The sexual response cycle is one model of physical and emotional changes that happens when you are participating in sexual activity. There are four phases in this cycle. Orgasm is the shortest phase.
The sexual response cycle refers to the sequence of physical and emotional changes that occur as a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities, including intercourse and masturbation. Knowing how your body responds during each phase of the cycle can enhance your relationship and help you pinpoint the cause of sexual dysfunction. There are several different proposed models of a sexual response cycle. The one that is reviewed here is one of the more commonly quoted.
The sexual response cycle has been described as having four phases:
Both men and women can experience these phases, although the timing may be different. For example, it's highly unlikely that both partners will reach orgasm at the same time. In addition, the intensity of the response and the time spent in each phase varies from person to person. Many women won't go through the sexual phases in this order.
Some of these stages may be absent during some sexual encounters, or out of sequence in others. A desire for intimacy may be a motivation for sexual activity in some individuals. Understanding these differences may help partners better understand one another’s bodies and responses, and enhance the sexual experience.
Several physiologic changes may occur during different stages of sexual activity. Individuals may experience some, all or none of these changes.
General characteristics of this phase, which can last from a few minutes to several hours, and may include any of the following:
It's important to note that everyone sexual experience is different. Some may not consistently experienced the above changes. Not only can this vary between individual persons, but can also vary in an individual between different sexual encounters. Sometimes the desire phase may come after arousal.
General characteristics of this phase, which extends to the brink of orgasm, include the following:
This phase is the climax of the sexual response cycle. It's the shortest of the phases and generally lasts only a few seconds. General characteristics of this phase include the following:
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 in some by a general sense of well-being 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 typically need recovery time after orgasm, called a refractory period, during which they cannot reach orgasm again. The duration of the refractory period varies among individuals and changes with age.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/08/2021.
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