What is 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.”

To put it in layman’s terms, the sexual response cycle describes the phases that the body goes through during arousal. There are 4 phases; Desire, Plateau, Orgasm, and Resolution.  

4-Phases of Sexual Response Cycle

Phase 1: Desire 

Phase 1 of the sexual response cycle is desire. This is the moment of truth, it’s the moment where you desire something and are sexually excited by it. 

This stage can be brought on by many things such as thoughts, touch, smells, or people. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. 

  • During Phase 1:
    • The heart rate picks up
    • Breathing picks up
    • Blood pressure increases 
    • Muscles get tense 
    • Nipples get hard
    • Breast/Testicles swell
    • The vagina
      • Begins to lubricate
      • Gets wider
    • The clit gets bigger
    • The penis becomes erect 
    • The skin may become flush

Phase 2: Plateau

During phase 2, all the same things going on in phase 1 will continue to intensify until they reach a plateau.

The clit will become extra sensitive, so much so that it retracts itself to avoid direct stimulation. The testicles begin to tighten, and the penis begins to lubricate as it gets ready for ejaculation (pre-cum). 

At this time the body may also experience some muscle spasms.  This is full-blown arousal. 

Phase 2 can take a few seconds to a few minutes to reach its peak. Staying in this stage for an extended time results in sexual frustration. 

Phase 3: Orgasm

If phase 2 is allowed to progress eventually (but not always) it will roll into phase 3, orgasm. When this happens, the body experiences involuntary rhythmic contractions that result in an orgasm, which releases all of the built-up tension from phase two. 

Phase 3 is the shortest of all the stages, only lasting a mere few seconds. 

Phase 4: Resolution 

Phase 4 is the resolution or cool down. After releasing all of the built-up tension in phase 3 the body begins to return to its normal functioning levels.

Once the body stabilizes those with vaginas can usually go again right away. While most people with penises will need recovery time. 

Phase 4 can also result in the post-sex blues which can be helped with aftercare

Why Should You Know This?

Knowing the stages means knowing how to please yourself and others in the bedroom. Everyone progresses through the stages at different speeds. This means getting to know those speeds is important for reaching optimal pleasure for both you and your partner/s. 

The sexual response cycle also teaches us to throw away dreams of mutual orgasms because the truth is they are rare. 


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