While most of us would like to have more orgasms than we do, there are all sorts of social rules (and more than a few laws) that make it prudent to have orgasms only at certain times and in certain places. Unexpected orgasms, also called “atypical orgasms” by researchers, are orgasms that happen either at a time and place that we don’t expect, or in the absence of sexual stimulation which usually precedes an orgasm.
More than anything, learning about orgasms like these can help us better understand how complicated the sexual response is and how much our social understanding of sexuality can impact our physical experience of sex. These types of orgasms also serve as a reminder that there are more possibilities for orgasm than we are usually led to believe.
The term spontaneous orgasm is used in clinical literature to describe a rare sexual side effect of certain medications, most commonly SSRIs for the treatment of depression. Spontaneous orgasms can occur without any stimulation at all or after sexual stimulation has stopped, when most wouldn’t normally have another orgasm.
Spontaneous orgasms that happen in public are usually described as highly undesirable and stressful. In one case, a man found it difficult to work outside the home since his orgasm was accompanied by ejaculation. Spontaneous orgasms should not be confused with persistent genital arousal disorder, which does not usually involve the experience of a climax.
Orgasms During Sleep
There are at least two kinds of orgasms that happen during sleep. The best known is nocturnal emissions or “wet dreams”. These responses, which happen for both men and women, are not the result of actual stimulation (the person isn’t asleep and stimulating themselves). Instead, they are thought to result solely from brain activity stimulating the body to respond with an orgasm. These orgasms offer proof that orgasm can occur without any external physical stimulation of the body.
The second kind of sleep orgasm occurs during the relatively rare and recently described sleep disorder known as sexsomnia, or sleep sex. Sleep sex involves a complex range of sexual behaviors (including masturbation, oral sex, and sexual intercourse) which will often end with an orgasm – all while the individual is asleep.
These orgasms can also follow vibrator stimulation, such as wearing vibrating panties, or a cock ring. Another option is to be stimulated by your intimate partner while asleep. Wand massagers, insertable rabbit sex toys, anal vibrators, and prostate massagers can be used if the person is in a deep sleep cycle. This can be indeed pleasurable practice as long as you have your partner’s consent.
Orgasms with Spinal Cord Injuries
Conventional medical and rehabilitation wisdom used to be that a person who acquired a complete spinal cord injury would be unable to experience an orgasm. While doctors vehemently defended this belief, people living with spinal cord injuries would anecdotally report experiencing orgasms during sex. In the past, these orgasms were referred to as “phantom orgasms,” the thinking being that they were simply the body’s memory of previous orgasms (much like “phantom limb” where someone who has lost a limb can still feel its presence).
In the mid-nineties, a series of laboratory studies finally confirmed what people with disabilities had been saying all along: People with spinal cord injuries were capable of having very real orgasms.
In fact, one study found that 52% of women with spinal cord injuries experienced orgasm. Sex researcher Beverley Whipple and her colleagues proposed a neurological explanation that involved a new pathway from the cervix to the brain, one that circumvented the spinal cord. This represented an important vindication for people who had been, for years, saying that they were feeling sexual pleasure when doctors claimed they were incapable of feeling it.
Orgasms in Response to Breastfeeding
In a 2000 study of breastfeeding women, 40.5% of the participants reported feeling sexually aroused at some point during infant suckling. Of them, 16.7% reported being aroused frequently during breastfeeding. Many women are embarrassed or even ashamed of this experience, and it’s unfortunate that more women don’t know the physical reason for the response. Arousal and orgasm during breastfeeding have nothing to do with inappropriate sexual feelings and everything to do with a hormone called oxytocin.
Oxytocin stimulates the ejection of milk from the nipples, and its release is triggered by breast stimulation. It’s also involved in contractions of the uterus (both during childbirth and during orgasm), and it’s associated with feelings of relaxation and satisfaction following orgasm.
Orgasms from Nerve Stimulation
In 1998, North Carolina-based pain specialist Dr. Stuart Meloy discovered that one of the techniques he used to manage chronic pain, which involves inserting electrodes near the spine to stimulate nearby nerve fibers, had a very unexpected side effect — it triggered orgasms in his female patients. He is currently developing a device specifically designed to stimulate orgasm as a treatment for sexual dysfunction.
In his first published study using the device, 10 of the 11 participants achieved successful stimulation; four of the five participants who previously were not experiencing orgasms reported having orgasms. This initial study was with a small group and more research is needed, but this discovery points to another path to orgasm and is further proof that orgasms are far more than a combination of friction and fantasy.
Komisaruk, B.R., Beyer-Flores, C. & Whipple, B. The Science of Orgasm Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Meloy, T.S. & Southern, J.P. “Neurally Augmented Sexual Function in Human Females: A Preliminary Investigation” Neuromodulation Volume 9, No. 1 (2006): 34–40.