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Types of Orgasms

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Updated September 10, 2013

What's the best way to describe an orgasm? Are orgasms best distinguished by the gender of the person experiencing them (are there male orgasms and female orgasms and trans orgasms)? By the part of the body that brings one on (is a g-spot orgasm really different than a clitoral orgasm)? Or by the sexual activity that's happening just before said orgasm occurs (are orgasms from intercourse different from orgasms from masturbation)?

Given that there isn't even agreement on the basic definition of orgasm, you might not be surprised to know that there isn't a single categorization scheme for types of orgasms that anyone is willing to agree to.

For the most part when sex researchers go looking for answers they look at data, rather than people. They study heart rate, hormone levels, and increasingly brain scans, to try and understand something that ultimately is a subjective experience that involves the mind and body (and some would say the spirit too). Sometimes their answers help us think more about what an orgasm is, sometimes all it does is confirm the values of the researcher who set out to answer their own question.

So if you're looking for a simple answer about how many different kinds of orgasms there are, you have two choices. You can read any of the thousands of self-help books that give you simple answers, which are essentially fairy tales, about the 2, 9, or 101 kinds of orgasms you can have. Or you can deal with the messy truth, which is that an orgasm is something that defies simple explanation.

Of all the ways that people categorize orgasm, my least favorite is the fad orgasm. These are the orgasms created for marketing purposes to sell a book, DVD, or sex toy, which may be true for the one 'sexpert' who is telling you about them, but may not ring true for you or anyone else.

Rather than thinking of orgasms like products you can buy in a store (marked: economy, medium, or deluxe) I prefer to think of orgasms like snowflakes; no two are alike, they’re free, they melt in your mouth, and not even the weather forecast can predict when they’ll come.

If that kind of vagueness isn't satisfying to you, or if you're not having orgasms or don't know if you are having orgasms, or if you're eager to learn more, it can help to get a sense of how others are breaking it down. Here are some ways people have distinguished types of orgasms.

Clitoral vs Vaginal Orgasms

This distinction was popularized by Sigmund Freud, who linked orgasm to our psycho-sexual development. In his formulation a clitoral orgasm is brought about by clitoral stimulation and a vaginal one through vaginal intercourse. Freud argued that clitoral orgasms were characteristic of the young and immature, and vaginal orgasms represented the healthy female sexual response. As such, a woman who could only have orgasms from clitoral stimulation was stuck in her development. This theory has been largely discounted, although there are still a few curious (and not surprisingly male) researchers desperately clinging to the idea. An additional problem with this distinction is that it doesn’t describe how the orgasms feel or what their detailed physiological or psychological effects are, it focuses on the method of achieving orgasm only.

Betty Dodson's Taxonomy of Orgasm

In sharp contrast to the psychoanalytic understanding of orgasm, author, sex activist and educator Betty Dodson has described at least nine different kinds of orgasms based on her own experience and her experience working with people for over forty years on having orgasms (often in the room with them while they're having them).

Dodson’s descriptions of orgasm which she outlines in her excellent book Orgasms for Two are still guided by her own biases, which favors genital stimulation, and while she discounts the experience of some women, these descriptions offer a great starting point to discuss the multitude of ways people can experience orgasm. In contrast to medical and in particular Freudian descriptions of orgasm, Dodson focuses on the experience of orgasm, what it feels like, and not just the mechanics of what makes it happen. Below is a summary of some of her orgasm types, with some of my own comments.

Pressure orgasms. Dodson ties these to early childhood experiences rocking back and forth or masturbating by squeezing your legs together. This orgasm comes from indirect stimulation, no rubbing, but instead applying pressure (by leaning heavily against or on something). As children we may engage in this kind of self soothing and sex stimulating behavior even if it doesn’t result in an orgasm the way we think of them as adults. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2005 took note of this very common form of self stimulation, particularly in young girls. Some adults may bring this behavior into their sex lives and have orgasms from it.

Tension orgasms. This is the orgasm that comes from direct and intense stimulation usually while you are holding your body and muscles tight and tense, and holding your breath. Dodson considers tension orgasms the most common, favored because they are quick and dirty. She also calls them "peak orgasms" as they offer an intense build up followed by a sudden release. Tension orgasms could be our default because of early sexual experiences, which are often secretive and quick. It’s often been suggested that for men, premature ejaculation is a result of learning early on how to get aroused and orgasm quickly. For women too, early experiences can influence later ones, and Dodson encourages people to try to experience more orgasms beyond these, even if they do do the trick.

Relaxation orgasms. Dodson describes this type of orgasm as coming not from a build up of tension, but from deep relaxation during sexual stimulation, where you continue to release tension and relax your muscles and eventually the orgasm sneaks up on you. As opposed to the "peak orgasm" Dodson cites Shree Rajneesh, a Tantric sex master and author of Tantra, Spirituality and Sex, who refers to these kinds of orgasms as "valley orgasms."

Combination or blended orgasms.Ideally orgasm is a fluid process (no pun intended) and if sex play lasts long enough you’ll get to enjoy more than one experience during orgasm, which can be called a combination orgasm. For Dodson, who has been teaching women to orgasm for over 40 years, combination orgasms involve a specific set of actions, including: "clitoral stimulation, vaginal stimulation, PC muscle contractions, pelvic thrusting, and breathing out loud." One could broaden this definition to include orgasms that offer a variety of experiences and opportunity for you to pay attention to the different waves of orgasmic feelings.

Multiple orgasms.While female multiple orgasms are more often talked about, both men and women are capable of having multiple orgasms. Dodson distinguishes between multiple orgasms and the "aftershocks of pleasure" that follow a big orgasm, which some people might call orgasms, and which allows them to count 20 or 30 orgasms a night. One of the pitfalls of multiple orgasms is the trap of waiting for them and having anxiety about whether or not you’ll have them. Do either of these things and your attention will be taken away from the pleasure you’re feeling, which is a waste of an orgasm whatever number it comes in.

G spot orgasms. The g spot debate is far from over, and while Dodson doesn’t discount them, she favors clitoral stimulation at least being in the mix, and offers a wary attitude to those who argue for orgasms that come from penetration alone. Nonetheless, many women report orgasms that come from g spot stimulation being fundamentally different from orgasms that come from other kinds of stimulation, and given the number of women who have written and talked about it, they certainly deserve a place in the orgasm encyclopedia.

Fantasy orgasms. Dodson largely discounts the idea of orgasms that result from mental stimulation alone (which is not surprising given her belief in the supremacy of clitoral stimulation). In fact there have been several studies and years of anecdotal reports by women who have orgasms without any physical contact, and from mental fantasy alone. There is a tendency by many to see orgasms from fantasy as being less than other kinds of orgasms, but this attitude seems to come mostly from rigid thinking about the right and wrong way to orgasm, and less from people’s personal experiences. Barbara Carrellas, the author of Urban Tantra, teaches and lectures often about the ways that people can "think off" meaning experience sexual pleasure and orgasm from mental stimulation.

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