What Are The Phases Of The Sexual Response Cycle?

Everybody enjoys sex but how much do we really know about it? What exactly is the human sexual response cycle?

Excitement - Sexual Response Cycle

Excitement – Sexual Response Cycle

The researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson were the first to introduce the term “Human Sexual Response” in their book, back in 1966. In short, it refers to a certain number of phases during which emotional and physical changes occur. To reach their conclusions they observed more than 10,000 orgasms. Thanks to their study some common beliefs were dismissed such as the misconception that only men seek sexual satisfaction and that heterosexual and homosexual satisfaction are fundamentally different.

A typical human sexual response cycle consists of 4 phases:

Sexual Response Cycle Phases

Sexual Response Cycle Phases


Let’s take a closer look on what exactly takes place during those phases.

1) Excitement

This is the first stage of the cycle. Stimulating factors such as kissing, touching and viewing erotic images can provoke it. During this phase:

  • serotonin and adrenaline are released
  • the pupils dilate
  • the heart and breathing rate are increased
  • blood pressure rises causing vasocongestion
  • skin flush may occur resulting in red spots on the chest and back
  • the tension of certain muscle groups increases
  • blood flow to the genitals increases
  • during the female stimulation, the clitoris, vagina, and labia minora swell, the vaginal walls start lubricating, and her nipples become erect and hardened
  • in women, this phase may last several minutes or even hours
  • the man’s penis becomes erect, his scrotum tightens, his testicles swell, and he begins secreting a lubricating liquid

2) Plateau

During this stage, the characteristics of the first phase intensify and both the male and female body prepare for the climax. More specifically:

  • norepinephrine is released
  • the heart and breathing rate rise even more
  • the muscle tension continues to increase
  • both men and women may involuntarily produce sounds
  • in men, muscles at the base of the penis begin a rhythmic contraction, the testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum and pre-ejaculatory fluids may be secreted
  • in women the clitoris becomes even more sensitive, the vagina becomes engorged with blood and turns a dark purple color and the lubrication increases
  • muscles in the face, hands and feet may begin to spasm


3) Orgasm

Orgasm - Sexual Response Cycle

Orgasm – Sexual Response Cycle

This is the climax of the sexual response cycle. Involuntary actions occur during orgasm and it is accompanied by the following general characteristics:

  • orgasm is an explosion of accumulated sexual tension
  • oxytocin levels rise
  • muscle contractions begin
  • the lower pelvic muscles, around the genitals, begin to contract
  • heart rhythm, breathing rate, and blood pressure reach their highest levels
  • muscles in the feet begin to spasm
  • in men, ejaculation of semen takes place accompanied by contractions of the lower pelvic muscles and intense sexual pleasure
  • in women, although orgasms may vary, they are generally associated with vaginal and uterus contractions and overall pleasure


4) Resolution

During this phase, the body gradually returns to its original state. The swelling and erection of body parts subside and the spams vanish. A sense of intimacy develops, mostly thanks to dopamine and oxytocin, as well as general fatigue. According to the observations of Masters and Johnson, some women are capable of experiencing multiple orgasms. Men, on the other hand, are generally incapable of that because of the refractory period, which is the recovery phase after orgasm. The duration of this period varies among men.

Here’s also a video about stages of the sexual response cycle.


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