For whatever reason, the female orgasm seems to have taken on an almost mythical quality in our society. It can seem mysterious, unattainable, or stressful, but it doesn’t have to be, it’s really just simple biology. Let’s break it down.

What’s going on in my body when I have an orgasm?

“All an orgasm is at its most basic is muscle contraction – really tiny, fast muscle contractions of the muscles inside the clitoris, vagina, anus, and uterus that reverberate through the body,” says Kait Scalisi, MPH, a sex and relationship coach.

As excitement builds around your Vagina, your heart rate increases, blood flows to your genitals, and your clitoris becomes erect the same way a penis does, as it’s made out of similar types of tissue. Your labia also get puffier and darker, and your uterus tilts.

“Eventually there’s a point of no return where you go to orgasm or you don’t,” Scalisi explains. When it happens, your brain releases the feel-good chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. (Fun fact: Dopamine is also a natural pain reliever.) The result? You feel relaxed, you get a mental and physical release, and you feel the urge to cuddle.

What’s the point of an orgasm?

For guys the answer is obvious – to get sperm out and where it’s supposed to be in order to fertilize an egg – but for women the experts and science disagree. Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, PhD., a sex researcher and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, notes that there is some research showing that the muscle contractions that occur during orgasm helps move sperm up the vagina and closer to the uterus, but women don’t need to orgasm in order to get pregnant.

Other scientists note that perhaps it helps to increase bonding with a mate. In Dr. Jawed-Wessel’s opinion here’s the most important reason for female orgasm: “It feels good.”

How do I know if I’ve had one?

The clichéd response of “If you have to ask, you probably haven’t” probably applies here, but not necessarily. Women definitely have skewed expectations of what an orgasm should feel like. “Most of us expect them to be mind-blowing, out-of-body experiences.

In some cases that is what happens. In some cases they’re quiet,” Scalisi says. “If someone says to me they haven’t had an orgasm, I start by asking them to describe their experience, because what I found is a lot of the time – though not always – they did have an orgasm, but it just didn’t meet their expectations.”

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Both experts hesitated sharing words to describe what an orgasm should feel like because it’s so different for everyone. (I’ll go ahead and try, though: Shivery, muscle clenching, and then total release.) Results may vary.

How do I have one if I haven’t yet?

Masturbation is the easiest way. “Almost all my female college students say their first orgasm wasn’t with a vibrator,” Dr. Jawed-Wessel says. She describes students telling her that they were alone and watching a sexy scene in a movie, felt excited, and then provided themselves some sort of stimulation (hand, pillow, thigh-clenching) to their genital area.

A lot of young women also turn to vibrators for help. For women who feel they’ve had “soft” orgasms, Scalisi has a technique she recommends called “edging.” “As they get into the buildup, stop whatever you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, stay in the moment, and touch other areas.

Don’t continue the same motion that was causing the buildup. Then go back to it. Do it once or a couple times. It builds up excitement so you have a stronger orgasm,” she says. Masturbation should never be stressful, if you feel pressured to have an orgasm, especially if it’s your first one, it definitely won’t happen. Relax.

During sex, do I always have to have an orgasm?

That leads us to the ultimate stress-inducing orgasm conversation. Men pretty much always have an orgasm during sex; women don’t necessarily. Dr. Jawed-Wessel notes again that for the majority of women, clitoral stimulation is usually necessary to orgasm, and sometimes that just doesn’t happen during penetrative vaginal sex.

She also wants young women to stop stressing about it. “There’s so many different kinds of pressure: Have an orgasm. Have an orgasm during vaginal sex. Have an orgasm at the same exact time as your partner. It’s enough to make anyone’s libido fall flat,” she says.

“It’s OK if you don’t have an orgasm every time. It doesn’t mean you didn’t have a pleasurable experience. Not every sexual encounter needs to end in an orgasm, yes, they feel good, but they’re not everything.” We couldn’t agree more.

A great sexual experience comes from being with a sensitive partner that you care about, not whether or not you end with a big “O.”