Think back to when your parents first told you, as you uncomfortably sat across from them on the couch with sweaty palms, about the birds and the bees. Your mom told you a sweet little tale about how a sperm meets an egg, the egg is fertilized, a baby grows in her stomach, and in nine months, it is miraculously born. Did she skip the part about, “By the way, a man can have an orgasm without ejaculating, and he can ejaculate without having an orgasm?” I thought so.
While defining the female orgasm is often met with consternation, most of us see the male orgasm as pretty straight forward. But it isn’t always. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the same process when men orgasm and when they ejaculate.
Let’s define the big O so we are all on the same page.
An orgasm is the peak in sexual excitement during the sexual response cycle, characterized by a release in sexual tension, often immense pleasure, and muscle contractions in the genital region. Orgasm can also come along with increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, and possible spasms in the extremities. The degree of an orgasm can vary due to state of mind, physical factors, and in all honesty, randomness.
Whereas, ejaculation is the release of semen out of the tip of the penis. It sounds like a little more confetti and a lot less party, but it does propagate the species. While not always, ejaculation and orgasm are found together more often than not.
But, what about those times when sex play with a man leads to euphoria, but you look down, and all that’s come out are metaphorical tumbleweeds?
A dry orgasm can happen intentionally and not so intentionally. A well trained pubococcygeal muscle (PC) can lead to orgasm without ejaculation. The PC muscle goes from the pubic bone to the coccyx horizontally, creating a comfy hammock of a pelvic floor. It controls urine flow as well as involuntarily contractions during orgasm (note: not ejaculation). By voluntarily contracting the PC muscles during Kegel exercises, both men and women can strengthen their perineal core. Not only will we be less likely to pee our pants, but doctors say this helps with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and—ding, ding, ding—orgasming without ejaculating.
While we wouldn’t boast about our reps at the gym, keeping up with Kegel exercises has some big benefits for both genders—the potential to make us come harder and have more control over our entire downstairs area. For men, it can also mean the ability to release semen at greater distances. If men flex this muscle right before they feel they are about to ejaculate, they can sometimes have an orgasm without coming. How can a guy feel his PC muscle working? He can feel the muscles he uses to stop peeing mid-stream, and when he isn’t in the bathroom, tighten and release that same muscle. He can try this at first on his own, or with a partner, but it may take tempered breathing, practice, time, determination, and a bit of self restraint to reap the benefits of this southern work out.
A big benefit of becoming a master of one’s man parts? It can mean multiple orgasms for men. After a man ejaculates, there is a refractory period—a recovery stage of the sexual response cycle—in which he cannot ejaculate again and most likely will want a snooze. He may be able to get an erection, but there is a bit of a waiting period that’s different for all men, sometimes minutes and sometimes a day, before he can actually produce semen again. While ejaculation causes the need for a refractory period, orgasm does not. Because of this, it has been documented that when some sexually precocious young boys play with themselves before they hit puberty, the young lads will be pleasantly surprised to find they can orgasm without ejaculating. This can be achieved with the older set as well.
Doctors use the term “ejaculatory inevitability” to describe the point of no return in which a man has reached a threshold of sexual excitement in which he will and must ejaculate. If a man can continually bring himself almost to the point of no return, and then back away, he can experience the muscle contractions associated with orgasm up until he finally does ejaculate. And when he finally does reach orgasm, it might feel even deeper and more incredible than the usual market brand. Men with a quick sexual refractory period, but maybe less baby batter in their stores, also have the potential to achieve dry orgasm shortly after initial orgasm accompanied by ejaculation. In both cases, the effect is akin to the multiple orgasms experienced by some women.
What could be the downside to all this glorious orgasm without jizzing? Retrograde ejaculation. Yes, I just said that. That’s when semen flows backwards into the bladder through the urethra instead of coming out the normal spout. A man will feel all the pleasures of orgasm, but no fluid will have been released. After this has happened, the man experiencing this Marty McFly retro splooge might notice his pee is a little cloudy. Retrograde ejaculation can be a side effect of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or men who just had prostate surgery. So, if this keeps up, get thee to a doctor.
What about the other side of things, when a guy is gushing, but there there is a marked absence of pleasure?
Most of us know the realm of male sexual dysfunction can involve premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, and impotence, but anorgasmic ejaculation, or ejaculation without climax, is rarely spoken of. If a man suffers from this, libido and erectile quality are usually not impeded. The sexual activity of an anorgasmic ejaculator is regular until a peak is reached during sex, he releases sperm, and ejaculates, but doesn’t receive the usual sensations of an orgasm. In other words, he goes to Splash Mountain without the trip to Magic Kingdom.
You might have rolled your eyes when your health teacher said it, but the brain really is the most important sexual organ. Orgasm is a process of the brain, whereas ejaculation is very much a bodily response. So, your head has to be in the game for your whole sexual response system to be in working order. That’s why anorgasmic ejaculation, though sometimes attributed to spinal nerve damage and recovery from pelvic surgery, is most commonly caused by psychological factors. It is associated with stress, anxiety, use of antidepressants, alcoholism, depression, emotional problems, performance anxiety, or trauma. Things like stress and depression can weigh on the mind and slowly work their way down to the penis. Sometimes, the issue is not the absence of an orgasm in the man as much as the absence of feeling it happen. The best way to approach this problem is by consulting a doctor, possibly seeking therapy, and working his way past whatever mental blocks are fighting off the feel-good sensors in his body.
Guys out there—remember, whether you’re coming without sperm, with sperm, or only sperm, you still need to practice safe sex and have an open dialogue. There is and always will be an exception to every human body’s rule, especially when you’re fiddling around with baby-making instruments. It’s loopholes like dry orgasms and wet no-gasms that help keep the world interesting. There will always be newfangled ways to make the beast with two backs. The best news of all is that whether it is the brain or the groin, doctors say the most successful way to cure what ails you is always exercise, exercise, exercise.
ExpliKate is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the hyper-inquisitive Kate Hakala, who seeks to answer questions ranging from “What is kombucha?” to what you read above. Follow her on Twitter here.