Every so often—about once a year, maybe—an article comes out claiming women (and some men) are capable of having orgasms in new and interesting ways, without requiring genital stimulation. Maybe they can bring themselves to orgasm by eating a piece of chocolate. Maybe they can have an orgasm by rubbing their nipples the right way. Or maybe they can just think themselves to orgasm.
The magical, non-genital-stimulation orgasm trend piece resurfaced once again earlier this month, when the Telegraph published a story with the headline, “So can yoga really give you an orgasm?” The answer, according to many interviewees, was a resounding yes.
“Yogis say that a combination of the Lotus position, the cross-legged sitting asana that is the bedrock of meditation, and Pranayama —a regulated, deep-breathing technique that includes rapid, pumping breaths—can bring about orgasmic effect,” the Telegraph reported.
But the Telegraph piece, and the subsequent “yogasm” thinkpieces that resulted from it, didn’t provide much of an explanation as to how yogasm can actually happen. Is it just a matter of holding the right pose for an extended period of time? Or is it just a product of being both really, really horny and really, really good at yoga? We decided to ask some sex researchers to find out.
“Well, people claim they have orgasms [during yoga],” Barry Komisaruk, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University, told the Daily Dot. “If they know what it is, then who’s to argue?”
Komisaruk studies orgasms and human sexual response, and has written extensively on the subject in his book The Science of Orgasm. He’s devoted much of his career to studying ways that people can achieve orgasm without genital stimulation. However, he has not specifically looked at the yogasm.
Komisaruk says that while he’s generally inclined to believe people who claim they’ve had orgasms via non-genital stimulation, he remains somewhat skeptical of the yogasm, simply due to the lack of research devoted to the phenomenon.
Komisaruk did note, however, that a yoga practitioner once told him that she teaches her students to have orgasms using a technique she calls “fire-breathing,” related to the aforementioned Pranayama. He asked her to try to teach him.
“Basically what it was was continuous rapid deep breathing,” he said, akin to what it feels like when you hyperventilate. “I started experiencing lightheadedness. You know, because when you do rapid continuous breathing you get lightheaded. I started trembling also. You get rid of the carbon dioxide and you start trembling.” He did not, however, have an orgasm.
That said, Komisaruk has seen all manner of orgasms in his lab. From toe to tip, if you can think of a body part, there is someone who gets off from having it touched in the right way.
To demonstrate that orgasms can be induced by non-direct genital stimulation, Komisaruk and his lab teased out four objective physiologic measures of orgasm: blood pressure, pupil dilation, pain tolerance, and heart rate. All four of these measures double at the moment of climax, serving as a yardstick of sorts for the presence of an orgasm.
Komisaruk and his colleagues mapped the female genital system on the sensory homunculus area of the brain. They found that it’s one of the main brain areas that’s activated during orgasm. They also discovered that you don’t have to stimulate the genitals to activate the genital region of the sensory cortex. Even fantasizing about vaginal, clitoral, or cervical stimulation caused those areas of the brain to “light up” on scans.
“That means obviously that they knew they were [imagining] it, but there are other parts of the brain and the imagination that are not brought in just by the physical stimulation [of the genitals],” Komisaruk said. TLDR: If we looked at these portions of women’s brains while they were doing yoga, we could potentially determine whether or not they were having “yogasms.”
Komisaruk also noted that one thing that indicates the presence of an orgasm is very high muscle tension, “so the higher the muscle tension, the stronger the orgasm.” He speculated that something about certain yoga poses might help facilitate orgasm.
Regardless of whether or not the “yogasm” in particular is legitimate, researchers do know that the “coregasm,” or exercise-induced orgasm, is definitely real. They tend to happen during core exercises, hence the name.
Just as Komisaruk has seen all sorts of orgasms in his lab, Debby Herbenick, an associate professor at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, has seen all manner of coregasms in her lab. But even she was a little skeptical of the yogasm.
“The kinds [of orgasms] described in the article are not the kinds we hear about as often. They’re not probably the kinds we would consider a ‘coregasm,’ if you will, in that they involve core abdominal muscles,” Herbenick told the Daily Dot. She’s written a lot about the coregasm in her book, The Coregasm Workout.
When it comes to having a coregasm, Herbenick said, “We certainly don’t think that it’s an easy, straightforward mechanism when it’s engaging those specific muscles. A number of those articles where people speculate, ‘Oh, it’s this muscle or that muscle or this one exercise.’”
And people tend to misconstrue Herbenick’s research on the link between exercise and orgasm. The Daily Mail, for instance, recently published an article on the yogasm as well, which claims that 40 percent of women have experienced an exercise-induced orgasm. It even cited one of Herbenick’s studies, stating that her research found that “workouts involving abs, such as crunches, were considered high in orgasm-inducing exercises, and 20 percent of women said yoga could help them achieve the ‘Big O.'”
Herbenick said the 40 percent figure originated from a study that was done online. The study the Daily Mail referenced used what is known as “convenience sampling,” in which Herbenick and her team specifically surveyed women who reported sexual arousal or orgasms from exercise (as opposed to a totally randomized survey). Naturally, such a research method would skew the percentage of women capable of achieving an orgasm from exercise.
In reality, large-scale, national surveys performed by Herbenick’s lab have shown that roughly 10 percent of American men and women have had at least one orgasm resulting from core exercises. (That 10 percent includes men as well, who, in case you’re wondering, do ejaculate from coregasms, but don’t usually get an erection beforehand.)
One woman who claims to belong to that lucky 10 percent is the Daily Dot’s own Jaya Saxena, who says that she was in college when she experienced a coregasm for the first time. “I think I was trying to make sure my push up form was actually good, and all of a sudden I started feeling that oncoming orgasm feeling,” she told the Daily Dot via email.
Saxena said it happens to her almost every time she does push-ups. She usually stops right before the orgasm, however, “mainly because it’s very difficult to do push ups while orgasming.”
“It’s very difficult to do push-ups while orgasming.”
Saxena doesn’t see the coregasm as inherently sexual. “I don’t go into workouts incredibly turned on or anything,” she says. “It’s completely independent of sexual feelings or anything like that.”
In this sense, Saxena’s experiences with having an orgasm during workouts align with Herbenick’s research. For most people who experience coregasms, they can be pleasurable experiences. But they can also be pretty awkward and embarrassing. For instance, Herbenick related a story about a female army trainee who was worried her coregasm interrupted her training and made it look like she was having a difficult time. But unfortunately, once the orgasm starts, it’s not easy to stop.
Herbenick said that because she’s only been researching the coregasm for about five years, there are many things we don’t know about how it works. While she thinks the phenomenon is the result of muscle fatigue, she’s not sure how much there is to say about it beyond that.
What we do know is that coregasms seem to be triggered by core-centric exercises like doing sit-ups, rock-climbing, or climbing poles. It also seems to help if a person performs intense cardio, such as sprinting, prior to going straight into core exercises.
Herbenick also stressed that she doesn’t want the coregasm to be considered the pinnacle of sexual satisfaction. She has some concerns that women will read about coregasms and feel pressure to achieve them, similar to the pressure that women feel about achieving the mythical G-spot orgasm.
“This isn’t just one more thing that people should feel like they have to do,” she said. “We don’t know if it can happen to everyone, I don’t think it should be just one more bar. I think for people who are curious and want to try, it’s one more way to get to know your body.”
Screengrab via lululemonathletica/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)