The Science of Male Orgasms

Understanding Arousal and Orgasm Dysfunction

The male orgasm, also known as the male climax, is a complex physiological and psychological response to sexual excitement that often, but not always, ends with ejaculation (the discharge of semen from the penis).

However, not every person with a penis can achieve orgasm. Some may have extreme difficulty for a variety of reasons, including age, emotions, medical conditions, or even certain medications. Oftentimes, multiple causes are involved.

This article takes a look at how males achieve orgasm as well as problems that can interfere with the ability to climax or ejaculate ("cum"). It also explores treatment options if you find that you have difficulty reaching orgasm.

For the purpose of this article, "male" refers to people with penises irrespective of whether they identify with their assigned birth sex or any gender at all.

What Is a Male Orgasm?

The male orgasm is a complex reaction in which the brain and body all play a part.

Within the brain, the pituitary gland is tasked with managing levels of the hormone testosterone, which the body uses to stimulate the production of sperm in the testicles. In addition, testosterone is able to elevate energy and moods and enhance a person's sex drive (libido).

With sexual stimulation, an erection can be achieved, eventually culminating with orgasm and ejaculation. During orgasm, the reward center of the brain, called the striatum, is activated, leading to an intense emotional response. At the same time, the part of the brain associated with self-control, called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, is inhibited.

If testosterone levels are low, it can decrease a person's energy and mood, interfering with sexual arousal and making them less responsive to sexual stimulation.

Phases of the Male Orgasm

There are four distinct phases of the male orgasm as first outlined by William Masters and Virginia Johnson back in 1966. While the duration and intensity of these phases can vary, the order occurs in a specific sequence.

4 phases of the male orgasm

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Phase 1: Arousal

During arousal, physical, sensory, and emotional cues prompt the brain to release a chemical messenger known as acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine, in turn, triggers the release of a compound called nitric oxide into the arteries of the penis, causing them to expand and rapidly fill with blood. This causes the enlargement and stiffening of the penis known as an erection.

Other signs of male arousal include:

  • Changes in breathing
  • Increased muscle tension
  • The retraction of the scrotum closer to the body

Phase 2: Plateau

Right before orgasm is a phase known as the plateau, sometimes referred to as pre-orgasm. This phase typically lasts between 30 seconds and two minutes.

During this phase:

  • The heart rate increases to between 150 and 175 beats per minute.
  • Blood pressure and body temperature rise.
  • Pelvic thrusts become involuntary and increase in speed and intensity.
  • There may be leakage of seminal fluid ("pre-cum") from the urethra (the tube through which urine and semen exit the body).

Phase 3: Orgasm

The orgasm phase is divided into two parts known as emission and ejaculation:

  • During emission, semen moves into the urethra and close to the tip of the penis. At this point, ejaculation is inevitable.
  • During ejaculation, strong contractions of the penis muscles and pelvic floor muscles help propel the semen from the body.

Phase 4: Resolution and Refraction

Resolution is the phase after orgasm in which the penis starts to lose its erection. This is often accompanied by feelings of relaxation or even drowsiness.

Refraction, also known as the refractory period, is when a man is unable to achieve another erection even with stimulation. Depending on the person's age and other factors, it may take several minutes or many hours before a person can attain another erection.

Male Multiple Orgasms

Multiorgasmic is a term used to describe the ability to have more than one orgasm within the span of minutes or seconds. There may not be ejaculation, but you will otherwise have the physiological and emotional responses of an orgasm.

According to research published in Sexual Medicine Review, around 10% of men in their 20s and less than 7% of men older than 30 are multiorgasmic.

The multiorgasmic state can be condensed or sporadic. When it is condensed, two to four distinct orgasms occur within a few seconds to two minutes. When it is sporadic, refraction is delayed and multiple orgasms can occur within several minutes.

There are several factors common in multiorgasmic men that can intensify sexual excitement or even lead to hypersexuality (an extreme and sudden increase in libido):

  • The use of psychoactive drugs, such as methamphetamine
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Having a new sex partner
  • The use of sex toys

Some males intensify arousal or orgasm with prostate massage. This is a technique in which a finger is inserted into the rectum prior to or during sex to stimulate the prostate gland. The walnut-sized gland situated to the front of the rectum is considered by some to be the "male G-spot."

Male Orgasmic Disorders

Orgasm disorders differ from ejaculation disorders. Ejaculation disorders have to do with the actual release of semen. Examples include premature ejaculation (when you ejaculate too quickly), delayed ejaculation (when it takes time and effort to ejaculate), and anejaculation (when you are unable to ejaculate even with an erection).

With orgasm disorders, the sexual climax is either abnormal or does not occur.

Dry Orgasm

A dry orgasm is one in which very little semen is expelled during orgasm. Also known as orgasmic anejaculation, dry orgasm tends to be the result of a physical rather than emotional issue, such as:

The treatment for dry orgasm can vary depending on the cause. Testosterone replacement therapy may be recommended in those with hypogonadism, while drugs like Proscar (finasteride) may be prescribed to treat an enlarged prostate.

In some cases, there is nothing you can do to treat dry orgasm if an organ like the prostate gland has been removed. Even so, dry orgasms don't impact sexual pleasure so treatment may not be needed.

Anorgasmia

Anorgasmia is when an individual is unable to have an orgasm. It differs from anejaculation in that anorgasmia infers the lack of sexual pleasure to reach orgasm. By contrast, anejaculation is the inability to eject sperm.

Anorgasmia may be due to psychological and physical causes, such as:

The treatment of anorgasmia depends on the underlying cause. Treatment options may include psychotherapy, changing medications, or testosterone replacement therapy. Managing hypertension and diabetes may also help.

Newer Treatment for Male Anorgasmia

A newer approach to male anorgasmia is the drug Dostinex (cabergoline) which normalizes levels of the hormone prolactin. Research suggests that Dostinex can enhance libido and stimulate the reward center of the brain, increasing the odds of orgasm in males.

Summary

The male orgasm is a complex interplay of physical, sensory, and psychological responses that often, but not only, leads to ejaculation. The process by which males reach orgasm follows a standard path from arousal to plateau (pre-orgasm) to orgasm to resolution.

Some males have difficulty reaching orgasm or may not be able to climax at all (referred to as anorgasmia). Others may have a dry orgasm in which climax is achieved but little if any semen is produced.

The treatment of these conditions depends on whether the cause is physical, emotional, or due to medications, illnesses, or prior surgery. Sometimes, a combination of causes is involved.

A Word From Verywell

Don't let embarrassment or pride keep you from discussing orgasm problems with your primary care provider. If you don't feel comfortable doing so, consider seeing a specialist known as a urologist who deals specifically with disorders of the male reproductive tract.

While you may think that sexual dysfunction is something you have to live with as you get older, you may discover that there are underlying causes that are treatable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can a man orgasm for?

    Most male orgasms last between five and 20 seconds. With that said, around 10% of males in their 20s and 7% of those 30 and over are multi-orgasmic, meaning they can have multiple orgasms within seconds or minutes.

  • Is orgasm good for men?

    Some research suggests that men who ejaculate ("cum") regularly have a lower risk of prostate cancer than those who choose not to. This doesn't mean you will get cancer if you don't cum; many men who don't have sex have perfectly good health. It just means that you need to get regular checkups, which include the monitoring of your prostate health.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. Rider JR, Wilson KM, Sinnott JA, Kelly RS, Mucci LA, Giovannucci EL. Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. Eur Urol. 2016 Dec;70(6):974-82. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027

By Jerry Kennard
 Jerry Kennard, PhD, is a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.