It can be tough to tell what an orgasm really feels like for a woman. Whether you've been trying to have one on your own, or with a partner, you're likely looking for that intense, explosion-like sensation so many people seem to talk about. And while that can happen, it's much more common to feel like you're never really quite getting there, and are left wondering: How can I know if I’m having an orgasm?
It's a frustrating situation to be in, but one that is probably more common than you realize, Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist who focuses on helping clients have tells Bustle. "When women sign up for the free orgasm workshop I give away on my website, I ask them about their current relationship with their orgasm," she says. "As of this publication, 32% of women responded that they didn’t know if they were having orgasms or not." So you’re definitely not alone in feeling confused.
There are quite a few reasons why it might be tough to orgasm, or why it might not be the "mind-blowing" experience were hoping for. But Marin says it's important not to give up hope on the journey learning how to orgasm on your own. To help guide the way — and help you have better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship — she offers a few thoughts on what an orgasm really feels like.
All Women Experience Orgasms Differently
Having an orgasm is an incredibly personal experience, and it varies from woman to woman. Marin says a lot of women come into her practice hoping to find out what to expect, but there isn't a straight answer to this question. It isn't easy to describe what it's like to have one, the same way it isn't easy to describe what it feels like to fall in love
"That being said, I can give you some general descriptions of what orgasm can feel like," Marin says. "Most orgasms tend to fall in three very broad categories. Orgasms may feel like: The peak of sexual pleasure during that particular encounter, something that feels different from the other sensations you felt, or a release of built-up pressure."
She says some women have described their orgasms as “tremors,” “little blips of pleasure,” “an out-of-body experience,” “a small sigh,” “hurts-so-good,” and “an intense, focused pinpoint of pleasure.” These individual experiences are just so different that it makes the word “orgasm” hard to describe, and it contributes to the idea that you might not be having one at all, if yours is "smaller" than expected.
Every Orgasm Will Be Different
Orgasms can happen at different intensity levels, so you might have big ones some days, and smaller ones other days. "Sometimes it may feel incredibly powerful," Marin says. "Other times it might feel tiny and inconsequential." That's why it's important not to judge each and every one, or wonder if it "counted" as an orgasm or not. As long as you feel good — even if it's just a "little blip of pleasure" — that's all that really matters.
There are also different kinds of orgasms that can occur in various areas of your body. Did you know you can have a clitoral orgasm, a vaginal orgasm, or orgasm during a really passionate kiss? There are erogenous zones all over the body, which means you can stimulate yourself in more than one way.
There Are Some Tell-Tale Signs You've Orgasmed
According to Marin, if you find yourself truly puzzled about whether or not you’re having an orgasm, try paying more attention to how your body responds when you think you’re close. Again, everyone is different, but most people will have some sort of involuntary physiological response.
You might feel your muscles shaking or twitching uncontrollably, for example, or your heart rate increase suddenly. Similarly, if your breath skips a beat, or your chest gets flushed, you might be having an orgasm.
It Won’t Always Feel Like You’re Done
We women are lucky — we’re capable of having multiple orgasms in quick succession, as well as something called a blended orgasm, which means orgasming in more than one area, like the clitoris and vagina, at the same time. That said, it won't always feel like you've completely finished or that you had a big explosive experience, and now want to roll over and fall asleep.
"A lot of women are looking for a feeling of 'completion' after an orgasm, which they won’t always get since their bodies are primed to have another orgasm right away," Marin says. "Sometimes, an orgasm may feel like a release, but don’t rule out the possibility that you had an orgasm just because you don’t feel finished."
They Don’t Always Feel That Great
"Almost all of my clients expect to have earth-shattering, mind-boggling, limb-weakening orgasms," Marin says. "In reality, orgasms don’t always feel amazing." Again, some orgasms can actually feel like a letdown, while others can feel mildly painful or uncomfortable. Some can trigger emotional releases, she says, or feel like when you have to sneeze really badly, but the sneeze dies in your nose.
"I think a lot of women feel pressured to have incredible orgasms, so they play up just how good their orgasms are when they’re talking to their friends," Marin says, or even while still in bed with their partner. This, of course, leads to even more unrealistic expectations about what orgasm is like. "I think it’s important for us as women to acknowledge that not all orgasms are life-changing," she says.
You Can Make Your Orgasm Better
Like the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. "The more you keep masturbating, the better you’ll get at making yourself orgasm," Marin says. "You should expect to have occasional duds, but more experience will help you be able to identify your orgasms more readily, and learn what your body needs to have even better orgasms. For example, you might discover that your body responds really well to a certain level of pressure or a specific stroke. Check out one of my recent articles for even more tips on creating stronger orgasms."
It can be a frustrating process to go through. After all, you just want to have a that amazing sense of release, and to be able to achieve it again and again. But the absolute best thing you can do is try to enjoy the process of figuring out how to masturbate. "Remember that masturbating should feel pleasurable throughout the entire experience, not just at the end," Marin says. "Learn to enjoy the ride, and I promise that you’ll have more obvious orgasms in the future!"
Vanessa Marin, sex therapist
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