Advertisement

What are the phases of sexual arousal?

Emily Nagoski
Emily Nagoski on behalf of Good In Bed
Psychology

In general, sexual arousal is the process of generating sufficient sexual tension so that your body crosses its threshold and releases all that tension in the explosive sensations of orgasm. The traditional model for thinking about this process is Masters and Johnson’s four-phase model.

 

Excitement. The first phase is all about the rapid accumulation of tension. As you are stimulated, the blood vessels in your vagina and clitoris relax and fill with blood. Your heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure rise, and the erectile tissue all over your body (nipples, earlobes, lips, wings of the nostrils) swells and darkens.

 

Plateau. The second phase isn’t physiologically distinct from excitement, but a lot of people will recognize the experience of the plateau. It’s a sort of leveling off at a high level of arousal. During the plateau phase, your body is building up adequate sexual tension to cross the threshold to orgasm. As you approach orgasm, your abdomen and thighs get tense, your hands and feet clench uncontrollably, and your breathing becomes uneven, even gasping.

 

Orgasm. The third phase is what most people consider the highlight of the sexual experience. Orgasm is the explosive release of sexual tension. Honestly, no one is really sure why we have them. Most scientists assume that orgasm is there to reward men for having sex, which means they’ll have more sex, which increases their chances of reproducing, but that’s just an  assumption; we’re still waiting for the science.

 

Resolution. The fourth phase is the post-orgasmic denouement. This is the time when a man’s erection is gone and won’t be back for a while. For women, it’s more complex. In fact, for some women the first orgasm is just the start. Other women would rather sleep. You can use this time for after-play or sleep, depending on what feels right for you and your partner.

The Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms

More About this Book

The Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms

Want to learn how to achieve 487 different kinds of orgasms?If so, you’re reading the wrong guidebook. Despite what many in the media would have you believe, there’s no such thing as a rainbow...
Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
During arousal, blood floods into the genitals, triggering the man's penis to stiffen and the woman's labia, clitoris, and upper vagina to swell. Moisture begins seeping from the vaginal lining, creating lubrication. The vagina lengthens, the uterus rises, and the inner and outer lips pull apart, exposing the vaginal opening. The man's testicles pull closer to his body, and his scrotum becomes thicker. In both sexes, breathing and heart rate accelerate, muscles throughout the body tense, the skin flushes, and nipples become erect.

Continue Learning about Sex and Relationships

Life After Mastectomy: Sex, Self-Image and Strategies for Coping
Life After Mastectomy: Sex, Self-Image and Strategies for Coping
A woman’s breasts are one obvious sign of femininity and can be a source of great sexual pleasure for her and her partner. But when a woman is diagnos...
Read More
What are the different types of sexual lubricants?
Lauren Streicher, MDLauren Streicher, MD
Most drug stores have a dizzying selection of lubricants, but almost all are water based. While read...
More Answers
Is "Female Viagra" Right for You?
Is "Female Viagra" Right for You?Is "Female Viagra" Right for You?Is "Female Viagra" Right for You?Is "Female Viagra" Right for You?
Two medications have been approved to treat female sexual dysfunction—but do they really work?
Start Slideshow
How Can I Become More Intimate With My Partner?
How Can I Become More Intimate With My Partner?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.