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Your Guide to the Sexual Response Cycle

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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  • The man's testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.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.
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