Understanding the Human Sexual Response Cycle

Sexual activity is an intimate affair that involves the partners’ physical, emotional, and psychological experiences. Sexual arousal causes various biological responses, like swelling and erection of the penis in men and increased blood flow to the clitorisvulva, and vaginal lubrication in women. Sexual experiences and responses vary for each individual, and the timing for each phase also varies. The process has been categorized into four stages to understand it better. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson first formulated this physiological response model in their book Human Sexual Response (1966).

Desire or the excitement phase

The heart beats faster, muscles tense, and the blood flow to genitals increases. It occurs as a result of kissing, fantasizing, or sexual foreplay. It happens in anticipation of sexual intercourse or activity.


Arousal, also known as the plateau phase- is the intense stage of the sexual experience. There is high stimulation, breathing fastens, and the vagina swells and starts lubricating.


This is the climax phase which lasts for a few seconds/ minutes. It is usually associated with ejaculation in males. Men may need recovery time after orgasm, called a refractory period, during which they cannot reach orgasm again. Women can have multiple orgasms in a relatively short period. Orgasm is the heightened state of arousal and pleasure.


It occurs after an orgasm where the muscles relax, blood pressure drops, and the body slows down from its excited state.

Each individual experiences sexual intimacy differently and responds to the phases subjectively. The bond with the partner, emotional attachment, motivation, and love, are some of the various factors contributing to the experience of sex. The intimacy, sexual bond that one explores, shares with their partner is crucial to understanding own sexuality and aspects of personality.