Understanding the Male OrgasmThe male orgasm was originally divided by researchers into two phases. They've since learned that those are really the middle part of the process, but old habits die hard, so the numbering of the phases is a little peculiar. So it looks like this:
Preparation – Arousal: Blood flow increases not just to the penis, but also to tissues in the surrounding area in the scrotum and lower pelvis, creating increased congestion and sensitivity to touch. The brain areas responsible for orgasm and ejaculation accumulate higher and higher levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin.
Phase Zero – Initiation: After sufficient arousal, the brain signals the adrenals to release a spike of adrenaline (epinephrine) in the brain and the body, raising blood pressure, pulse, and respiration, blocking pain and fatigue, and increasing muscular strength. The forebrain begins to shut down its monitoring of anything not connected with the impending orgasm. The orgasm begins. On an EEG, it looks like an electrical storm or epileptic fit begins to sweep over the brain from front to back. This continues through the next two phases.
Phase One – Emission: A signal is sent to all of the glands involved in the ejaculation process. The sphincter between the bladder and the prostate closes tight so semen cannot go backward into the bladder. The sperm, seminal fluid, and other ingredients that constitute semen are injected into the upper end of the urethra from the vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate, and several other glands. The pituitary gland at the base of the brain also releases a jolt of prolactin into the blood. The man is now aware that the orgasm has started and feels he has passed the Point of No Return.
Phase Two – Ejaculation: Starting about 1-2 seconds after the signal to the glands, a separate signal is sent to nodes in the spine, which send a set of repeated signals to the muscles that surround the urethra all the way from the prostate at the base of the bladder down to the base of the penis and up the penile shaft. These muscles contract strongly in sequence, expelling the semen from the tip of the penis. Other muscles in the pelvic floor contract too, tightening the anal sphincters and often making the penis jerk. This series of contractions generally occurs 10-15 times, although in some cases it may be less or more. The man is usually aware of only about half of them unless he has trained himself to notice them.
Aftermath: The electrical storm that started in Phase Zero lasts about 15-20 seconds, continuing throughout Phases One and Two and triggering the release of a surge of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the nucleus accumbens and other parts of the limbic system involved in pleasure and reward. Meanwhile, the spike of prolactin dumped into the bloodstream in Phase One circulates through the body and reaches the groin about a minute after release, negating the chemicals that caused the arteries in that area to expand. As the arteries in the penis contract, blood flow to the penis is substantially reduced, and the erection becomes soft.
To summarize, Phase Zero starts the whole electrochemical cascade that triggers the other two phases and produces the pleasurable sensations – but also the temporary loss of control – in the brain. Phase One consists of all the glandular action needed to "load" semen into the urethra and to release prolactin into the blood. And Phase Two is where all the muscular action takes place, forcing the semen out.
So it's ...
- Phase Zero – Orgasm – brain
- Phase One – Emission – glands
- Phase Two – Ejaculation – muscles
Why Kegels Work to Create Dry OrgasmsWhat is fascinating about this is that we would expect the steps to be locked together in a very tight sequence, but they aren't. Although the three phases normally start in rapid succession, this doesn't always happen. If part of the process is interrupted, the rest can still go ahead independently, pretty much on schedule.
For example, it is possible to skip Phase Zero and have emission and ejaculation without the pleasurable part of the orgasm (anhedonic ejaculation). Semen spurts out without any feeling of pleasure. And it is possible to skip Phase Two, which produces emission without ejaculation. This creates a "ruined" orgasm where the semen just dribbles out afterward with no pumping action.
Finally, and importantly for our discussion, it is also possible to have a true orgasm in the brain, along with the Ejaculation Phase, while completely skipping the Emission Phase. This is Phase Zero and Phase Two, with no Phase One in between.
We call this a "dry" orgasm or "shooting blanks," because you have the pleasure of an orgasm and you can feel the contractions happening, but there's no semen in the urethra, so of course nothing is expelled. (Actually, it's common for small amounts of seminal fluid to have leaked into the urethra and to be expelled, so "dry" may not mean completely dry.)
