One and done. That about sums up the way most people view the male orgasm. Once it happens, he’s finished. He’s ready for some sleep or maybe a sandwich. It’s not particularly surprising that so many people hold this view, given that most adult film clips show male actors having a single orgasm, which usually occurs just before the video ends.
In reality, however, a man’s orgasmic experience can be much more variable than this script lets on.
That’s right—many men report an ability to have multiple orgasms, and some research suggests that guys may even be able to teach themselves how to do this.
For years, multiple orgasms were considered a phenomenon fairly unique to women. When they occurred in men, they were thought to be restricted to very young guys. This view stemmed from the pioneering research of Alfred Kinsey and the original “masters of sex,” William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Kinsey’s research suggested that multiple orgasms were relatively common among adolescent boys and young men, but that the capacity for multiple orgasms was low beyond age 35.
Some years later, Masters and Johnson elaborated on this to say that the reason men typically only have one orgasm is because they have a so-called refractory period, which they described as a period of time after the male orgasm occurs during which no additional orgasms are possible.
In their words, the refractory period is “maintained until sexual tension in the male has been reduced to low excitement phase levels of response.” Translation: the male body needs to cool down a bit before another orgasm can happen. Masters and Johnson also described this cool-down period as being age-dependent, increasing significantly in length as guys get older.
Why does the refractory period exist? The preferred hypothesis is that it has an evolutionary purpose that aids in procreation. Because ejaculation typically coincides with the male orgasm, orgasms tend to deplete a guy’s sperm reserves (in fact, hundreds of millions of sperm are typically released per ejaculation.). A refractory period would thus allow sperm levels to be replenished before the next ejaculation occurs. Not everyone buys this hypothesis, though, because it would take the better part of a day to build those sperm levels all the way back up, and guys don’t necessarily need to wait that long until they’re ready to go again.
Not only do scientists disagree on the purpose of the refractory period, but some also disagree with how Masters and Johnson conceptualized it.
For instance, in a 2009 paper published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, sexual physiologist Roy Levin highlights studies of male rodents demonstrating that their refractory period occurs in two phases: an absolute refractory period during which additional orgasms are impossible no matter what, followed by a relative refractory period during which additional orgasms are possible with potent enough stimulation, such as the introduction of a new mating partner.
Levin suggests that perhaps human men have both an absolute and a relative refractory period too, which would mean that guys don’t necessarily have to wait for all sexual tension to subside before they can climax again. Scientists have yet to perform a human study parallel to the rat studies Levin described.
University ethics boards seem to take issue with the idea of scientists waiting for a guy to reach orgasm and then immediately introducing him to a new partner to see whether and how quickly he can orgasm again; however, I know a lot of guys who would gladly volunteer for such a study if anyone ever ran it.
Introducing a new sexual partner is not necessarily required to bring about multiple orgasms in human men. There are a handful of published case reports featuring guys who can have multiple masturbatory orgasms in a short period of time.
For instance, in a 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, a 35-year old father of four who claimed to have multi-orgasmic abilities agreed to show them off for a small group of scientists. The patient was asked to stimulate himself for as long as he could keep having orgasms while seated in a private room watching the porn of his choice.
In total, he masturbated for 36 minutes and reached orgasm, with ejaculation, six times during that period. He maintained an erection the entire time (as noted by the scientists through a one-way observation window), and the length of time between each orgasm ranged from 4-12 minutes.
The participant collected each ejaculate sample for later analysis. These samples revealed that the amount of semen released was largest during the first ejaculation and much smaller during all subsequent ejaculations. The percentage of motile (i.e., active) sperm decreased to zero by the last sample too, which suggests that multiple orgasms do not necessarily help guys in the fertility department.
The case reported here does not necessarily reflect the experiences of all men who have multiple orgasms (e.g., other men have multiple orgasms without multiple ejaculations); however, this study is important because it provides clinical validation that multiple orgasms in a short period of time are at least potentially possible in some men.
