The Four Stages of Sexual Response

In order to better understand orgasms, it is helpful to evaluate their place in the grand scheme of things, sexually speaking. Sex research pioneers Masters and Johnson established four phases of human sexual response: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. It will probably be enlightening for you to examine each phase in greater detail.

Excitement Stage

The very first stage of human sexual response is the excitement stage. This is the stage that is least likely to be obvious, as it can (and often does) occur before any apparent stimulation or contact has taken place. The excitement or arousal stage often begins immediately upon any kind of romantic physical contact, including kissing. It can also occur as a result of visual stimulation, such as viewing X-rated movies, adult magazines, or anything else the person finds arousing. At this point, we as rational humans know in our minds that sexual activity is not necessarily a foregone conclusion, but the body does not, so it instinctively starts making preparations for the sex it believes will soon happen. The arousal period is physically noticeable by some clear-cut signs. The first is enlargement and engorgement of the genital areas and other parts of the body. This occurs in both men and women. With men, it is pretty blatant — the penis becomes hard, erect, and larger. With women, they experience vaginal engorgement as well as hardening/ enlargement of areas of the breast. Both women and men may experience a redness or flushing of the skin, especially on their face and chest.

Despite being known as one of the biggest female sex symbols of recent times — and being linked to a long list of high-profile men — Marilyn Monroe reportedly confessed to a friend that she had never had an orgasm.

Plateau Stage

When excitement progresses, the body reaches the plateau stage of sexual response. At this point, the physical signs increase — the breasts, penis, and vaginal areas become more enlarged and engorged, breathing gets even more rapid and sweating may occur. At this point, men may excrete what is commonly referred to as preseminal fluid. If it did not already happen during the excitement stage, women generally start to experience vaginal lubrication during this stage. When women are in the plateau stage, their clitoris also becomes enlarged. If the process is halted at this point, both men and women may experience some discomfort but — contrary to the claims of some teenage boys — there is no evidence that this can cause any permanent harm.

Orgasm Stage

The orgasm is the most obvious and impressive stage of human sexual response. This is the period where a lot of things happen in rapid succession in a very short period of time.

There are the obvious physical events, such as the intense muscle contractions, the excretions of fluids, and the rapid breathing. There are also the internal events like the rush of endorphins and other chemicals in the brain and the emotional effects. During orgasm, many people also experience involuntary actions such as moaning, yelling, etc.

During orgasm, the heart beats an average of 140 times per minute. By contrast, a typical resting heart rate is about 70 beats per minute for a man and 75 beats per minute for a woman. But don't worry: There is no real danger of overstressing your heart. After all, the average orgasm only lasts a fleeting three to eight seconds.

Resolution Stage

The resolution stage is what many people are most likely to call the “recovery stage.” This is where the body (and mind) starts to return to a normal state and recover from the stress and excitement of sexual activity. Many people feel tired at this stage, partly due to the physical exertion of sex and partly due to the chemical changes occurring in their brain. Also, it is common for people — especially women — to have strong emotional reactions during this phase, sometimes to the point of crying.

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