Two important points. First, this is exactly what happens automatically for boys who masturbate before they are old enough to produce semen. They go straight from Phase Zero to Phase Two, skipping Phase One. As a result, they have dry orgasms without any emissions.
Second, it's Phase One that triggers the release of prolactin in the bloodstream, and it's the prolactin that kills your erection after an orgasm. If you skip from Phase Zero to Phase Two, there's no Emissions Phase, and that means there's no prolactin, no loss of erection, no refractory period, and no reason not to continue with sex and have another orgasm. (Prolactin also makes you sleepy, so postponing the surge of prolactin means you can stay awake longer and enjoy more sex!)
And again, young boys are our model, since they can have multiple orgasms, one right after another, without losing their erections, right up until they reach semenarche, usually around 11 - 14. Boys who discovered this for themselves often remember masturbating continuously and having several orgasms in a row when they were too young to ejaculate.
What's more, a few of the boys who get into the habit of having multiple orgasms before puberty somehow retain the trick of skipping Phase One when they want to. This means that as adults they can have either dry or wet orgasms as they choose, so they can decide to have, say, three dry orgasms and then finish with a full ejaculatory orgasm.
What makes all this possible is that the emission process in Phase One is not the trigger for the contractions in Phase Two. Instead, the orgasm happening in the brain sends two different signals to two different parts of your nervous system about two seconds apart. The first signal tells the glands to trigger the Phase One emissions process, including the emission of a pulse of prolactin from the pituitary. The second signal tells the muscles to trigger the contractions for Phase Two. We know this is true because if Phase Two depended on Phase One, boys couldn't have orgasms before they reached semenarche and men would never have dry orgasms.
Blocking Phase One and Preventing EmissionsSo all(!) you need to do to have a dry orgasm is to find something else to do at exactly the right moment to distract or interrupt the signal to that part of your nervous system.
It's not at all clear what that is in the case of boys who learn to do it under conscious control, because so far I haven't been able to find anyone who can put what that feels like into words. One man who discovered how to do it as an adult described it as being like the process of learning to raise one eyebrow. You keep trying to separate two mental signals that normally go together until you stumble on the right internal twitch that sends only one signal, not both.
However, my partner and many other men use the Kegel trick instead: if you can learn to do a hard Kegel clamp at exactly the right moment, you can interrupt the emissions phase without interrupting the orgasm or the contractions in the urethra. So you get all the pleasure and all the sensations except the feeling of fluid traveling down the urethra and being ejected.
And, most importantly, it resets your arousal level down about 40-50% (that's a completely unscientific average estimate from several guys) without killing your erection, so you can keep going. Typically, each dry orgasm you have will add 3-7 min to your stamina in bed.
Incidentally, I strongly suspect that it doesn't have to be a Kegel. I think if you crossed your eyes or wiggled your ears or lifted one eyebrow at just the right moment, it would interfere just as well with the Phase One signal to all those glands. (If anyone wants to give that a try, please let me know if you succeed!) In the meantime, we know that it works if you do a Kegel at the right moment.
The key to all of this is the timing. Men typically don't realize that an orgasm has started until Phase One is underway, which is already too late to stop it. By "edging" yourself repeatedly to 80%, 90%, 95%, 98%, and 99% of the trigger for an orgasm – and sometimes missing the goal and failing to pull back in time – you can learn where that boundary is and you can also learn to detect the onset of Phase Zero.
Once you can do that, you can do a Kegel – or whatever – right around the moment when the orgasm starts to happen in the brain but BEFORE the signal goes out to start Phase One. It's somewhat like learning to start the race two seconds before the starter's gun goes off. You have to learn to ignore the obvious, familiar signal and learn to detect and use a much subtler one instead.
For more on how to learn to do this, see Multiple Orgasms for Men and the posts that follow it.