Men achieve orgasm through a series of steps involving a number of organs, hormones, blood vessels, and nerves working together. The end result is ejaculation of sperm through strong muscle contractions.
The fuel for the process leading to orgasm is testosterone, a hormone produced in steady supply by the testicles. The testicles also make millions of sperm each day, which mature and then are mixed with whitish, protein-rich fluids. These fluids nourish and support the sperm so they can live after ejaculation for a limited time. This mixture of fluid and sperm, known as semen, is what is moved through the urethra and out the penis during orgasm.
The testosterone flowing through a man’s body, along with psychological factors, determines the strength of his desire for sex. This sexual desire, or libido, is key in kicking off the process that will lead to orgasm. If a man has no sex drive — for example, if he has low testosterone or is suffering from depression — his body will not respond to sexual stimuli and he will not be able to achieve orgasm.
The Male Orgasm: Steps to Ejaculation
The steps that lead a man to successful orgasm include:
- Arousal. The man perceives something or someone that prompts sexual interest. That perception prompts the brain to send a signal down the spinal cord to the sex organs, causing an erection. The penis becomes erect when blood fills spongy tissue inside its shaft, brought by arteries that have expanded to allow blood to race in at up to 50 times its normal speed. The veins in the penis that normally drain blood out squeeze shut so that more blood remains inside, producing a firm erection. The scrotum pulls towards the body, and muscles throughout the body increase in tension.
- Plateau. The male body prepares for orgasm in this phase, which can last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Muscle tension increases even more and involuntary body movements, particularly in the pelvis, begin to take over. The man’s heart rate increases to between 150 and 175 beats per minute. A clear fluid may begin to flow from the urethra. This pre-ejaculatory fluid is meant to change the pH balance of the urethra, to improve the chances of sperm survival.
- Orgasm. The orgasm itself occurs in two phases, emission and ejaculation. In emission, the man reaches ejaculatory inevitability, the “point of no return.” Semen is deposited near the top of the urethra, ready for ejaculation. Ejaculation occurs in a series of rapid-fire contractions of the penile muscles and around the base of the anus. Involuntary pelvic thrusting may also occur. The nerves causing the muscle contractions send messages of pleasure to the man’s brain.
- Resolution and refraction. After ejaculation, the penis begins to lose its erection. About half of the erection is lost immediately, and the rest fades soon after. Muscle tension fades, and the man may feel relaxed or drowsy. Men usually must undergo a refractory period, or recovery phase, during which they cannot achieve another erection. This usually lasts for about a half hour.
Men differ from women in that men usually are satiated after one orgasm. Women can experience more than one orgasm with no loss of sexual arousal, and do not have to undergo a refractory period.
Male Orgasm: When There’s a Problem
Some men can have problems achieving orgasm. These most often stem from psychological factors, for example, they are still affected by a traumatic event or a religious upbringing, or they have fallen into masturbation patterns that have conditioned the body to take longer to reach orgasm. However, the problem also can be caused by taking certain medications or by having a neurological disease.
A short-term way to address problems with orgasm involves stimulation of the penis with a vibrator or some other type of sex toy. However, to really make meaningful changes, a man often will probably need to go through some sort of sex therapy. Therapy usually involves “homework” in which a couple engages in sexual activities that reduce performance pressure and focus on pleasure.
If you are consistently experiencing problems achieving orgasm and ejaculation, contact your doctor. A thorough medical exam and history may reveal the reason why.