Understanding the Female Sexual Response Cycle

As you become sexually aroused and partake in sexually stimulating activities, your body responds by going through a series of changes known as the sexual response cycle. This cycle consists of four different phases: desire, arousal, orgasm, and resolution. With each phase comes a bunch of physical and emotional changes, which are outlined below. Men also experience these phases of sexual response, but the timing and specific characteristics may be different.

You may feel like you already know everything you need to know about sexual response, but learning about these phases can be helpful for understanding what’s going on in your body, improving your sexual experiences, and reaching climax. It’s important to keep in mind that these phases aren’t the same for everyone—the amount of time spent in each phase can be different from woman to woman, the order can vary, and you may not experience all the phases. That said, here’s a bit more information on what changes are common during each phase:

Woman playfully flirting with a man

The desire phase can last anywhere between minutes and hours. You can expect that your heart and breathing rates may increase, your nipples may become hard, your clitoris and inner vaginal lips (the labia minora) may swell, your skin might become blotchy or flushed, your breasts may become more full, you may experience muscle tension, and your vagina will likely become lubricated.

The arousal phase typically occurs just before the orgasm, and might occur as a result of desire or stimulation. During this time, you can expect a continuation of the bodily changes that started in the desire phase, along with some other physical and emotional changes. The vagina will continue to swell, the inner sections of the vagina may lengthen, dopamine levels increase, the clitoris will become very sensitive and may retract from the clitoral hood, muscle tension will increase, the vaginal opening may become smaller, muscle spasms may occur in various parts of the body including the hands and feet, and the vagina may turn a deep purple color.

Though the orgasm phase is typically the shortest phase in the female sexual response cycle, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. It’s seen as the climax and tends to be the most pleasurable phase of the sexual response cycle. During this phase you may experience muscle spasms and contractions, contraction of the vaginal, pelvic, and uterus muscles, high blood pressure and heart rate, a sudden release of tension, and a release of feel-good endorphins. If you experience a rash or blotchy skin during this phase, you’re not alone—this is fairly common.

The resolution phase is when the body returns to its baseline, unaroused state. This means that your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal levels, swelling will diminish, and your muscles will return to their relaxed state. It’s common to feel tired, fatigued, and calm during this phase. You may find it easy to orgasm again from here, but this will vary from woman to woman. Even if you don’t experience an orgasm, the resolution phase will still occur as your body returns to baseline.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

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