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Introduction to the sexual response cycle
The sexual response cycle refers to the sequence of physical and emotional changes that occur as a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities, including intercourse and masturbation. Knowing how your body responds during each phase of the cycle can enhance your relationship and help you pinpoint the cause of any sexual problems.
What Are the Phases of the Sexual Response Cycle?
Sexual Response Cycle
The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Both men and women experience these phases, although the timing usually is different. For example, it is unlikely that both partners will reach orgasm at the same time. In addition, the intensity of the response and the time spent in each phase varies from person to person. Understanding these differences may help partners better understand one another's bodies and responses, and enhance the sexual experience.
Phase 1: Excitement
General characteristics of the excitement phase, which can last from a few minutes to several hours, include the following:
- Muscle tension increases.
- Heart rate quickens and breathing is accelerated.
- Skin may become flushed (blotches of redness appear on the chest and back).
- Nipples become hardened or erect.
- Blood flow to the genitals increases, resulting in swelling of the woman's clitoris and labia minora (inner lips), and erection of the man's penis.
- Vaginal lubrication begins.
- The woman's breasts become fuller and the vaginal walls begin to swell.
- The man's testicles swell, his scrotum tightens, and he begins secreting a lubricating liquid.
Quick GuideConception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo
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- The man's testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.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.
Phase 4: Resolution
During resolution, the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning, and swelled and erect body parts return to their previous size and color. This phase is marked by a general sense of well-being, enhanced intimacy and, often, fatigue. Some women are capable of a rapid return to the orgasm phase with further sexual stimulation and may experience multiple orgasms. Men need recovery time after orgasm, called a refractory period, during which they cannot reach orgasm again. The duration of the refractory period varies among men and usually lengthens with advancing age.
Reviewed by Robert S. Phillips, MD on July 08, 2008
Portions of this page © Cleveland Clinic 2008
Quick GuideConception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo
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Barrier Methods of Birth ControlBarrier methods of birth control include:
- male condom,
- female condom,
- contraceptive sponge,
- diaphragm, and
- the cervical cap.
Birth Control Methods
Birth control is available in a variety of methods and types. The method of birth control varies from person to person, and their preferences to either become pregnant or not. Examples of barrier methods include:
- Barrier methods (sponge, spermicides, condoms)
- Hormonal methods (pill, patch)
- Surgical sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy)
- Natural methods
- The morning after pill
Side effects and risks of each birth control option should be reviewed prior to using any birth control method.
Diabetes Symptoms in Women
Diabetes is a disease where your body does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin correctly, and you blood sugar (glucose) levels become too high (hyperglycemia or high blood sugar). There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Prediabetes (pre-diabetes) often precedes type 2 diabetes. In prediabetes your blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Most people with prediabetes have no symptoms or warning signs until type 2 diabetes develops. Prediabetes can be reversed with exercise, diet, and stress management.
In type 1 and type diabetes, there are symptoms particularly unique to women.
- More than half of women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 40.
- Women have a higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Women also have lower survival rates and a poorer quality of life after a heart attack than men.
- Women have a higher risk for blindness and depression.
- In women with diabetes, the "good" or HDL cholesterol drops, which puts them at greater risk of heart disease.
- Vaginal itching and pain due to vaginal and oral yeast infections.
- Vaginal pain, dryness, reduced libido (sex drive), or decreased vaginal sensation during sex due to blood flow problems to the genitals.
- Increased urinary tract infections, or UTIs.
There are signs and symptoms of both types of diabetes that are common in men and women.
- Sores or wounds that do not heal
- Numbness and/or tingling in the hands or feet
- Increased hunger
- Increase thirst
- Increased urination
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained weight loss
If you are planning to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about managing your diabetes during pregnancy to avoid complications. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and causes blood sugar levels too become to high. Gestational diabetes can be managed with diet, and if necessary medication. It usually goes away once the baby is born. However, if you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy it increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.
CDC. "PCOS and Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke..." Updated: Oct 11, 2016.
CDC. "Prediabetes." Updated: Jul 25, 2017.
NIH; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Symptoms and Causes of Diabetes." Updated: Nov 2016.
NIH; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "What is Diabetes?" Updated: Nov 2016.
NIH; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes." Nov 2016.
Womenshealth.gov. "Diabetes." Updated: Jun 12, 2017.
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MasturbationJust about everybody masturbates. Masturbation itself is the self-stimulation of the male or female genitals to achieve sexual pleasure or arousal to the point of orgasm. Masturbation involves stimulating the penis or clitoris. Masturbation is very common among people who have, or do not have sexual relations with a partner. Masturbation can relieve sexual tension that can build up over a period of time. Masturbation generally is considered normal unless it becomes a problem by inhibiting sexual activity with a partner, done in public, or causes distress to the person masturbating. Some experts suggest that masturbation can improve a person's sexual health and personal relationships.
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Surgical SterilizationSurgical sterilization is considered a permanent method of contraception. In certain cases, sterilization can be reversed, but this is not guaranteed. For this reason, sterilization is meant for men and women who do not intend to have children in the future. Types of surgical sterilization include: vasectomy, tubal ligation, STOP (selective tubal occlusion procedure), and hysterectomy.
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VasectomyA vasectomy is a simple surgical procedure used as a permanent form of male birth control. The odds of pregnancy after a vasectomy are low and the side effects are few. Although the procedure can be reversed, it is usually difficult, expensive, and unsuccessful.