Remember in school, when you learned that the pain you felt when you burnt your hand on a hot stove was really just a series of messages from your nerves to your brain? Well, what they didn’t teach us then was that that same chain reaction is responsible for sexual pleasure – yep, even orgasms.
Like the rest of the body, genitalia contain nerves that send information to the brain about the sensations they perceive. Each area of our body contains different nerves, which explains why sensations are experienced differently depending on where someone is touched.
So, how does it all work?
All genitalia (male and female) contain a huge number of nerve endings. The clitoris alone has more than 8,000! These nerves run up the spinal cord to deliver feedback to the brain during sexual stimulation (they also perform many other functions as well, of course).
Interestingly, it is still possible for people with spinal cord injuries to have orgasms. Recent studies have revealed that women with severed spinal cords could still feel cervical stimulation and even reach climax. This is because the vagus nerve, one of the nerves connecting genitalia with the brain, actually bypasses the spinal cord – meaning that the brain is still able to receive those impulses, despite the damage to other elements of the nervous system.
This is a very simplified explanation of the nervous system and the role it plays in sexual stimulation. If you’d like to read more, check out this fascinating post about orgasms on How Stuff Works.