Sexual Response Cycle: Everything You Need To Know

First phase of sexual response cycle is excitement phase

A better understanding of the sexual response cycle helps us to realize what happens within our bodies during sexual stimulation because having sex with your partners is one of the best feelings in the world.

Sexual stimulation induces a sequence of changes in our bodies.

Although you feel that sex is one event, interestingly, it comprises 4 stages. These stages are collectively known as the sexual response cycle. These stages take place one after another.

This will increase our relationship with the partner and the sexual experience.

What is the sexual response cycle?

The sexual response cycle has four stages. First, there are a series of physiological and emotional changes that takes place during sexual stimulation.

The four stages are plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

Diagram showing sexual response cycle

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These stages take place one after another. There is no difference in the sequence between males and females.

However, there is a difference in timing. Usually, the female can take a longer time to reach orgasm. In addition, there can be a variation in intensity and time spent in each phase among individuals. 

1. Excitement phase

Sexual excitement, also known as arousal, is the first stage of the sexual response cycle.

This phase is triggered due to sexual stimulation such as kissing or some sexual fantasies.

The excitement phase could last from several minutes to hours, and its characteristics are,

  • Increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure
  • Fast breathing rate
  • Raised muscle tension, specifically in the pelvic area
  • Nipples become erect and hard
  • Blood vessels become distended with blood, and skin appears flushed
  • Increased blood flow to the genitals. This results in a slightly elevated uterine position in females, and the penis becomes erect in males.
  • In females, vaginal lubrication begins, and in males, the testes enlarge with the scrotal sac pulling more tightly towards the body.
  • Woman’s breasts become fuller along with vaginal wall swellings
  • The man starts secreting lubricating liquid

It is to be noted that these events may vary from person to person.

2. Plateau phase

Plateau, also known as arousal, is the second phase of the sexual response cycle that comes when a person continues to receive sexual stimulation after the first (excitement) phase.

Experts suggest that during this phase, the responses of the excitement phase intensify as heart rate, blood flow, and respiration continue to increase and stabilize. Muscle tension also raises significantly.

As the blood flow increases, the vaginal wall darkens, the vagina becomes more lubricated, and the clitoris becomes increasingly sensitive. Moreover, the vagina in females also expands, and the uterus becomes fully elevated.

In men, the testicles are drawn further into the scrotal sac, and glands secrete pre-seminal or pre-ejaculate fluid.

3. Orgasm or climax phase

The third phase is the climax phase of the sexual response cycle, during which a person is at the peak of his sexual excitement.

After the plateau phase, when a person keeps getting sexual stimulating signals such as partner touching genitals, this phase happens.

It is the shortest phase that lasts only a few seconds, but not everyone reaches this phase.

During the orgasm phase, involuntary rhythmic muscle contractions occur throughout the body, with a sense of euphoria and a release of tension.

Women experience contraction of the pelvic muscles surrounding the uterus and vagina, followed by the release of muscle tension.

In men, ejaculation has two stages of autonomic response,

  1. Emission phase
  2. Expulsion phase

During the emission phase, semen is created by combining fluids from vas deference, seminal vesicles, and the prostate gland. The internal sphincter contracts during this phase closing the bladder neck to prevent urine leakage during ejaculation.

In the second phase, muscles contract propelling semen out of the penis.

Along with these changes, the brain also releases a love hormone called oxytocin that gives emotional well-being and intensifies your orgasm. That is why the more the oxytocin, the more intense the orgasm giving more pleasure during sex.

4. Resolution phase

As the name suggests, this is the phase of recovery.

During resolution, the body gradually returns to its normal functioning. The swelled areas come to their previous size, and blood vessels also return to their normal size. Muscle tension also decreases, and a person feels satisfied yet somewhat tired.

Therefore, men need a recovery time, also known as the refractory period, during which they cannot reach the climax again.

Women have a shorter refractory period compared to men. This is why women can have successive orgasms in a short period.

The Bottom Line

The sexual response cycle is a four-stage physical and emotional response to sexual stimulation.

The four stages are excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

The events get intense with each phase. However, the duration of these phases may vary from person to person, and not everyone reaches every stage.

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