Introduction:The Physiological response in humans to sexual stimulation is similar but needs separate description because of anatomical differences. As one can expect there will be innumerable factors affecting the response of an individual to sexual stimulation. However, the following is a brief note of response in general to most humans to sexual arousal.
Women's sexual response
Since the beginning of this century, a great deal of research has been carried out on the subject of female sexual response and whether it can be influenced by medication.
But so far, very little has emerged that will help women who have difficulties with enjoying sex or with reaching orgasm.
Indeed, medical science's view of feminine erotic physiology remains today very much what it was over 45 years ago, following the discoveries of the US researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
What Masters and Johnson found was that during sexual activity, women go through the following four phases:
Learning how to reach orgasm
We have found that younger females frequently have no real knowledge of the process of sexual arousal.
In particular, women often need quite a lot of help to learn how to reach orgasm.
Unlike males - most of whom can 'come' easily from the moment they reach puberty - females will often spend a couple of years experimenting with their sexual feelings before they eventually learn how to climax regularly and reliably.
But once women have learned to cast off their inhibitions and enjoy sex, they tend to respond to sexual stimuli in very much the same way.
What exactly are women's sexual reactions?
A woman's first response to sexual stimulation is usually a nice, warm feeling all over her body - as she begins to let herself go.
At the same time, her pulse rate starts to go up and the pupils of her eyes get bigger.
Incidentally, this widening of the pupils makes her more attractive sexually.
In the olden days, drugs like belladonna ('beautiful woman') were used to produce this effect.
What happens to her sex organs as she gets aroused?
Laboratory studies carried out in Holland in 2004 show that as soon as a woman even starts thinking with interest about sex, her vagina begins to moisten.
This is the female equivalent of erection in men.
The reason for this moistening is to lubricate her vagina, in preparation for possible sexual activity.
At the same time, various other things happen:
What happens next?
As she gets more and more aroused, her breasts will swell a little and her nipples will become more prominent. Her breathing gets faster and she starts to gasp. Her eyes tend to become glazed and she is likely to lick her lips - probably making them even more attractive to her partner.
If she is fair-skinned, a faint pink 'rash' will develop at the base of her neck and over her breasts.
And finally, she climaxes. What generally happens here is that she experiences a series of waves of ever-increasing pleasure, till eventually, the last one is so mind-blowing that she nearly passes out.
At that moment, nearly all women cry out - sometimes very loudly. The muscles of their faces and bodies contract violently (but very enjoyable) - and then after a while everything relaxes.
So that's the end?
No, not really. These days, most women can - if they want to - go on to have further climaxes. But this will only happen if:
How a man responds sexually, depends on a number of factors which may include his:
As a man, you can learn a great deal about your body and its sexual response by taking the time to explore how you respond to various kinds of touch and stimulation. Trust your feelings. Having too many expectations about how you should feel may prevent you from being aware of how you actually do feel. Paying close attention to your feelings and sensations can help you talk to your partner and possibly increase sexual enjoyment for both of you.
Sexual response in men generally follows a fairly consistent pattern, which may vary from person to person and in the same person depending on whom he is with, the situation he is in and what else is going on in his life. The physical part of sex cannot be separated from thoughts, feelings, and reactions. For men, a sexual response occurs when there is some form of sexual stimulation, which can include touch, smell, looking at someone or something, a thought or fantasy that provokes certain physical changes to start happening.
With sexual stimulation, the penis will become larger and begin to get hard. When the penis is in its soft state, there is an equal amount of blood coming in and going out through the blood vessels (arteries and veins) in the penis. During arousal and stimulation, more blood is pumped into the penis and the outflow of blood is reduced. The result is that the spongy tissue in the penis fills with blood and the penis gets larger and harder. This is referred to as an erection. Full erection (getting hard) may occur quite quickly, especially in young men. For others, it may take a longer period of time to get hard or take more direct stimulation of the penis ( e.g. touching, body rubbing, or oral sex) to reach full erection.
Other body changes that happen during male sexual response are an increase in the size of the testes (balls) and they are pulled upwards with the scrotum (sac). There is increased muscle tension throughout the body as sexual excitement builds. Sometimes the nipples become hard (erect) or a man may notice a sex flush, or reddening of the skin. During periods of sexual excitement a person’s blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate tend to increase.
For men, there is a point where they know for sure they are going to have an orgasm - a 2 or 3 second feeling of a “point of no return”. Muscles contract and feelings are very intense and pleasurable. Ejaculation (coming) occurs at the point of orgasm when the penis releases semen. Ejaculation may be experienced as a series of contractions and spasms in the legs, stomach, arms and back as well as the penis. Semen is pushed through the penis by contractions and may spurt or ooze out. Ejaculations and orgasms will vary from man to man and from time to time. Orgasm/ejaculation is followed by a period of relaxation called the refractory period. During this period, the penis usually becomes softer and it is unlikely that the man will have another erection or orgasm. The length of time it takes for a man to get another erection varies, depending on the individual and the situation. In younger men the refractory period may last only a few minutes, while in older men it may last a few hours or more.
A man’s sexual response is very much connected to his feelings about himself, his partner and the situation in which sexual feelings are shown. Acknowledging these feelings, and talking openly about any concerns with his partner, can often improve sexual responsiveness.
Negative experiences related to sexuality, such as sexual assault, sexual abuse, fear of pregnancy or fear of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, can influence a man’s sexual response. Sometimes people have negative associations to certain smells, sounds or situations based on these negative experiences that can affect their sexual desire.
Fatigue and stress can affect desire and sexual response. Lifestyles that involve fulfilling multiple roles such as employee, parent, homemaker and sexual partner, may result in fatigue and low interest in sexual activity. Couples may need to look for ways to arrange their lives so that time and energy are available for satisfying sexual interactions. The size of a man’s penis is of little importance where the sexual response is concerned. Even though the size of the soft (flaccid) penis varies from man to man, there is often little difference in the size of the erect penis.
Occasional impotence (an inability to obtain or maintain an erection) is normal in all men. This may be especially true if he is overly tired, under a large amount of stress, or drinking alcohol. In the rush and stress of modern life, the pressure to perform may affect a man’s sexual life. Some men feel inadequate if they cannot become erect on demand and maintain an erection for long periods of time - this is referred to as ‘performance anxiety’. Worrying less about ‘performance’ and more about finding ways to give and receive love and pleasure can greatly enhance the sexual responsiveness of both partners. Men don’t need to ‘come’ every time they engage in sexual activity in order to be sexually responsive. Men can be marvelously sexual even without having an erection.
Occasional premature ejaculation (reaching orgasm too quickly) is very common, especially when a man is overly excited or particularly anxious. Men can learn to slow down and explore other ways to be sexual beyond sexual intercourse. Many men enjoy touching, speaking, listening, seeing and smelling in addition to sexual intercourse. They can learn to cuddle and stroke and how to become more comfortable with being cuddled and stroked. Over time, many men discover that they can develop some control over how quickly things move from arousal to orgasm - this can be a pleasing and exciting time for both partners.
Difficulties with sexual response can be troubling for a man - and his partner too. If you are having difficulties in the way you respond sexually, talk the matter over with your doctor or a qualified counsellor. In most cases, both the man and his partner can benefit from counselling because this type of concern affects them both. Many difficulties can be resolved if both partners are willing to participate fully, and learn from and care for each other.