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O what a beautiful day

I’m willing to concede that, just maybe, people tend to place just a little too much emphasis on orgasms. On one hand, some people constantly strive to attain, bigger, better climaxes (some might just settle for one!) and, contrarily, can’t seem to ignite a sparkler, let alone a firecracker. Then again, it’s really hard to overhype orgasms — as bodily functions go, they’re pretty cool. Millions of dollars are exchanged every year in the business of helping people “get off.” And no other topic seems to fascinate men and women’s health magazines more — generally how to hold off longer with the former, and how to get off more expediently in the latter.

Yet, no one really talks about orgasms, mostly, I figure, because they confuse people. Ask your roommate what an orgasm is. Unless they’re a smart-ass (in which case, congratulate them), they are most likely going to describe sensations — how orgasms feel. So what is “the big O,” other than a really cool trick the body performs?

“Getting off” is actually the second-to-last stage of the arousal process, which begins, to some extent, every time you get turned on. The psychobiology of getting it on is a staple of almost any science textbook. I prefer Lippencott’s Nursing for the titillating line drawings.

Excitement, the first phase, causes a rush of blood to the genitals and lubrication in females, and erection in men. During plateau (also called late excitement, for clear reasons — you only get to this stage if you are up to some naughty business), extra side effects of arousal occur. Women may get a rashy “sex flush” on their chest, and men release pre-ejaculatory fluids. The third stage is the actual orgasm, a mental/physical release that is marked in both sexes by pleasurable, rhythmic contractions of the sex organs, and (most of the time) ejaculation for men … and, occasionally, for women.

There is a misconception that ejaculation is intrinsically linked to orgasm, which is incorrect. Men report climaxing without emission and vice-versa.

Also controversial is the “location” of the female orgasm, a topic hotly debated by Freud and his male chauvinist contemporaries, who seemed to believe that “mature” women orgasm through the vagina (read: penetration), rather than the clitoris (read: stimulation). Turn-of-the-century erotic classics like The Pearl and The Way of a Man with a Maid are replete with descriptions of virgins getting off the first time they are “poked.”

Truth is, a lot of women find that they come most easily with clitoral stimulation, but this is not to discount the fun of the G-spot orgasm. And yes, gentlemen, it exists. During resolution, the final stage, the body relaxes and begins to go back to its normal state — for guys; this generally involves a refractory period, during which he can’t get physically excited again. Women, on the other hand, may be able to have two or multiple orgasms, which is one cool advantage to being a female.

While obvious biological differences facilitate the male and female orgasm, the famous Kinsey study seems to indicate that they feel similarly delightful to both sexes. Men and women tended to use the same adjectives to describe their climactic experiences in this study.

All this is not to say that sexual intercourse and orgasm need to be linked. While both males and females will debate the relative merits of orgasms from masturbating or those that occur with a partner, no one can discount the fact that sometimes we just know best how to please ourselves. Masturbating gives us complete carte blanche to stimulate ourselves mentally and physically however we see fit, which is important because orgasm is definitely a fusion of the mental and physical. Our fantasies, sexy thoughts and auditory/visual stimuli (be it a book of Penthouse smut or a naughty DVD) are often just as crucial to our arousal as the physical aspects. I distinctly remember a Canadian housewife who bragged on www.salon.com that her husband could send her to ecstasy by repeatedly kissing nothing but the back of her neck. It takes something a little different for all of us: intercourse, a lover’s tongue/fingers, a shapely sex toy, the thought of your really hot coworker/neighbor/editor seducing you on a desktop. But that’s what makes us nifty and different.

No one’s advocating letting your penis or vagina overrun your daily life; as tempting as it may be, it’s not going to help you pass your statistics class. Nor should getting off be the focus of your sexual experience, be it partnered or solo. In this columnist’s estimation, enjoying the road to “O” is 75 percent of the fun.