Sexual response cycle has four distinct phases:
Both men and women experience all the phases. What differs is timing which varies greatly according to individuals. Intensity of response to each phase and time spent on each phase also varies from one person to another, and may also vary for an individual depending on numerous factors e.g. comfort with the partner, sexual starvation, level of attraction, trust in relationships, physical health etc
Understanding all the above phases and how each individual responds to them may serve to enhance intimacy between two people thus enhancing understanding of each others’ bodies and responses. This is very important in enhancing physical and sexual compatibility.
Phase 1: Excitement
This phase has the following characteristics and may last from few minutes to several hours depending on various factors.
- 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.
- The vagina becomes lubricated.
- The woman's breasts become fuller and the vaginal walls begin to swell. There may be a visible opening of the vagina.
- The man's testicles swell, his scrotum tightens, and he begins secreting a lubricating liquid.
Phase 2: Plateau
This phase extends to the blink of orgasm and may also last between seconds to hours depending on many factors and individuals.
- 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- The man's testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.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.
Phase 3: Orgasm
The orgasm is the climax of the sexual response cycle and is the shortest among the phases lasting seconds. However, the intensity varies considerably depending on how intense the earlier phases were. This phase is characterized by the following:
- Involuntary muscle contractions begin.
- Blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing are at their highest rates, with a rapid intake of oxygen.
- Muscles in the feet spasm.
- There is a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension.
- In women, the muscles of the vagina contract. The uterus also undergoes rhythmic contractions.
- In men, rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis result in the ejaculation of semen.
- A rash, or "sex flush" may appear over the entire body.
Phase 4: Resolution
During this phase the body returns to the normal state and all swelled and erect body parts resumes normalcy and original skin color. This phase is characterized by:
- A sense of well being.
- Complete relaxation.
- Feeling of enhanced intimacy.
- Fatigue and feeling sleepy.
With training, some people are capable of rapid return to the orgasmic phase, commonly called multiple orgasms. This is common in women than men. But men with proper training can learn to separate ejaculation from orgasm and be able to experience several orgasmic phases without ejaculating and decide whether to ejaculate in the end or not.
After ejaculation, men need recovery time called refractory period which lengthens as they age. Women normally have shorter refractory times.