You know what phrase annoys the crap of me?

“You just know.”

People say it about all kinds of things — love, the right career, the right pet, whether or not you’ve had an orgasm. It’s a smug way to cop out of actually explaining something. I firmly don’t believe that you “just know” anything at all.

You know because your brain has made a series of assessments based on previous experiences and knowledge and it tells you, “Yup, this is the thing.” I especially hate it when women ask for help figuring out whether or not they’ve had an orgasm and they’re left with “You’d know if you did.”

How? How would they know?

There are so many levels of pleasure in sexual contact — how do you know which one is an orgasm?

The answer is through repeated orgasms — but also through talking to other women about what orgasms feel like.

Not knowing whether you’ve had an orgasm is actually pretty common, at least anecdotally. A lot of us can remember a time when we’ve wondered, “Was that…?”

“I teach women how to reach orgasm on their own and with their partner in my coaching practice,” intimacy and sexuality coach Irene Fehr explains. “Many women I work with struggle with not being able to orgasm, or sometimes don't know if they have at all.” 

With that in mind, we spoke with six women about what it feels like when they orgasm.

Obviously the experience is going to be different for every woman, but we can assume there are some commonalities that will help people answer the question: Have I actually ever orgasmed?

Irene Fehr, 38 

The first time I orgasmed was at age 33. It was like nothing I've ever experienced, although there were times when I'd come close to going over the edge, but then retract in fear. I was masturbating with a vibrator.

First, I felt a wave of warmth rise up from my clitoris, up my belly, up my chest and then it turned into a whole-body experience that included shaking for a few seconds. I knew I was getting to the edge, and then when I did go over the edge, I knew that I couldn't stop it — it was literally like being washed over and taken over by a wave of energy. I lost control over it and my body did what it needed to do. I surrendered to it and rode the experience like you'd ride a wave in the ocean.

The wave of energy was intense and a huge release, so much so that I fell hard asleep seconds after and slept for a while. I'd fall asleep afterwards regularly for the first year I started to orgasm.

I had never had an orgasm until then, and had been practicing Orgasmic Meditation (a partnered sexuality practice that is focused on accessing orgasmic energy) as well as using the vibrator to learn how to orgasm. After consistent year of both, I was able to orgasm for the first time.

Kimfabulous 

It feels like a pleasure bomb has gone off in my center and waves of pleasure radiate in pulsing beats outward from the epicenter of the explosion for seconds, sometimes minutes, followed by total relaxation. 

Trish, 25 

It feels like an intense ticklish heat starting deep in my abdomen, and spreading quickly outward through my whole body overcoming my muscles, and for a second my entire body contracts, and my mind goes blank for a second. It then feels like the greatest relief you've ever had, mixed with a dreamy high.

Jules 

A building of tension both near my clit and deeper inside my vagina, followed by an overwhelming release of pleasure with tingles and muscle convulsions — in the best way possible. 

Diane, 24 

An orgasm feels like nothing matters. Every concern, responsibility, and maybe feeling of guilt goes away. It is a moment when you get a feeling that maybe hurts a little bit, but in a good way. Making you want more, and relax. An orgasm is a moment when you let everything go and connect with yourself, or somebody else. 

Jessica 

I always imagine I'm flying or floating above water, but sometimes I'm actually an 18th century British woman with my knickers up in an involved scene that involves somehow, sailboats.