They can be flicked, kissed and sucked; pierced or painted. You keep them close, but often covered. Though their appearance may change, they almost always show up in the same place. They’re your nipples, and apparently, they want in on your orgasm.
The nipple-assisted orgasm, or nipplegasm, refers to an orgasm delivered by nipple stimulation alone. Of course, not everyone has encountered that kind of pleasure. Sexologist Carol Queen suspects those who have are likely armed with two specific skills: the ability to get very aroused and the willingness to explore sex as a full body practice.
Queen reminds us, “Not everybody relates to sex that way… People who have intercourse for a few minutes and then roll over and go to sleep are often going to miss out on this aspect of the sexual journey.” So no, not everyone is interested in the nipplegasm. But are we all outfitted with the same potential to dive into orgasm, nipple first?
When Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University, paid 11 women $100 each to sit in a brain-scanning machine and diddle themselves for science, he wasn’t surprised to see a correlative reaction taking place in thebrain. When the genitals are stimulated, an area known as the genital sensory cortex lights up. But he was surprised to see the spot responding to nipple stimulation as well.
"This could be the basis for many women saying that nipple stimulation is erotogenic," he told LiveScience. “It stimulates the same area as the genitals.”
Komisaruk’s experiment isn’t the only instance we’ve seen nipples and orgasm collide. “One reason we know that nipple stimulation can lead to orgasm is that there are cases of women who’ve had the experience while breastfeeding,” says Queen. She adds, “It is a neurological reflex that some women seem prone to.”
According to a study conducted by Herbert Otto, 29 percent of women report having experienced a “breast orgasm” at least once in their life. Otto goes so far to say the nipplegasm is the second most common form of orgasm among women.
While we’re rolling with the science, it’s worth noting that a separate studypublished in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that in comparison to the other erogenous zones on a woman’s body, the nipples are among the most sensitive to pressure and vibration.
Still, there seem to be plenty of women who don’t relate. According to Men’s Health, around 7 percent of women say that nipple stimulation actually decreases their arousal.
“For some women, the nipple is about as arousing as the elbow. It just doesn’t do it for them,” says sex educator and author Carlyle Jansen. Though, perhaps that isn't so surprising. Queen says, “Let’s remember that not all women like clitoral stimulation either.”
When it comes to matters of sex, few adages seem more applicable than, different strokes for different folks.
In a breast-obsessed culture, it can be hard to escape the eroticization of the nipple. Jansen says, “I think that a lot of our sexuality and what we find erotic is learned.” And when expectations are set and left unmet, problems can occur. “It can almost make women who don’t find that kind of stimulation pleasurable feel like something is wrong with them,” says Jansen.
Of course, a nipple doesn’t have to have a breast behind it to crave some stimulation. In his study, Komisaruk noted that nipple stimulation causes the “genital brain regions” to light up in men as well.
“Male sexuality is understood by most as so penis-focused that when men begin to have erectile issues, they often just give up on sex. That’s not a cultural scenario in which a fellow would discover great pleasure from his nipples,” says Queen. She says the exception is "in the BDSM world, where it is well-accepted that the whole body can be the source of erotic and exciting sensory experiences.” That bit might help explain the popularity of the nipple clamp (which, by the way, are now offered in vibrating form).
Still, it’s not as if everyone is going to run with that information to the nearest sex shop. Those most likely to experience different forms of orgasm are those who have expressed in interest in experimentation.
“I’d say that the more a person is engaged with sexual activity as an open-ended adventure in which to explore sensory possibilities, the easier it will be to become orgasmic via nipple and breast stimulation,” says Queen. “The first step may simply be knowing that it’s possible.”