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The Sexual Response Cycle constitutes the five sequential physiological stages of human sexual response to erotic stimuli: Excitement, Sustained Arousal, Orgasm, Resolution, and the Refractory Period.  

The primary female sex organ, the clitoris engorges and becomes erect during the excitement and arousal phases.


During the excitement stage, internal or external stimuli initiate sexual impulses. Sensory excitation or thoughts/fantasy creates desire. The blood supply to the genitals and abdomen increases, causing   engorgement and vasocongestion. Blood pressure, heart rate and respiration accelerate. Muscle tension begins building. Nipples become erect. Pupils dilate. 

Female Responses:

With blood engorgement, the labia and clitoral erectile tissues swell. Engorgement increases the size of the clitoral gland, causes a deepening of genital color, and lengthens the vaginal canal. The walls of the vaginal canal begin to balloon out, producing lubrication and sweat. 

Male Responses:

The penis engorges with blood, deepening in color and swelling into erection. The scrotum and testicles lift up towards the body. 

The primary male sex organ, the penis engorges and becomes erect during the excitement and arousal phases.

Sustained Arousal / Plateau

During the sustained arousal stage, voluntary and involuntary muscle tension, heart rate, and respiration continue to increase. Respiration reflects patterns of excitation. Active sexual movements and rhythms begin in the body. 

Female Responses:

The labia swell and deepen in color even more. The muscles of the vagina move and grip strongly. The clitoris retracts, and the uterus contracts upward toward the abdomen, further lengthening the vaginal canal. The areolas may deepen in color and expand. 

Male Responses:

The penis swells to maximal erection and the coronal ridge enlarges. The Cowper’s glands  secrete pre-ejaculate fluid from the opening of the penis, while the testicles swell in size by about 50% and pull up tightly, indicating the male is reaching the “point of no return (PONR)” when ejaculation becomes involuntary. 


 Left: The male genitals from pre-excitement to arousal.                                                          Right: The female genitals from pre-excitement to arousal.  


As orgasm occurs, the genitals and whole body reach a pleasure climax, discharging tension in a series of involuntary contractions. Ejaculation in men (and sometimes the release of G-spot fluid in women) usually occurs, although orgasm can occur without ejaculation.  

Women require stimulation until their orgasm is complete. Men reach a “point of no return” when orgasm is involuntary, without any further stimulation necessarily required. Female and male partners need to be aware of this physiological difference during sex, in order to find stimulation patterns that satisfy each of them individually. 

Female Responses:

The erectile tissue of the clitoris, the vaginal barrel and the uterus experience a series of pleasurable ripples or contractions. Contractions may occur in other muscles of the body as well; hands, feet, rectum, legs, face, buttocks, and more.

 Male Responses:

The seminal vesicles and the prostate gland contract in preparation for ejaculation. A wave of pleasurable contractions then pushes semen out of the urethra. Contractions may occur in other muscles of the body as well; hands, feet, rectum, legs, face, buttocks, and more.

Multiple Orgasms?

After a climax, you may feel satisfied with the orgasm you have experienced, or you may wish to continue building your state of pleasure and perhaps have more orgasms. Women can often build to many sequential orgasms if they choose. Men can usually have one additional orgasm or more, depending on their age and health, after their refractory period. 


During resolution, the body returns to its pre-excitement stage as blood drains from the genitals and the respiratory system regularizes. A sense of relaxation and well-being is often present. 

Refractory Stage (Pre-excitement)

The refractory stage is a period following orgasm when there is little response to sexual stimulation. It’s a resting phase before more stimulation can cause sexual arousal. This stage varies with the individual. It is affected by age and health factors and applies primarily to men, but women may experience it, too, when sexually depleted.  

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