It's an age-old question: Do male and female orgasms feel different? And by "old," I mean literally dating back to ancient times. In one Greek myth, the gods Zeus and Hera argue over who has more intense sexual pleasure. (The prophet Tiresias settles it by claiming that sex feels ten times as good for women.) You can't really know what sensations other people are feeling, especially when you're talking about something as hard to describe as an orgasm, but people's own accounts of it might provide a clue.
I asked eight men and women what orgasms felt like to see if their descriptions differed at all. (It should be noted that everyone interviewed was cisgender, so this also shows what it's like to have a penis versus a vagina).
What really struck me as I read the responses was that everyone seems to experience an orgasm differently. Some descriptions from both men and women were relatable to me, and some weren't. I knew who sent me them, but if I didn't, I don't think I'd be able to tell whether men or women wrote them (aside from the names of body parts, which I've omitted for the purpose of this task).
Take a look at these descriptions and try to see if you can guess whether they were written by men or women. Then, scroll down to the bottom to read the answers.
1. "Excitement, relief, exhilaration, connection."
2. "Experiencing an orgasm always feels wonderful. However, there are times when it is even better: I have a warm tingly feeling that starts moving down my spine then around my [body part]. Then my toes feel like they want to curl up, my body feels tingly all over, and if it is especially awesome. … I feel like I want to pass out. ... For me it is almost a mystical/magical experience."
3. "Orgasms are like ice cream: they come in so many different flavors and styles. Sometimes you want one kind and it may (or may not) be available. Sometimes its not as good as you hoped it would be. Regardless, it's the ultimate connection of mind and body and almost always better when you're sharing it with someone. An orgasm is mind-blowing, overwhelming, powerful pleasure that is exhausting and energizing at the same time."
4. "I find it hard to describe in words other than 'wonderful,' which doesn't really help you at all. It is a sensation felt throughout my body that rapidly spreads out from my [body part] and just floods my body with a feeling I cannot compare to anything else I've ever felt. It is definitely unique—and superb."
5. "The feeling of an orgasm is pretty ineffable. I know some people see them as a release but they don't feel that way to me at all, though there is some sensational similar to the release of peeing after holding it in a long while. Ultimately, I think of my orgasms as extremely brief moments of pleasure which lead directly and immediately to feelings of lethargy and anti-sexualism."
6. "Well, right before, it feels like your whole body is going to fold in half, and then, all of a sudden, there's this massive release. It makes you want to scream and these waves of awesome power of release and relaxation waves come from your middle to all parts of your body, and you can't breathe and you can stop panting and then your body kind of relaxes."
7. "There is a build up and every part of my body feels heightened and sensitive. My [body part] gets tingly and become overwhelmed with pleasurable waves of warmth and intense happiness. I often feel these waves throughout the whole body. While it's largely a physical pleasure, the emotional pleasure can be overwhelming as well due to whatever chemicals are being released in the brain."
8. "Like very intense spasms from being tickled."
1 - woman, 2 - man, 3 - woman, 4 - woman, 5 - man, 6 - man, 7 - woman, 8 - woman. Could you tell?
This little mini-experiment is far from definitive, but there actually is larger, more credible research on this. One study in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that both men and women — even OB/GYNs, psychologists, and med students — were unable to accurately guess which gender wrote different descriptions of orgasms. Another study in Sex Roles found that men and women didn't use significantly different words when describing them. And several studies from the University of Minnesota Medical School found that the muscular contractions were similar.
So, does the experience of an orgasm differ between men and women? In the aggregate, probably not. But as these descriptions show, it does vary a lot from individual to individual.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (8)