Men and women differ on so many things, it should be no surprise to the world that there is also a difference in how we respond to sex. Men respond in a linear fashion. Meaning after they reach their orgasm, they’re done for a spell – called the refractory phase. Women after orgasm, respond in a circular fashion. There is no down time for women. After the orgasmic climax, a woman can turn around and go right back into the sexual act.

No matter though if you’re a man or a woman, there are 4 core phases that a human cycles through according to Masters and Johnson and written by the Cleveland Clinic:

Phase One: Excitement

General characteristics of this phase, which can last from a few minutes to several hours, include the following:

  • 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.
  • Vaginal lubrication begins.
  • The woman’s breasts become fuller and the vaginal walls begin to swell.
  • The man’s testicles swell, his scrotum tightens, and he begins secreting a lubricating liquid.
Phase Two: Plateau

General characteristics of this phase, which extends to the brink of orgasm, include the following:

  • 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  • The man’s testicles are withdrawn up into the scrotum.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.
  • Tension in the muscles increases.
Phase Three: Orgasm

This phase is the climax of the sexual response cycle. It is the shortest of the phases and generally lasts only a few seconds. General characteristics of this phase include 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 Four: Resolution

During this phase, the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning, and swelled and erect body parts return to their previous size and color. This phase is marked by a general sense of well-being, enhanced intimacy and, often, fatigue. Some women are capable of a rapid return to the orgasm phase with further sexual stimulation and may experience multiple orgasms. Men need recovery time after orgasm, called a refractory period, during which they cannot reach orgasm again. The duration of the refractory period varies among men and changes with age.

Sexologist Dr. Patti Britton added what she termed as bookends to the sexual response cycle:

Desire: arrives right before phase one – excitement. This is where the thought of sex is awakened. In order for one to get to the excitement phase, one has to feel or experience desire first.

For women it can be as easy as a partner doing housework without being asked or a thoughtful gift. For men it can be as equally as easy by viewing an attractive person.

Now What: arrives right after the resolution phase and usually last during the male refractory period. What does the couple do next? Roll over and go to sleep? Get up and go to work? Talk? Snuggle?

By understanding the sexual response cycle it can be helpful to discover a problem requiring outside care when the body does not respond along the expected path. It’s also helpful in maintaining healthy relationships.

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