• Sensitivity;
  • Pleasure;
  • Pain;
  • Orgasm;
  • Masturbation;
  • Sexual Arousal



The effect of sexual arousal and orgasm on genital sensitivity has received little research attention, and no study has assessed sensation pleasurableness as well as painfulness.


To clarify the relationship between sexual arousal, orgasm, and sensitivity in a healthy female sample.


Twenty-six women privately masturbated to orgasm and almost to orgasm at two separate sessions, during which standardized pressure stimulation was applied to the glans clitoris, vulvar vestibule, and volar forearm at three testing times: (i) baseline; (ii) immediately following masturbation; and (iii) following a subsequent 15-minute rest period.

Main Outcome Measures

Touch thresholds (tactile detection sensitivity), sensation pleasurableness ratings (pleasurable sensitivity), and pain thresholds (pain sensitivity).


Pleasurableness ratings were higher on the glans clitoris than the vulvar vestibule, and at most testing times on the vulvar vestibule than the volar forearm; and at baseline and immediately after masturbation than 15 minutes later, mainly on the genital locations only. Pain thresholds were lower on the genital locations than the volar forearm, and immediately and 15 minutes after masturbation than at baseline. After orgasm, genital pleasurableness ratings and vulvar vestibular pain thresholds were lower than after masturbation almost to orgasm. Post-masturbation pleasurableness ratings were positively correlated with pain thresholds but only on the glans clitoris. Hormonal contraception users had lower pleasurableness ratings and pain thresholds on all locations than nonusers. There were no significant effects for touch thresholds.


Masturbation appears to maintain pleasurable genital sensitivity but increase pain sensitivity, with lower genital pleasurable sensitivity and higher vulvar vestibular pain sensitivity when orgasm occurs. Findings suggest that enhancing stimulation pleasurableness, psychological sexual arousal and lubrication mitigate normative increases in pain sensitivity during sexual activity, and underscore the importance of measuring both pleasure and pain in sensation research.