So how many guys are capable of multiple orgasms? Unfortunately, this is difficult to say because few researchers have ever bothered to survey men about whether they have had multiple orgasms, likely because they have been taught not to expect men to even have this ability. However, in a nationally representative sex survey from Finland, seven percent of the men reported that they had more than one orgasm the most recent time they had sex (for comparison purposes, 12 percent of women surveyed said that they had multiple orgasms).
It is difficult to draw many conclusions from such data, though. For one thing, the question was framed specifically to most recent intercourse. Whether a guy has ever had multiple orgasms is therefore not reflected here, which probably means seven percent is an underestimate.
However, there are questions to be raised about how survey respondents interpreted “multiple orgasms.” Did these orgasms also include ejaculation? Did the guys maintain their erections between orgasms? Was there a break in sexual activity between them?
In light of this, researchers must be careful to clearly define male multiple orgasms in attempts to assess their prevalence. Perhaps the most precise definition I have seen was offered in a 1989 paper from the Archives of Sexual Behavior: “Two or more orgasms with or without ejaculation and without, or with only very limited, detumescence during one and the same sexual encounter.”
One key part of this definition is that it does not equate orgasm with ejaculation—these are, in fact, two separate processes. Although orgasm and ejaculation usually co-occur, it is possible for either one to happen without the other.
Another key aspect of this definition is the part about limited “detumescence,” which basically means that the penis must remain erect between orgasms. Going back to flaccid would mean that the next orgasm was part of an entirely new sexual response cycle, which is something a little different from having multiple orgasms. One other thing to note about this definition is that it does not specify time between orgasms, just that they must occur during the same sexual event.
In that 1989 paper, 21 men who fit these criteria for having multiple orgasms were studied. These men reported having previously had anywhere from 2 to 16 (!) orgasms in a single sexual encounter, but they did not necessarily have multiple orgasms every time they had sex.
Nearly half of the men said that they had always been multiply orgasmic; however, the other half reported discovering their ability later in life. (In other words, there’s still hope.) For men in the latter group, most said that the discovery was a fortunate accident. Two of them claimed to have taught themselves to become multiply orgasmic, though.
According to the study’s authors, “these men practiced coming to the brink of orgasm and inhibiting ejaculation until they could separate the sensation of orgasm and the experience of ejaculation. Both of these subjects used techniques such as the squeeze or stop-start method in their initial practice.”
To put it another way, these guys taught themselves to become multiply orgasmic by adapting some of the techniques that are commonly used to treat premature ejaculation (see here for a primer on how they work).
Additional scientific validation for these techniques is offered in the 1984 book Any Man Can, which was written by a different team of sex researchers who studied 33 multiply orgasmic men in depth. For those who are interested, there are still plenty of used copies of this book floating around.
These authors recommend having several long masturbation sessions per week in which you practice reaching orgasm but inhibit ejaculation again and again until you’re ready for your final orgasm.
In addition, they recommend strengthening your pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises. I should caution that “any man can” is a pretty bold claim, though. We do not really know whether multiple orgasms are something that all guys are potentially capable of, but it does seem to be the case that a capacity for multiple orgasms is something that at least some guys appear able to acquire through practice.
The reason for learning to separate orgasm from ejaculation stems from the fact that many sex scientists believe that it is ejaculation rather than orgasm per se that tends to bring on the refractory period. To the extent that this is true, we might also expect to see that women who ejaculate upon reaching orgasm are more likely to experience a refractory period that prevents or delays additional orgasms compared to women who do not ejaculate.
The fact that orgasm and ejaculation usually coincide in men is potentially the single biggest factor that might explain the lower prevalence of multiple orgasms in men, compared to women.
Although research on male multiple orgasms is incomplete at this time, the accumulated science to date reveals that this phenomenon is real, it is probably more common than we think, and it just might be a teachable skill.
This article was originally published on May 29, 2015.