Why does sex feel good?

Everyone feels pleasure differently during sex. Both men and women can feel great pleasure during sex.
Everyone feels pleasure differently during sex. Both men and women can feel great pleasure during sex.

Everyone feels pleasure differently during sex. For some people, sex and pleasure is highly physical, and an orgasm is the ultimate delight. Other people don’t need an orgasm to enjoy sex or for sex to feel good. Orgasms can also feel differently each time. Some can build up slowly and be more intense, while others are short, quick, bursts of pleasure. 

Both men and women can feel great pleasure during sex. The penis and the vagina each have tissue rich with nerve endings, becoming swollen with blood and highly sensitive during arousal and orgasm. Women are more likely to have problems reaching an orgasm, though, for a variety of reasons. 

While sex involves your genitals, pleasure actually comes from brain chemicals and heightened senses. Different stages of sex cause physical changes that activate brain chemicals and cause intense sensations. 

Both men and women go through these phases, but not necessarily in the same order. 

Desire

The first stage of sex and pleasure is desire, also known as your libido. This is your natural urge and instinct to have sex, which can be influenced by your mood, thoughts, and hormones. Your body physically changes, which includes:

  • Nipples getting hard
  • Blood flow to your vagina increasing
  • Erection
  • Faster heart rate
  • Faster breathing

Arousal

During arousal, your physical changes become more intense as you get excited. Your senses are heightened, and your muscles tighten in rhythm as you work toward orgasm. You may experience the following:

  • Heart rate speeds up even more
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Breathing gets more intense
  • Blood flow to your vagina increases even more 
  • Clitoris becomes highly sensitive
  • Testicles pull up into your scrotum
  • Muscle spasms start in your face, feet, and hands
  • Glands secrete fluids to make sex easier

Orgasm

The orgasm is the peak of your sex cycle. It happens when your muscles relax after a series of contractions. It usually only lasts a few seconds, but can be longer for some people and is the most intense period of pleasure. You’ll have:

  • Muscle contractions in your vagina
  • Muscle contractions at the base of your penis
  • Fast heart rate and breathing
  • Sudden, intense release of sexual tension
  • Sex flush or rash across your skin
  • Feeling of euphoria

Resolution

Your body starts to return to normal during this phase. Endorphins flood your blood, and you feel happy, warm, and sometimes sleepy. Some women are still sensitive in this phase and can be stimulated into more orgasms and pleasure, but men usually need some time. 

Not everyone reaches orgasm every time, and orgasm isn’t just a physical sense of pleasure. As your brain releases endorphins, you get a natural high that triggers a mental state of bliss.

Sex and pleasure for men

Arousal for men often starts with an erection and is a reflexive response to thoughts, fantasies, and physical stimulation. Pleasure can be both physical and emotional for men. Sex builds closeness and affection with your partner, which adds to the pleasure and satisfaction of sex.

Men also get pleasure from a partner’s pleasure during sex. Studies show men who have sex with women often feel responsible for her pleasure or for the lack of an orgasm. Men tend to feel guilty if there’s no orgasm, which can lower self-esteem and affect overall pleasure during sex.

Sex and pleasure for women

Only about 50% of women regularly have orgasms during sex, compared to 90% or more of men. Lots of women are able to reach orgasm during masturbation but find the orgasms better and more satisfying when stemming from penetrative sex with a partner. 

It’s sometimes said that orgasms aren’t important to all women, but studies show that women who don’t have them find their sex life unsatisfying. This suggests that pleasure does matter to women. 

So, why do women have so much trouble reaching pleasure during sex? The most common cause is not enough stimulation, but it can also happen because of stress, worry, hormonal changes, and other problems. 

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Medically Reviewed on 12/13/2021
References
SOURCES:

Brain and Behavior: "Neuroanatomy and function of human sexual behavior: A neglected or unknown issue?."

Brown University B Well Health Promotion: "Orgasm."

Cleveland Clinic: "Sexual Response Cycle."

Clinical Anatomy: "Anatomy and physiology of the clitoris, vestibular bulbs, and labia minora with a review of the female orgasm and the prevention of female sexual dysfunction."

National Health Service: "What can cause orgasm problems in women?"

National Health Services Go: "Good sex tips."

Oregon Health & Sciences University Center for Women's Health: "The Benefits of a Healthy Sex Life."

Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology: "Determinants of female sexual orgasms," "The whole versus the sum of some of the parts: toward resolving the apparent controversy of clitoral versus vaginal orgasms."

University of California Berkeley Greater Good Science Center: "Why Sex Is So Good for Your Relationship."