Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Sexual Response Cycle

Most of us know how things go when getting intimate. But did you know there's actually a scientific order to what's going on in our bodies, enough so that we can classify each stage of it?

Masters & Johnson (William and Virginia) came up with the first three stages of excitement, plateau and orgasm. According to wikipedia, Masters hired Johnson to help him in a study about human sexuality (he later left his wife for Johnson, but it didn't last. They divorced in 1992). Helen Singer Kaplan added a fourth stage to their diagram--the resolution stage. This was big because sexual dysfunction is classified in the 4th edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) based on this diagram--it is a dysfunction if it interrupts any stage. What are the stages?

Step 1: Excitement
This is when you start to get horny (I hate that word, just putting it out there). The 'side effects' are quite obvious. For women, the vaginal lips swell and become slightly engorged as blood rushes down, the breasts may swell a little bit, and the vagina starts to get 'wet' with natural lubrication. For men, the penis begins to harden as the blood rushes down, the skin on the scrotal sack (balls) tightens, and pre-ejaculation starts, which is men's version of a natural lubrication. For both genders, heart rate & breathing increase, nipples become erect, and muscles become tense. This period can be brief or long-lasting. Sometimes it will fade away on it's own if sexual activity does not occur; if not, taking care of things yourself is an option.

Step 2: Plateau
This is when the body is roaring to go. It's being turned on to the extreme. This usually occurs after sexual activity starts. Muscles spasms could happen, and the penis may 'jump' and the vagina may contract. Heart rate, breathing and blood pressure keep rising, and muscles tighten even more. The testicles go up into the scrotum and the clitoris goes under the clitoral hood (at this point, direct stimulation of the clit may be painful, the nerve endings are crazy sensitive now), and apparently, the vaginal walls turn deep purple. The body is basically preparing for the next stage.

Step 3: Orgasm

This is the shortest stage. Fore-play and the sexual arousal stages can last really as long as you want them to, but orgasms are always just a matter of time-stopping, blissful, relieving seconds. The muscles all release their tension and start to contract. There is a rapid increase of oxygen, and all the levels from the previous stages (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing) are at their fastest. Women's uterus and vagina contract, and the base of the penis contracts. Most of the time, this causes ejaculation in men, and in some women (men actually can orgasm without ejaculating). Some people get something called a 'sex flush'-they turn a light red almost everywhere on the body, but mostly on the stomach and genitals.

Step 4: Resolution
This is where the body goes back to square one. Women tend to feel emotional and snuggly, men usually feel tired, and both tend to be elated. Men enter their 'refractory period,' which is when the body needs to rest before becoming able to be aroused again. Some women may be too sensitive to attempt another orgasm, whereas some may be able to keep on going!!!

One psychologist, Basson, has stated that whereas this model makes sense, it may differ between women and men. Not all women have an orgasm during sex (sure, men might not either, but the percentage of women who don't faaaar exceed the men). Masters&Johnson's model is considered 'a linear' model, but Basson claims it should be circular. Their model is linear because it assumes that a person follows each stage one by one, from step one to step four. But not everyone starts off in the excitment stage, and not everyone ends in the resolution stage. Assuming the stages go as planned, this is what happens.

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