Feature Archive

The Sexual-Response Cycle: What Happens to Our Bodies During Sex

WebMD Feature

While most of us are sure that we like to have sex, most of us also haven't spent much time thinking about what happens physiologically while we are engaged in the act. Masters and Johnson (two groundbreaking sex therapists) coined the term "sexual-response cycle" to mean the sequence of events that happens to the body when a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities (intercourse, masturbation, foreplay, etc.).

The sexual-response cycle is divided into four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. There is no distinct beginning or end to each phase -- they're actually all part of a continuous process of sexual response.

Keep in mind that this is a very general outline of what happens to each of us as we become sexually aroused. There is much variation among individuals, as well as between different sexual events.

Simultaneous Orgasms

Both men and women go through all four phases, except the timing is different. Men typically reach orgasm first during intercourse, while women may take up to 15 minutes to get to the same place. This makes the likelihood of simultaneous orgasm during intercourse a rare event.

Phase One: Excitement

This phase usually begins within 10 to 30 seconds after erotic stimulation, and can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours.