A few years ago, I was having sex, and I kept asking my partner to stop because it felt like I was going to pee. I later read online that this feeling is actually an impending sign of squirting — one you sometimes have to push through to find pleasure on the other side.
Later, I trained myself during masturbation to keep going as that feeling built up, and I learned how to squirt… or was I actually peeing? The expulsion of fluid felt like a pleasurable release, but not an orgasm, and I noticed that the fuller my bladder was beforehand, the more fluid I’d expel.
Squirting tends to feel like “a pleasurable sense of building tension that is relieved by, or that culminates in, propelling fluid out of the urethra,” says Good Vibrations resident sexologist Carol Queen, PhD. It’s not always accompanied by orgasm, though the force of the expulsion may be stronger when it is.
What makes matters confusing is that the fluid you squirt could actually contain urine: A 2015 study of seven cis women who squirted in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that the women’s bladders filled up right before squirting and emptied afterward, and the fluid contained urea, creatinine, and uric acid — the components of urine — along with (for five participants) fluid coming from the female prostate, which surrounds the urethra right below the bladder.
“The squirt and the pee both come from the same place, using all the same body parts (urethra, bladder),” says Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, sex researcher and Adjunct Professor of psychology at New York University. And it is possible to pee during sex; some porn stars do this to give off the impression that they’re squirting.
In other words, squirting isn’t that different from peeing, so how do you know the difference?
In the experience of sex educator Lola Jean, who specializes in teaching people how to squirt and holds the world record for volume squirted, you can sometimes tell by the smell. “When I smell my squirt, I always describe it as like cereal milk — it’s smelling kind of oaty or wheaty,” she says. Pee, on the other hand, will probably smell exactly like pee. The color might also be another indicator. Squirt tends to be more cloudy than pee, she observes.
“If it feels good when you’re doing it, that’s probably squirt.”
Another way to tell the difference is to pee before sexually stimulating yourself. This will reduce the chances that you could actually pee, and if you are squirting, you probably won’t be able to do so right away. “It’s almost similar to somebody with a penis having to go from pee zone to ejaculation zone — it’s not an immediate thing. You can’t go from one to the other really quickly,” says Jean.
It’s also a lot about context, says Vrangalova. “Squirting feels different from peeing, subjectively speaking,” she says. “Even if the liquid that comes out is mostly urine, it’s still a very different experience. Like, when you go to the gynecologist and they put a speculum in you, you’re techinically being penetrated, but you wouldn’t consider that sex. Same with squirting. It might be urine coming out, but it doesn’t feel like peeing.”
When in doubt about whether you’re peeing or squirting, it’s probably the latter, says Queen. Some people experience urinary incontinence during sex (especially those who do in other situations), but the engorgement associated with sexual arousal actually activates musculature that prevents incontinence, she explains.
“I always tell people, if it feels good when you’re doing it, that’s probably squirt,” Jean agrees. “If it’s coming out of your body in a sexual manner, that’s probably what it is.”
In other words, if you’re enjoying yourself, there’s no need to analyze what’s coming out of your body. In fact, Queen questions why this topic matters to us at all.
“Controversy over this is associated with shame — shame in our bodily functions, especially peeing; shame about making a mess or being messy/too wet/etc.; shame about doing something unusual sexually,” she says. “Pee can be part of human/mammalian sexual response whether or not you specifically plan for or fetishize it, and in the heat of high arousal and orgasm, honestly, who is jumping up to test their ejaculate? They are in their sexual feelings, which is exactly where they need to be if they are going to let go and have truly pleasurable and orgasmic sex.”
Not to mention, says Queen, there’s very little research on this topic, so if you’re confused about whether you’re squirting or peeing, clarity is not likely to be offered to you.
About six years after I first experienced this squirt-or-pee confusion, during one epic masturbation marathon on a Friday night, I made myself squirt about seven times with my favorite crystal dildo…or was I peeing after all? I consulted Google as to whether I was peeing or squirting, only to find evidence for both possibilities—before it occurred to me how ridiculous it was to interrupt one of my peak sexual experiences to second-guess its validity.
So, I took a deep breath, navigated back to the window where I was playing tantra music on Youtube, and got back to playing with my dildo. I realized it didn’t matter whether I called it peeing, squirting, some entirely different name science hasn’t yet come up with, or simply: pleasure.
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