and female orgasms.
Duration of orgasm
Another difference between male and female orgasms is how long they last. Women's orgasms typically last for 10-15 seconds, but some women report that they can last more than a minute.
Men's orgasms, on the other hand, typically don't last quite as long, at about 5-10 seconds.
Many women report anxiety about taking too long to reach orgasm, especially during oral sex. In contrast, as many as 1 in 3 men report reaching orgasm too quickly, known as premature ejaculation.
One of the main differences between men and most women is ejaculation. In men, orgasm is usually accompanied by ejaculation of semen, made up of clear fluid and sperm cells.
However, some women also report ejaculation of fluid during orgasm. A review of the literature on female ejaculation showed extremely mixed results, with between 10 and 54% of women experiencing secretion of a white fluid at orgasm. Despite its potentially widespread occurrence, female ejaculation is banned from UK porn films.
Some men can also experience orgasm without ejaculation. Known as a 'dry orgasm', this can happen in healthy men or when men have diseases affecting the bladder, after having parts of their prostate removed due to cancer, or conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Contractions during orgasm
In both men and women, orgasm involves a series of muscular contractions about 0.6-0.8 seconds apart. In both men and women, the pelvic muscles contract, especially the pubococcygeus muscle, as well as muscles around the anus, which scientists can measure using an anal probe. In women, the uterus also contracts during orgasm.
In modern humans, the male orgasm is usually required to achieve conception, although some fluid before orgasm can also contain sperm and lead to pregnancy. However, the female orgasm is not a necessity in order to conceive.
Biologists have puzzled over this for decades. A recent study suggests that the female orgasm was once too an essential part of the process of becoming pregnant. It's thought that the function of the female orgasm was originally to stimulate ovulation.
Time to reach orgasm
Women tend to take between 10 and 20 minutes to reach orgasm, whereas men typically take closer to 7-14 minutes. However, during intercourse specifically, for men this duration drops to a little over five minutes.
On average, it takes someone with a vulva 10-20 minutes to reach orgasm. People with penises reach orgasm after 7-14 minutes overall, but average two to three minutes after beginning intercourse.
Context of orgasm
Studies have shown that women have orgasms more frequently if they feel comfortable in a relationship.
A study of Finnish women found that having more sex or masturbating more didn't tend to make women have more orgasms. However, placing a higher value on their own orgasm, having higher sexual self-esteem and being able to talk about sex with their partner did boost their number of orgasms.
Women typically report much more difficulty in achieving orgasm than men, suggesting that factors such as the above play a greater role in women than in men. While women tend to reach orgasm in about 69% of encounters in heterosexual sex, men reach orgasm in 95% of encounters, studies suggest.
Men and women get aroused in different ways, and different parts of the brain light up when they are shown sexual images while having brain scans.
However, orgasm seems to be the point at which things even out between the sexes. During stimulation in the run up to orgasm, there are notable differences but at the point of orgasm the brain goes into much the same state for both men and women.
Parts of the 'hindbrain', the cerebellum, which is involved in many of our unconscious, is activated during orgasm. In particular, areas activated include the cerebellar vermis, which receives sensory stimulation from the body, and the deep cerebellar nuclei, which plays a role in cognition.
Parts of the 'conscious' brain, the cortex, shuts down during orgasm in both men and women. These are the ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortices in particular, which have roles in emotion and decision making.
One of the main hormonal changes that orgasm brings is a big boost in levels of oxytocin – appropriately known as the love hormone. Levels of oxytocin in the blood increase in both men and women during orgasm.
The hormone prolactin also gets a boost during orgasm. Again, this has been shown to happen in both men and women.
Recovery from orgasm or refractory period
One of the big differences between male and female orgasms is the length of time in between orgasms needed before someone can have another one. Many women report having multiple orgasms, where orgasms follow in very close succession. Some studies report women being able to fit up to 7 orgasms into 16 minutes.
However, rarely men can also report having multiple orgasms, which have been documented in some studies.