The Science of the Male Orgasms

Understanding Arousal and Orgasm Dysfunction

Young couple on bed, smiling
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The male orgasm is a complex experience. The major function of the male orgasm is to ejaculate sperm, although not all men will ejaculate during an orgasm. Beyond delivering pleasure, the role of the female orgasm is less clear, although it may help move the sperm closer toward the ovum (egg).

In the 1950s, Alfred Kinsey, the first scientist to study human sexuality in detail, described the orgasm as "an explosive discharge of neuromuscular tension." In the years since those initial studies, we have come closer to understanding both the physiological and emotional components of the male orgasm, as well as the conditions that impede or promote it.

4 Phases of Male Orgasm

The route to ejaculation in men is actually delineated by four distinct phases, of which orgasm is the third. While the duration and intensity of these phases can vary, the experience will proceed in a strictly specific way.

Arousal

Arousal is the stage in which physical, sensory, and emotional cues prompt the brain to release a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. This, in turn, triggers the release of nitric oxide into the arteries of the penis, causing them to expand and rapidly fill with blood. The resulting erection is generally accompanied by changes in respiration, increased overall muscle tension, and the retraction of the scrotal sac.

Plateau

Plateau is the phase immediately preceding orgasm in which the voluntary thrusts of the body, specifically the pelvis, suddenly become involuntary, increasing both in intensity and speed. It is at this stage that the heart rate increases to between 150 and 175 beats per minute, accompanied by a marked rise in blood pressure and body temperature.

Seminal fluid ("pre-cum") may leak from the urethra. The release of pre-ejaculatory fluid is more than just incidental; it alters the pH of the urethra so that the sperm has a better chance of survival.

All told, the plateau phase lasts between 30 seconds and two minutes.

Orgasm

The orgasm phase is divided into two parts. The first, known as emission, is the stage where ejaculation is inevitable. This is immediately followed by the second stage, ejaculation, in which strong contractions of the penile muscle, anus, and perineal muscles help propel the semen from the body.

During orgasm, the reward center of the brain (specifically the cerebellum, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and ventral tegmental area) is flooded with neurochemicals, inciting the intense emotional response associated with an orgasm.

At the same time, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex located behind the left eye shuts down entirely. This is the part of the brain that plays a central role in judgment and self-control. The effect explains why people often describe an orgasm as a state where "nothing else matters."

Resolution and Refraction

Resolution is the phase following orgasm where the penis starts to lose its erection. This is often accompanied by feelings of extreme relaxation or even drowsiness.

Refraction, also known as the refractory period, is the stage following climax when a man is unable to achieve another erection even with stimulation. In younger men, the refractory period may be as short as 15 minutes. In older men, it may last as long as an entire day.

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. The orgasm may not involve actual ejaculate but must include the physiological and emotional components of ejaculation.

According to research from the Department of Urologic Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Canada, only around 10 percent of men in their 20s and less than 7 percent of men under 30 are considered multiorgasmic.

The multiorgasmic state can be classified in one of two ways:

  • Condensed, in which two to four individual and defined orgasms occur within a few seconds to two minutes
  • Sporadic, in which refraction is delayed and multiple orgasms can be achieved within the span of several minutes

Beyond age, there are several factors commonly noted in multiorgasmic men. These include the use of psychoactive drugs, having multiple partners, having novel sex partners, and the use of sex toys to enhance tactile stimulation.

What this suggests is that the ability to achieve multiple orgasms is the result of a heightened state of arousal rather than any unique hormonal or physiological response. 

Male Orgasm Disorders

Orgasm disorders differ from ejaculation disorders in that the latter refers to the actual emission of semen. Common ejaculation disorders include premature ejaculation, retrograde ejaculation (in which semen is redirected to the bladder), and anejaculation (inability to ejaculate).

By contrast, anorgasmia is a condition in which a man or woman is unable to achieve orgasm. Anorgasmia may be caused by psychological problems, such as stress, trauma, and performance anxiety, or physical ones, such as diabetes, hypertension, and hypogonadism (low testosterone).

Prostate surgery (prostatectomy) is also a common cause, as are certain medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression.

The treatment of anorgasmia depends on the underlying cause and may include psychotherapy, a change of medications, testosterone replacement therapy, or the use of Dostinex (cabergoline), a dopamine promoter that can alter the hormonal response in men with anorgasmia.

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