First, you have to wrap your mind around the number four, which is the number of stages the legendary sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson said are contained in the human sexual response. From what they observed in the 1960s, people go through the following stages of how to orgasm: excitement, plateau, orgasm, resolution. Think about your own recent orgasms and this probably makes sense.
But now you have to wrap your mind around a new number: eight. Or, the number of stages orgasm coaches (yes, this is a job) say are actually involved in the typical sexual response. According to Marissa Ward, an orgasm coach who practices orgasmic meditation, the "climax" that most people think of when they hear "orgasm" is only one of the eight stages (and, spoiler alert, it's the very first one). Here's what Ward says is actually going down inside your bod during the big O.
Ward says this one is, obviously, the one "we're all familiar with." Climax is involuntary, she says, and is most often experienced as the "point of release." If all of these words sound like they're describing an orgasm, you're right. Because that's what this is.
Dudes might know this stage as "post-nut clarity," but Ward says the moment of stillness you feel after a climax is simply referred to as resolution. "There's a certain 'cleared-out' feeling in your body," Ward says.
After all the clearing out is when Ward says the actual good stuff begins. "When I coach women about this, I sometimes use the example of crying—you have this big release, and then you're at the stage where you can actually experience pleasure," she says. Think of this as your body trying to get back to "normal" after the big rush of the climax.
This stage is exactly what it sounds: "literally your body being turned on and alive," Ward says, though she offers a caveat. Turned on, in this case, doesn't necessarily have to be sexual (after all, you've just recovered from an orgasm). Ward describes this stage as feeling warm and excited, and says that when you're at this point, it's easier to check in and listen to what your body wants—maybe another O, a quick nap, a snack, whatever.
This step sounds exciting, but is actually just a pause between stages, Ward says. During peaking, you can kind of be led in any direction. It's like your body's way of taking a quick little sigh. Which, TBH, you need—there's apparently so much going on!
After your lil' timeout during the peaking phase, Ward says the next one is EXCITEMENT, which she describes as "a state of confidence." Think about that boost you feel when you've just had really great sex. It's a stage of feeling like you can get anything you want and you're hot AF. This is a great stage to have open and direct conversations about what you want and need from your partner, Ward says.
It sounds like a downer, but this is actually one of the low-key best stages. Ward says plateau is when you start to soak in all the things that have just gone on in your body. You may have heightened sensation and be extra sensitive to what you're feeling. You're extra tuned-in and have that new foundation of confidence to feel good about what's going on. Or, as Ward simply says, "everything feels good" during plateau.
And finally, the last stage: stillness. Ward says this is when you're totally at ease with everything that's going on. It feels like nothing can go wrong and you feel great. Basically, you're chilled out, and why wouldn't you be? You just went through eight whopping stages of pleasure.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.