Your Guide to the Sexual Response Cycle

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Phase 2: Plateau

General characteristics of the plateau phase, which extends to the brink of orgasm, include the following:

  • The changes begun in phase 1 are intensified.
  • The vagina continues to swell from increased blood flow, and the vaginal walls turn a dark purple.
  • The woman's clitoris becomes highly sensitive (may even be painful to touch) and retracts under the clitoral hood to avoid direct stimulation from the penis.
  • The man's testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.
  • Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure continue to increase.
  • Muscle spasms may begin in the feet, face, and hands.
  • Muscle tension increases.

Phase 3: Orgasm

The orgasm is the climax of the sexual response cycle. It is the shortest of the phases and generally lasts only a few seconds. General characteristics of this phase include the following:

  • Involuntary muscle contractions begin.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing are at their highest rates, with a rapid intake of oxygen.
  • Muscles in the feet spasm.
  • There is a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension.
  • In women, the muscles of the vagina contract. The uterus also undergoes rhythmic contractions.
  • In men, rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis result in the ejaculation of semen.
  • A rash, or "sex flush" may appear over the entire body.

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