The Female Sexual Response Cycle
NOTE: Much of the explanation of what takes place is identical between males and females at all four points in the cycle. I'll elaborate fully in the explanations of the female response.
Although I don't expend as much effort on the explanations of the male response, it is, for all intents and purposes, similar in scope as what I've described for the female.
Excitement: Female sexual excitement (or arousal) begins with the introduction of some erotic stimulus. Many people believe that females aren't as "visually" stimulated as males are, but this has been demonstrated in several studies to be a myth.
For some people, excitement can occur with the simple presence of some visual stimulus, but for many it requires significant intimacy, including physical touching, caressing, and perhaps even some mental fantasizing on her part. This phase may come and go several times before the next stage (plateau) is achieved.
This stage can last from a few minutes to several hours, and the following physiological changes take place:
Diagram showing three variations of the female sexual response cycle and Male Sexual Response Cycle
Line A: Typical sequential (multiple) orgasm model - plateau is followed by orgasm, then back to plateau, followed by additional orgasms. This cycle may result in orgasms for as long as a minute or more.
Line B: Female will go into plateau but fail to reach orgasm and move into resolution. This is a common pattern among younger females and in cases where stimulation is insufficient to produce orgasm.
Line C: The most common model where a female will have a single, intense orgasm that lasts 5 - 10 seconds, and then moves immediately into resolution.
Plateau: The plateau phase represents the height of sexual stimulation, generally signifies an impending orgasm, and is typically reached after a period of continued physical and mental sexual stimulation. This phase may be reached multiple times without progressing to the next one. Typically this phase lasts from a few seconds to three or four minutes, though many women find that prolonging this period can result in much strong orgasms. In the plateau phase, the following occurs (assuming the continued presence of erotic stimuli).
- The outer portion of the vaginal wall becomes greatly engorged with blood, thereby reducing the size of the opening. This creates what is referred to as the orgasmic platform. This will be the source of the muscular contractions in the vagina during the orgasm.
- The labia minora become larger and redder in color.
- The clitoris withdraws slightly under the clitoral hood.
- Uterine fibrillations continue and may increase; the uterus elevates further.
- The nipples become firmer and the breasts reach their maximum size.
- The sex flush, if present, becomes more pronounced.
- The heart rate, breathing rates and blood pressure all increase, dramatically in some cases.
- Muscular tension continues to increase.
Orgasm: The orgasmic phase, if it occurs (it may not in as many as 20% of all women), typically begins within 10-20 minutes after penetration (though often quicker if penetration is preceded by other physical stimulation). An orgasm represents the "release" of all of the pent-up tension in the pubic area and the musculature of the lower body. Some women (approx. 14%) are capable of moving back and forth from the orgasm stage and plateau stage multiple times without going through a resolution period (i.e., having sequential, multiple orgasms). Orgasms typically involve a loss of awareness and sense of time, but may also be relatively subtle. The orgasm process involves:
Strong contractions occur in the muscles of the vagina. Typically, the first contraction lasts 2 to 5 seconds and is followed by a series of rhythmic contractions that last less than one second each. These will generally be of less intensity as the first contraction, and there may be as many as three to 15 of these.The pituitary gland releases oxytocin. This results in the next three events:
These are known as carpopdeal spasms.
Resolution: After orgasm, if the erotic stimuli decrease or disappear, the female will enter the resolution phase, and her physiological condition will return to a "normal" state. Women experience no refractory period—they can either enter the resolution stage or return to the plateau stage immediately following orgasm and the process may repeat ad infinitum. Once the resolution phase begins, the following occurs: