Life after orgasm: What happens to the body and mind after reaching climax

We secrete hormones such as oxytocin, melatonin and endorphins that significantly influence our emotional well-being

La vida después del orgasmo: qué le ocurre a nuestro cuerpo y mente tras alcanzar el clímax
An orgasm has multiple effects on body and mind.Fiordaliso (Getty Images)
Lucía Franco

Blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, breathing becomes faster and, finally, the body releases accumulated tension. This is how an orgasm occurs. “Some describe it as an explosion of pleasure, but each body can experience it in a different way,” says Ana García, a sex psychologist specialized in couples therapy and sex therapy with a practice in Madrid. For García, the experience is totally subjective and depends on both physical and psychological factors. “These can range from physical stimulation, emotions, each person’s circumstances and environmental factors,” she says.

Silvia Cintrano, a sexologist and psychologist specializing in couples therapy at the Centta Institute in Madrid, says that on a physical level an orgasm is always the same: an involuntary reflex that occurs when the body understands that it has to release all the accumulated sexual tension. However, this reflex can triggered in multiple ways.

“In women it is usually accompanied by muscle contractions in the uterus, vagina and rectum, and sometimes in other parts of the body. In addition, the little known female ejaculation may occur to a greater or lesser degree, which is nothing more than a transparent liquid composed of different substances such as prostate antigens, enzymes, glucose and fructose secreted by Skene’s glands. In men, contraction occurs in the penis, urethra and sphincter, and they tend to ejaculate.”

The feeling of sudden release is accompanied in women by between three and 15 muscle spasms in the genitals, spaced every 0.8 seconds. In men, this release is usually accompanied by ejaculation, not in the form of a constant flow, but driven by between three and eight “bursts” called jerks, says the expert. Generally, the male orgasm lasts a maximum of 10 seconds, and the female orgasm can last a few seconds longer. Once this happens, we move on to the so-called resolution phase. “At this point, the entire body returns to the initial phase of rest: the usual respiratory and cardiac rhythm returns and blood pressure is restored.”

Since the changes that have occurred generate wear and tear on the body, in the resolution phase the body relaxes. “It is considered that the resolution phase can last between five minutes and an hour, until everything returns to the initial state of rest. This phase is usually longer in women than in men,” says Cintrano. At this time, a hormone called prolactin is released, which often acts as an inhibitor of the sexual response. “This happens especially in men, who need a refractory period where they need to rest. In women, this period is much shorter, since they can be multi-orgasmic, so sometimes there is still that need to continue with sexual practice,” says the psychologist, sexologist and director of Psicopartner, Ángel Luis Guillén.

During orgasm, other hormones are also released such as oxytocin, which is the hormone that helps us establish an emotional bond with our partner while inhibiting the production of the stress hormone. Melatonin is also released, the hormone responsible for regulating the body’s clock, which promotes sleep quality and improves it. In addition, during orgasm we also secrete endorphins, which are what generate feelings of well-being and happiness, explains Guillén.

What happens after an orgasm in our brain?

On a psychological level, “orgasm generates a certain altered state of consciousness,” explains Megwyn White, a certified sexologist and director of education at Satisfyer, who says that in both sexes the climax triggers a bioelectrical response of pleasure chemicals that are released in the brain. Studies have failed to demonstrate any significant changes between the sexes in how orgasm is experienced in the brain. The main phenomenon that is observed first begins with a darkening of the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part, which allows us to let ourselves go and make the inhibitory impulses disappear.

For the sexologist Florencia Arriola, emotions play a key role. “It is common for many people to cry, laugh, sneeze, or even feel rejected by the person they have just had an encounter with after orgasm. It is a moment of liberation, a total body response that can also translate into a need for hugs and cuddles.”

Bruno Martínez Santiago, a professor of sexology at the University of Alcalá in Spain, people’s own experiences greatly influence whether or not they achieve orgasms. “This is mediated by each person’s history. Here there are no differences by sex, but by our own behavior according to the experiences we have experienced over the years.” One study found that a possible barrier to women reaching orgasm could be the fact that they seem to prioritize their partner’s orgasm over their own.

Furthermore, if the learning process about one’s sexuality has been adequate, without guilt or negative feelings, it will be experienced in a positive and generally pleasurable way. “If this has not been the case, feelings of guilt and rejection will occur, which will leave an unpleasant feeling about your experience,” says the sexologist. “We have a cultural problem: we believe that every orgasm has to be great or else it is not an orgasm. But tt doesn’t always have to be that wondrous experience that we’ve been sold on,” he adds.

A question of cardiovascular health

Without a doubt, orgasms have many health benefits. “When you experience an orgasm, blood pressure rises and the body releases various hormones: adrenaline, endorphins and oxytocin in the case of women. These substances act in our body as vasodilators, allowing better blood circulation and thus preventing clots. Improving circulation helps maintain better cardiovascular health,” says Dr. Manuel Anguita, spokesperson for the Spanish Society of Cardiology (SEC), who states that having an orgasm is equivalent to burning 95 calories.

According to a study in The American Journal of Cardiology, men who had sex twice a week were up to 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who had sex once a month.

Every human being has the potential to trigger an orgasm. “The thing is that not everyone has taken the time to get to know themselves, to explore their erogenous zones, to find out what practices they enjoy the most, and they end up delegating responsibility for their pleasure to their sexual partner,” notes Cintrano. According to a 2016 study, between 10% and 14% of women are unable to reach an orgasm in their entire lifetime.

Since orgasms are experienced in the brain, we don’t always need the sense of touch to experience them. Megwyn White explains: “We can also experience orgasms through our imagination and our mind. It is estimated that around 10% of the population is capable of doing it,” explains this expert. It is also a documented fact that you can reach an orgasm in your dreams.

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