[Content warning: Generalized discussion of the sensations of an orgasm, with a mentions of fluids at several points.]
A lot of aces aren’t sure whether or not they’ve had an orgasm, and the common descriptions are “It Feels Good” and “You’ll Know It When It Happens™”, which aren’t very helpful to a lot of people.
An orgasm is a complex convergence of a lot of different sensations, made even more complicated by the fact that some of these sensations don’t happen every time and their intensity and duration varies wildly, and by the fact that every one of these sensations can happen without orgasm. No two orgasms will be exactly the same. One of the main reasons people resort to the “You’ll Know It When It Happens™” description is that it’s very hard to describe one. It’s also rather embarrassing for most people to go into details, plus, breaking it down into its components can be a bit of a turn-off because it sounds like something you’d call 911 for.
So how can you tell if you’ve had an orgasm? Take a look at the list of sensations below and see what you’ve experienced. An orgasm will feel like a package deal of a number of them happening around the same time, but keep in mind that you likely will not experience all of these. I’ve also grouped the sensations into Before/During/After, although the lines between stages can be a bit fuzzy, especially if you’re not already pretty sure what an orgasm is like.
- Sensations Are “Stable”: Before an orgasm, many people reach a “plateau”, an area where things kinda remain the same for a while. Level of arousal stays steady, level of pleasure (if any) stays steady, heart rate, breathing, etc. There might be some ups and downs, but in the big picture, it doesn’t change a whole lot. In some cases, there might be a sense that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you can stay in this zone for as long as you want.
- Building To Something: There can be a sense that something is “building”. A sort of pressure or fullness or tension or something may gradually increase. For many people, this is a sign that they are climbing beyond the plateau and are getting closer to orgasm, but this sensation isn’t usually considered part of the orgasm itself.
- Up Against A Wall: Sometimes the building sensation gets stuck, in the sense that it feels like there’s a limit that you’ve hit. It seems like there’s something else just ahead, but there’s a block in the road preventing you from moving on.
- Sporadic Twitching: Areas downstairs might start twitching and squeezing in a sporadic, haphazard way. Not really like a twitchy eyelid, where it’s a fast fluttering, but a slower, deeper sort of tensing. It will often be the muscles used when holding/stopping a flow of urine sort of acting on their own.
- Sporadic Moaning: During the leadup to an orgasm, people may find themselves moaning or making other semi-involuntary noises. Sometimes these noises are connection to a sense of pleasure, sometimes not.
- Muscle Tension Outside Of The Genitals: Your legs may stiffen, your back may straighten or arch, and you may experience facial contortions. These can be semi-involuntary, where they’re sort of happening on their own, but you could probably stop them, but at the same time, it may feel like they should be happening, and they may intensify the other sensations, so you let it happen.
- “I Gotta Pee”: Many people report a sensation like having to urinate during the lead up to an orgasm. It’s a lot of the same parts and same muscles getting involved, so that’s understandable. In most cases, an orgasm will not cause a release of urine, although that is known to happen from time to time.
- A Sudden Spike/Surge of Pleasure: This is one of the primary signs of an orgasm. In fact, for many people, this is the defining feature of an orgasm. This surge of pleasure is often relatively sudden, relatively short lived, and tends to be considerably stronger than the pleasure experienced leading up to it. However, this is not always the case! The surge of pleasure is not a universal feature of an orgasm. Some people don’t feel this at all, or don’t feel it nearly as strongly as other people do. It is inaccurate, confusing, and misleading to define orgasm simply in terms of pleasure.
- A Series Of Rhythmic Muscle Spasms/Twitching/Convulsions/Pulsing In Genitals: An orgasm is often accompanied by a series of rhythmic contractions in the genitals. These are a sort of hold-release-hold-release pumping pattern, with about a second or so between events. They’re usually stronger and quicker near the beginning and slower and weaker toward the end. If there is a spike in pleasure, it may come in waves that correspond to these contractions, though not always. The number of contractions can vary wildly from person to person, orgasm to orgasm, but in general it’s in the neighborhood of 5-20-ish, although it can easily be higher or lower.
- Ejaculation: For someone with a penis, the muscle contractions of an orgasm usually coincide with ejaculation, where each contraction leads to another release of semen. For those people, this is often considered a strong indicator that an orgasm occurred. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is possible for an orgasm to happen without ejaculation and for ejaculation to happen without orgasm. Some people with vulvas may also experience ejaculation, although this is relatively uncommon, and the fluid will not be semen.
- Increase in Genital Wetness: For some people with vulvas, they may experience an increase in genital lubrication or wetness around the time of an orgasm.
- Point of No Return: Immediately before orgasm, there can be a sensation where it’s clear that the orgasm is about to happen no matter what. Even if all stimulation stops, the orgasm will proceed in some form anyway. This is probably only recognizable after you’ve experienced a number of orgasms (even if you don’t know that’s what they are). It’s also possible to recognize when you’re about to cross this line before it happens.
- A Feeling Of Release: Everything that was being built up, all that tension/pressure/warmth/whatever, it all just sort of lets go. You get past the wall or over the hill or the dam breaks and it’s able to run free for a bit.
- A Distinct Change In Feeling: This is a nebulous point, but in a lot of cases, there’s a sort of feeling that an event is taking place. There’s a sense that there’s a point where something is about to happen, then it happens, then it’s over. Like… Things are different now than they were ten seconds ago.
