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Sexual Response Cycle: What Are the Four Phases

Sexual Response Cycle

Sexual Response Cycle - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

  • The sexual response cycle psychology is the sequence of emotional and physical changes that occur as you get aroused and participate in stimulating activities like intercourse or masturbation.
  • The stages of sexual response cycle include the desire/anticipation stage, which involves increased muscle tension and hardening of the nipples.
  • The second phase is the sexual arousal stage, which is characterized by men’s testicles tightening and the clitoris becoming too sensitive.
  • The third stage of the sexual response cycle is orgasm, and it involves a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension.
  • The fourth stage is the resolution phase, and it is marked by your heart rate and blood pressure returning to normal levels and muscles going back to their relaxed state.


When having sexual intercourse, you are unwittingly reaping the perquisites of the human sexual response cycle psychology.

Although you are not actively thinking, ‘Wow! Thanks to increased nitric oxide levels for rushing blood to my penis and giving me these mind-blowing sensations,’ that sexual response cycle is what makes you feel the way you do during and immediately before sexual intercourse.

Typically, when you are turned on, your body and brain light up like a flashbulb, going through numerous psychological changes to ensure sex is as pleasurable as possible. It is the sexual response cycle psychology.

Keep scrolling to find out more about this sexual response cycle and the phases involved.

What Is The Sexual Response Cycle?

The sexual response cycle psychology is a sequence of emotional and psychological changes which happen when an individual gets sexually aroused and participates in sexual activities such as intercourse (penetration) and masturbation (simulation of the genitals with fingers for sexual pleasure).

You can boost your relationship by understanding your body’s sexual response cycle (it can be the difference between reaching the tipping point and not). It can also help you figure out the cause of any sexual issues you are experiencing, like erectile dysfunction issues, orgasmic disorder, and sexual arousal disorder.

Arousal Time

Of course, sexual arousal varies in men and women, emotionally, physically, and psychologically, but these four phases are common in all genders:

The Stages Of Sexual Response Cycle Explained

If you are too focused on reaching orgasm, you might miss the rest – here are the four stages of sexual response cycle:

1. Desire/Excitement Phase

As you know, desire/anticipation/excitement is the sexiest part of all the stages of the sexual response cycle. Just like planning a vacation, the preparatory rituals – shopping for vacay attire, scrolling for top attractions, and reading resort reviews might be as thrilling and stimulating as the vacay itself.

Desire as part of the human sexual response cycle psychology is vital from a pleasure point of view since dopamine levels are at an all-time high than any other stage. Therefore, you can be aroused by anything from a fantasy, a kiss, touch, or even thoughts.

Some of the changes you can expect during this phase include, but are not limited to:

  • Increase in heart rate and breathing
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Hardening and erection of the nipples

In females:

  • The breast gets fuller and the vaginal walls swell
  • The clitoris and labia minora swell
  • Blood flow increases in the groin area
  • Vagina secretes a lubricating liquid (you get wet)

In males:

  • The scrotum tightens
  • Testicles swell
  • Secretion of a lubrication liquid
  • Penis erects
PSA: You should note that everyone’s sexual arousal story is different. Some might not consistently experience the aforementioned changes. So, do not get alarmed when you do not get wet or feel fuller breasts.

Excitement Phase

2. Arousal/Plateau Phase

Among all the stages of sexual response cycle, this is the most important. It is essentially the foreplay stage. It features intense excitement that extends to the brink of orgasm that might not always occur.

In this sexual arousal phase, the following changes occur:

  • Changes that occurred in the first sexual response cycle stage intensify.
  • Blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate increase in both men and women.
  • Men’s testicles tighten.
  • Muscle tension and spasms increase in the face, feet, and hands.
  • The clitoris gets highly sensitive and retracts under its hood to avoid direct stimulation.
  • The vagina continues to swell with a boost in blood flow that gives the vaginal walls a dark purple hue.

3. Orgasm

It is the climax or apex of the response cycle, and of all the stages of sexual response cycle, it is the shortest and typically lasts only a few seconds. It is characterized by the following changes:

  • Heightened sexual arousal
  • Your body releases endorphins, which make you feel elated and relaxed.
  • Involuntary muscle contractions.
  • Blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate are usually at their highest.
  • Muscle spasms in the feet
  • Sudden and forceful release of sexual tension.
  • In females, the vagina muscles contract, and the uterus goes through rhythmic contractions.
  • In males, rhythmic contractions of the muscles result in ejaculation of semen.
  • A ‘sex flush’ might appear all over your body.

This sexual response cycle stage is often framed as the goal of intercourse, but sex can be immensely pleasurable whether or not you experience orgasm. Of course, orgasm can be mind-blowingly pleasurable and is associated with a laundry list of benefits, including a deep sense of connection, improved mood levels, a good night’s sleep, and feelings of calm and relaxation.

However, contrary to the ‘media narrative’, orgasm is not the only response you can expect to experience in the same manner every time you have intercourse. Orgasms may vary greatly not only from individual to individual but between every sexual episode.

4. Resolution

Orgasm phase
If you reached the apex, this is now the mini or comedown phase of the sexual response cycle psychology. So, what happens during this phase? Well, it is when everything from the breasts, heart rate, and penis to the labia goes back to its usual color, size, and state.

While the resolution phase is marked by a refractory period for most people, 30% of individuals tend to return rapidly to sexual arousal. Studies show that women are the most capable of having a rapid return to the orgasm phase with further stimulation and may experience multiple orgasms. Time for round three?

On the other hand, men require some time to recover after orgasm, the refractory period, during which they cannot orgasm again. The length of the refractory period varies, though, and it usually lengthens with age.

However, if you are having trouble completing the sexual response cycle or orgasming, do not fret. According to experts, about 5% to 40% of individuals do not reach climax. But it is only a medical issue if you feel distressed about the fact that you are not orgasming. In which case, you need to consult a sex therapist or certified professional. They will be in a position to help figure out what emotional, mental, physical, or psychological issues might be preventing you from reaching the climax. At the time, the inability to orgasm might result from underlying hormonal imbalances or the side effects of the meds you are taking.

Final Thoughts

Crave. Canoodle. Caress. Climax. That is evidently the general progression of the sexual response cycle, based on the current body of knowledge. For sex enthusiasts and body knowledge nerds, this can be a fun way of exploring more pleasurable sex. If the entire aspect feels a little too science–y for you, that is ok too. Provided your sex does not cause distress.

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