Seven surprising facts about the orgasm, according to science

What you don’t know about the big O! Your ability to climax comes from your DNA and seven more surprising facts about orgasms, according to science

  • Emma Thompson’s Good Luck to you, Leo Grande sparked talks on orgasm
  • University of Ottawa study found moaning is poor indicator woman is climaxing
  • Here FEMAIL reveals seven things you’ve always wanted to know about the Big O

Whether it’s Meg Ryan moaning hysterically in the local deli or the teens of Sex Education furiously getting it on, orgasms have always been a hot topic. 

And now the Big O is once again the talk of the town, thanks in part to Emma Thompson’s new film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which was released last week and explores the ‘pleasure gap.’ 

Much like Moby Dick’s white whale, The elusive female orgasm has been discussed at length over the years, but seldom been experienced. 

The term ‘pleasure gap’ refers to the deficit in the number of orgasms women experience compared to their male partners, and, as sex expert Rowan Pelling reported earlier this week, women in their 50s and 60s are hiring somatic therapists for one-on-one experiences, or to attend their workshops, in order to close this gap once and for all. 

Meanwhile, a study by the University of Ottawa found that moaning is a poor indicator of female sexual pleasure, and should be taken off the official Orgasm Rating Scale altogether. 

At this time where the conversation on orgasm is reaching climactic proportions, FEMAIL reveals seven surprising facts you’ve always wanted to know about the big O. 

 It’s not just Meg Ryan at the Deli!  Femail reveals seven surprising facts you didn’t know about the orgasms


Sex expert Tracey Cox revealed earlier this year that not all orgasms are wanred. 

She said that some people experience orgasm by accident in non-sexual situations and when they don’t want to – like during breastfeeding or exercise (exercise-induced orgasms do occur).

Some victims of sexual assault experience orgasm during the attack: a clear sign that our brain and body can have an extreme disconnect.

This is called ‘arousal nonconcordance’ – when your mind and body are out of sync.

Some people find orgasm painful, others feel guilty if they’ve had one with someone they shouldn’t be having sex with.

the Big O is once again the talk of the town, thanks in part to Emma Thompson’s new film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which was released last week and explores the ‘pleasure gap’

If your partner is pressuring you to have an orgasm, it’s unlikely to be a pleasant experience; for men, ejaculating too early can lead to feelings of shame.


While you might not want to associate your parents with any sort of climax, they played an instrumental part in your ability to orgasm. 

According to a 2005 study conducted on twins, our DNA could be responsible for anything from a third to 60 per cent of your ability to climax.

The research found a significant genetic influence which means if your Mum has no problems having orgasms, you probably don’t either.

While you might not want to associate your parents with any sort of climax, they played an instrumental part in your ability to orgasm ( Asa Butterfield and Patricia Allison in Sex Education)

Tim Spector, who co-directed the study at the Twin Research Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, said the female orgasm was still a ‘taboo subject’ at the time. 

The same study found that only 14 per cent  of the 700 women who took part in the study reported always achieving an orgasm, while 16 per cent of them said they never reach orgasm or did not know for sure. 

At the time, the research team suggest comparing the DNA or women who always orgasms with those who never did would shed some light on the biological pathway behind the sexual climax. 


People who have suffered lower paralysis and can’t feel genital stimulation, sometimes find they can achieve orgasm through stimulation of other body parts, such as the skin of the arm or the nipples.

An 2005 article in The Seattle Times found that several women who had become paralysed through injury had been able to have orgasms when touched elsewhere. 

It was reported that one woman from Philadelphia who had become paralysed from the waist down aged 30 said she was able to climax when touched in a spot on the trunk or neck just above the region of injury. 

Neurologist Barry Komisaruk of Rutgers University, who had studied sex in paralyzed women for a decade at the time, discovered a new pathway to sexual pleasure through the vagus nerve, which goes from the brain through the lungs, intestines and other internal organs and bypasses the spinal cord. 

The specialist also found that in the years following their injuries, some women were able to reorganise their nervous system and they discovered new hypersensitive areas. 

Mary Roach, author of Bonk and a science journalist, revealed in a 2009 Ted Talk that an orgasm is a reflex of the part of the nervous system that deals with don’t consciously control, called the autonomic nervous system. 

She gave the examples of a woman who had an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth, and explained it suggested that something in this woman’s sensory-motion control as triggering the climaxes. 


And yes, it was a woman. The best a man could clock up was 16.

Running a close second (but for less pleasant reasons) is a woman in Arizona who suffers from persistent genital arousal disorder.

She says she endures up to six hours of sexual arousal a day and once had more than 180 orgasms in just two hours.

PGAD sufferers experience intrusive and unwanted spontaneous genital arousal that can last hours, days or even longer


Most people think that when men are involved, ejaculation equals orgasms, however, this is incorrect. 

Men can have an orgasm without ejaculating – and they can ejaculate without having an orgasm.

Orgasms happen in the brain; ejaculation is the physical act of expelling semen from the prostate. They usually occur together but you can have one without the other.

While it is generally thought that men experience both ejaculation and orgasm simultaneously, they occur near each other, but not at the exact same time. 

It would be possible for a man to have multiple orgasms wihtout ejaculate, however, this would take some practice. 

Meanwhile, orgasms from anal or prostate stimulation don’t come with an ejaculation, but feel like a whole body climax. 


There’s an area behind your left eye, called the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, that shuts down when you climax.

This area is responsible for reason and behaviour control – which explains why everything else ceases to matter during those precious moments of pleasure.

How do they know?

Researchers asked women to masturbate inside an MRI machine to see how the brain functions during orgasm.

They found 30 areas of the brain lit up during orgasm, but some shut down to allow us to focus on pleasure.

Areas associated with fear and anxiety, memory and spatial awareness turn off.


Our first orgasm is almost 100 per cent likely to be achieved solo, Tracey Cox said. 

It’s pivotal: most women with their ‘L’ plates on, feel too self-conscious to let go with a partner. During solo sex, no-one is watching and you have complete control over what’s happening.

Exploring your own body, you’re relaxed and inquisitive. You figure out that the clitoris feels great when it’s stimulated, experiment with techniques until you find the ones that works for you, discover the right pressure and speed.

If you’ve never done this – never tried to make yourself orgasm using a vibrator or your fingers or by rubbing against something – you probably don’t know what arouses you and what doesn’t.

Which means you can’t guide your partner about what works best to give you pleasure.

Almost all women learn how to orgasm through masturbation. There are lots of ‘how to masturbate’ guides online (I have several on and it’s never too late to start.

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