- Your Guide to the Sexual Response Cycle Center
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Slideshow Pictures
- Take the Quiz on STDs
- Impotence Slideshow Pictures
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.
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- The man's testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.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
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Sexual Response Cycle - Experience
Please describe your experience with sexual response cycle.Post
Top Sexual Response Cycle (Phases of Sexual Response) Related Articles
12 Tips for Success with AntidepressantsAntidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are medication treatments for depression. Learn about side effects, interactions, and brand names for MAOIs, TCAs and other antidepressants. Find out how antidepressants work and why they are useful in fighting depression.
Barrier Methods of Birth Control
Many barrier methods of birth control are available for a man or woman, for example, the sponge, female and male condoms, diaphram, spermicides, male condoms, female condoms, contraceptive sponge, diaphragm, and cervical cap. Side effects, and efficacy (in preventing pregnancy) depends on the type of birth control used.
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, and 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 include sores or wounds that do not heal; numbness and/or tingling in the hands or feet; fatigue; increased hunger; increase thirst; increased urination; blurred vision; and 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.
Hormonal Methods of Birth ControlThere are several different hormonal methods of birth control. The hormones can be estrogen and/or progesterone. The hormones can be taken by mouth, implanted into body tissue, absorbed from a patch on the skin, injected under the skin, or placed in the vagina. Common types of hormonal birth control include: "The Pill" (oral contraceptives), injection (Depo-Provera, Lunelle), the patch (Ortho-Evra), and the vaginal ring (Nuvaring).
Infertility TreatmentLearn about infertility symptoms and types of treatment such as IVF, acupuncture, and natural methods to get pregnant. Read about infertility in men and women as well as treatment costs and success rates.
Low Testosterone (Low T)
Low testosterone (low-T) can be caused by conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver or kidney disease, hormonal disorders, certain infections, and hypogonadism. Signs and symptoms that a person may have low-T include insomnia, increased body fat, weight gain, reduced muscle, infertility, decreased sex drive, depression, and worsening of congestive heart failure or sleep apnea.
Low-T can be treated with testosterone therapy in the form of gels, injections, pellets, or skin patches. Side effects of testosterone treatment include acne, anxiety, hair loss, headache and change in sex drive (libido).
Natural Methods of Birth ControlNatural methods of contraception are considered "natural" because they are non-mechanical and non-hormonal. Fertility awareness methods (FAMs) are based upon knowing when a woman ovulates each month. Natural methods of birth control include: the calendar rhythm, basal body temperature, mucus inspection, symptothermal, use of an ovulation indicator testing kit, withdrawal, lactational infertility, douching and urination, and abstinence.
Peyronie's Disease (Curvature of the Penis)
Peyronie's disease or curvature of the penis (Peyronie disease) is a condition in which scar tissue develops inside the penis. This scar tissue causes the penis to develop an abnormal curvature in the scarred area. At this time, there is no known cause of Peyronie's disease. Symptoms of Peyronie's disease include pain during intercourse or ejaculation, erectile dysfunction (ED, impotence), the inability to have sexual intercourse, anxiety, stress, an indentation of the shaft at the site where there is plaque or scarring, and an angulation of the penis when erect or flaccid.
There is no cure for Peyronie's disease, however, there are medications that can reduce symptoms of the disease. Surgery or penile implants may be an option for severe cases.
Seniors Sex ProblemsIt's never too late to improve your sex life. Learn how to overcome common health conditions affecting those over 50 such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis in order to have a healthy sex life.
Sexual (Sex) Problems in Men
Male sexual dysfunction can be caused by physical or psychological problems. Common sexual problems in men include erectile dysfunction (impotence or ED), premature ejaculation, and loss of libido. Treatment for sexual dysfunction in men may involve medication, hormone therapy, psychological therapy, and the use of mechanical aids.
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.
Vagina PictureThe vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. See a picture of the Vagina and learn more about the health topic.
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.