Can orgasms be harmful?

The number and frequency of orgasms men can have consecutively decrease with age. - AFP

Dear Dr G,

I often read with interest how you handle readers' queries. I think it is not easy how you address the taboo subjects of sex, without making it "seedy".

I am facing a conundrum myself on sex and I really hope this question doesn't seem sleazy.

I am a novice in a sexual relationship with my girlfriend. I am 25 years old and started having sex about six months ago.

I am really sorry to put Dr G on the spot, but can you tell me how do guys know whether they have actually achieved sexual climax?

Can sexual orgasms be harmful? Can they damage kidneys?

Is it true guys can never achieve multiple orgasms, unlike women?

Hope the questions are not too sleazy, as I really would like to understand the science behind sexual climax.



"Orgasm" is derived from Greek word "Orgasmos" meaning "excitement and swelling". In scientific terms it refers to rhythmic pelvic muscular contractions, following the repeated accumulation of sexual excitement which ends with sudden discharge of sexual pleasure. In real life, the experience of an orgasm is a lot more climatic than the words that describe it.

Although there are many differences in how men and women experience orgasms, fundamentality, the response is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and is completely involuntary in nature. During the sexual cycle, upon reaching climax, the typical bodily response would be muscular spasms, intense vocalisation and generalised euphoric sensations. The build up of the smaller waves of orgasm is often observed prior to reaching the ultimate climax, when the point of no return ends with ejaculation in men (and some women!).

The period after the orgasm is known as the refractory period. Physiologically, this is the relaxation phase attributed to the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and prolactin. The main hormone that determines the euphoric happy state of mind after orgasm is endorphin.

The traditional view of two-stage orgasms in men was formulated by Masters and Johnson in 1966. The study stated: "Unlike women, the resolution phase in men includes a superimposed refractory period. The ability to ejaculate again with a short refractory period only happens in a few and diminishes with age." In other words, the ability to have multiple orgasms in men is a privilege of a "gifted" few and may not last a lifetime.

The health effects surrounding human orgasms are believed to be diverse.

In the Chinese belief, the reproductive and sexual health in men is dictated by the strength and vitality of the kidneys — "Jing". When an individual is born, there is a finite amount of kidney "Jing" (like a quota!), and therefore too much sex and orgasms (exceeding your quota) are believed to lead to kidney impairment! Thankfully, there is a caveat. It is also stated in ancient Chinese text that "Jing" can also be supplemented and supported by the food we eat and the vitality of our body. Therefore, good balanced nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can support frequent sex.

From a Western view point, the physiological responses during sexual activity including a relaxed state and a temporary decrease of metabolic activity. A 1997 study in the British Journal of Medicine, based on 918 men aged 45-59, found that men who had fewer orgasms were twice as likely to die of certain causes as those having two or more orgasms a week. A follow-up study in 2001, which focused specifically on cardiovascular health, demonstrated that having sex three or more times a week was associated with a 50% risk reduction in heart attacks or strokes!

Dr. G is often put on the spot to talk about sex. Indeed it is not an easy task to address issues of sexual health without crossing the line of cultural sensitivity. When it comes to the impact of too much sex on one's overall health, many cultures are perhaps "prohibitive" and adhere to outdated beliefs. I guess with the benefit of modern sciences and research, we can continue to study the benefit of sex on health. However, for those who choose to be restrictive in their sexual activities, based on preconceived ideas of the "sexual quota system", Dr. G can only advise them to continuously top up the "sexual quota" with a healthy lifestyle and nutrition!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.


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