What Are the Four Phases of the Sexual Response Cycle?

Everyone's sexual desire and interests are different and can change over time.
Everyone’s sexual desire and interests are different and can change over time.

A person may experience the following four phases of sexual responses from his/her body toward sexual stimulation.

Excitement/arousal/desire: A person may arouse sexually by thoughts, fantasy, kissing, touching, or masturbation that leads to excitement and body gets ready for sex with the following changes:

  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Increase in heart rate and breathing
  • Flushing of skin
  • Hardening and erection of nipples
  • In women,
    • Blood flow increases towards the groin area
    • The clitoris (woman’s sex organ) and labia minora (inner lips) swell
    • Vagina secretes a lubricating liquid
    • The breast becomes fuller and vaginal walls begin to swell
  • In men,
    • Penis erects
    • Testicles swell (the oval organ behind the penis)
    • Scrotum tightens (testicle pouch)
    • Lubricating liquid secretes

Plateau: This is a stage of more intense excitement, which extends to the brink of orgasm that may not always occur. In this phase, the following changes occur

  • The changes that occurred in phase 1 gets more intensified
  • The woman’s vagina continues to swell with an increase in blood flow that gives the vaginal walls a dark purple color
  • The woman’s clitoris becomes highly sensitive (even become painful to touch) and retracts under the clitoral hood to avoid direct stimulation from the men’s penis
  • Men’s testicles tighten
  • Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increases in both partners
  • Muscle tension and spasm increases in the feet, face, and hands

Orgasm: It is the climax or peak or apex of the sexual response. In this phase, the tension that builds during the sexual activity is released in a series of muscle spasm, especially in the groin area in rhythm, and it sends a wave of pleasurable feeling through the body. This is the shortest phase of all and generally, lasts only for a few seconds.

  • Involuntary muscle contractions start.
  • The body releases a hormone called endorphin that makes you feel happy and relaxed.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing are at their highest rates with a rapid intake of oxygen.
  • A sudden forceful release of sexual tension can be experienced.
  • In women, the muscles of the vagina contracts. The womb also starts rhythmic contractions.
  • In men, rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis, which may result in ejaculation (penis usually squirts 1-2 tablespoons of semen or cum.
  • However, women’s clitoris gets highly sensitive, and the vagina gets expanded. Some women may also experience a small ejaculation.
  • Sometimes, sex flush may appear over the entire body.

Resolution: In this phase, body functions slowly return to a normal level of functioning, and swelled and erected body parts return to their previous state and color. This phase occurs at the end of the sexual response cycle whether you have an orgasm or not. The couple may experience a sense of well-being, enhanced intimacy, and often, fatigue.

Some women may quickly return to the orgasm phase or have multiple orgasms with further sexual stimulation, although many women feel satisfied after one orgasm. After orgasm, men usually may not be able to achieve another erection or aroused again for a variable time, which is called a refractory period. During this refractory period, men cannot reach orgasm again, and this varies among men and gets longer with advanced age.

Also, it is very unlikely that both partners will reach up to orgasm at the same time. Additionally, the intensity of the response and the time spent in each phase varies from person to person. Understanding these differences may help sexual partners to better understand each other’s bodies and responses to enhance the sexual experience.

What does sexual arousal mean?

Sexual arousal is being sexually excited. Everyone’s sex drive is different, and there is no quantifying how much amounts to normal sex. Everyone’s sexual desire and interests are different and can change over time.

The strong emotional connection between a couple may arouse them sexually (demisexual). However, some people may not need any emotional connection to have sex with the other person. Some people don’t feel any sexual attraction towards anyone known as asexual.

The levels of your sexual desire (also known as libido) may affect your overall physical and emotional wellbeing, relationship satisfaction, body image, and sex hormones levels as well as the desire to express love, give or receive pleasure, or create any relationship.

Sexuality starts in your mind. Your brain is responsible for making you feel interested in sex through emotional thoughts, imaginations, or feelings.

What does the sexual response cycle mean?

The sexual response cycle is a sequence of bodily and emotional changes that occur in a person when he/she becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexual activities including intercourse (insertion of the penis into the woman’s vagina) and masturbation (stimulation of the genitals with the hand for sexual pleasure).

You can enhance your relationship by knowing your body’s sexual responses during each phase of your sexual response cycle. It may also help you to identify the cause of any sexual problem.

Sexual arousal is very different in men and women, both psychologically and physiologically. There are four phases of sexual response in both.

What are the erogenous zones?

Certain areas of your body are highly sensitive due to lots of nerve endings and make you feel excited or aroused when they’re touched are known as erogenous zones, such as clitoris in women, and penis, scrotum, and anus in men.

Other pleasurable zones often include the breast and nipples in women, the chest and nipples in men, and mouth, earlobes, neck, and inner thighs in both. However, erogenous zones are located all over the body. You may discover new pleasures by exploring all the body’s erogenous zones.


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Cancer Council Victoria. Sexuality and intimacy. https://www.cancervic.org.au/living-with-cancer/sexuality-and-intimacy/your-sexual-response

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