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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

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The Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms

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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.