- Warmth/Tingly Sensation: A lot of people describe a kind of warmth or fuzziness or tingling sensation that tends to be centered in the genitals, but that may spread to other parts of the body.
- A Sense Of Auto-Pilot: When orgasm happens, the confluence of events can lead to a temporary feeling like your body has turned on auto-pilot and you’re simply being taken for a ride by the process.
- Sharp Internal Focus/Less External Awareness: During orgasm, the outside world can fade away, as your focus turned to the events and sensations that are taking place.
- Non-Genital Muscle Contractions: Many people experience sudden muscle tension in places all over the body when they have an orgasm. These may include facial contortions, toe curling, back arching, and leg stiffening.
- Full Body Shaking/Shuddering: Sometimes the non-genital muscle convulsions will cause full body shaking or shuddering.
- Moaning/Vocalizations: Moaning or other noises can also be a feature of an orgasm, although the louder, more theatrical expressions tend to be an exaggerated performance. You’re probably more likely to make a soft “oh” or “mmmhm” than a “YESYESYESYES OHMYGODIMCOMING YESYESOHHHHHHHHYES” type noise.
- Change In Heart Rate: Orgasms will often increase your heart rate.
- Change In Breathing: Orgasms will often change your breathing. Quicker, shallower breaths, sometimes even holding your breath may happen.
- “It Felt Like A Sneeze Downstairs”: I hate this description of an orgasm, but I also think it’s useful as an illustration. An orgasm feels very different from a sneeze. Very different. But a sneeze can provide a common reference point for how the situation proceeds. Like an orgasm, a sneeze has a before, during, and after. Before a sneeze, you may be able to tell that it’s coming through a building sensation. There’s often a point where you know it’s going to happen no matter what, but you can no longer stop it. Afterward, there’s a sense of relief.
- Over-Sensitivity In Genitals: During orgasm, your genitals may become over-sensitive to the point where attempting to continue even a fraction of the stimulation that brought you there can be extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant. It’s almost like your body is screaming out for you to stop because it’s had enough.
- Nausea: Sometimes the convergence of sensations can all crash together and leave you feeling a bit queasy.
- Can’t Hold On To It: Prior to an orgasm, it’s generally possible to maintain consistency, where you remain at the plateau level. Some people deliberately take advantage of this to remain in the pre-orgasm zone for a long time to maximize their pleasure. But once an orgasm hits, it has a course that it runs on its own, and while you might be able to prolong it slightly, you probably can’t keep it going indefinitely.
- Lasts A Few Seconds To A Minute: The length of time of an orgasm can be very different. Sometimes it’s a few seconds, sometimes it’s closer to a minute. 5-30 seconds seems to be the typical range. However, for some people, perception of time can be a bit skewed, so it might seem like it lasts longer or took less time than it actually did.
- “Ewww, What Did I Just Do?”: A lot of people report a sudden wave of disgust that comes over them after an orgasm.
- Loss Of Interest In Sexual Things: For many people, an orgasm shuts off their interest in sexual things for a while. Something that was interesting or exciting just a few moments ago is now just blah. There are many people who seek out orgasms specifically for this response, in order to quiet a nagging libido.
- “I Gotta Pee”: After all the jostling and contractions and everything else going on, some people say that orgasms make them have to pee. (It may even be useful: Scientists have reported that peeing afterwards can help prevent UTIs in some cases.)
- Deep Relaxation: An orgasm can often be followed by a period of deep relaxation. A lot of people will masturbate before bed to get this benefit to help them fall asleep.
- Feeling Stimulated/Wired/Awake: Not everyone gets relaxed after an orgasm. Sometimes its the opposite, where a person will get wired like they got a shot of caffeine.
- A Sense Of Feeling “Done”: Outside of everything else, an orgasm may lead to a feeling that you’re “done”, that whatever you had been getting from the stimulation is over now, so it’s time do something else. This is different than simply getting bored of what’s going on or a loss of arousal that makes it difficult to continue. This is more like your body suddenly telling you “break time!” after everything happened.
- Nausea, Headaches, Generally Feeling “Bleh”: For some people, the after-effects of an orgasm can be highly unpleasant. This experience can be bad enough that it will lead some people to avoid orgasms entirely.
- Loss Of Sensitivity In Genitals: After the orgasm subsides, the over-sensitivity will usually fade, followed by a period where your genitals might not be sensitive at all. In this phase, touching the genitals may not feel much different than touching your arm. It’s like your downstairs bits have decided to take a nap for a bit. This can last for a few minutes to several hours, even days.
- Loss Of Arousal: After an orgasm, physical arousal may fade somewhat rapidly. This is particularly noticeable in people with penises, where the penis will often revert to a fully flaccid state within a few minutes. In this stage, it may be difficult or even impossible to regain arousal. Even if you are able to, the loss of sensitivity may make it difficult to proceed. Much like the loss of sensitivity, this can last for minute, hours, or days.
- Time To Cuddle: For people with a partner, the orgasm and many of the after effects can combine and contribute to a strong desire to cuddle.
- You’ll Know It When It Happens™: And as much as I hate to use this description, one of the ways that many people know they’ve had an orgasm is that they know they’ve had an orgasm. The convergence of events just makes them say “Well, that happened”.