Your Body During Sex

Updated: Jan 22

While most of us are sure we like to have sex, we’ve never spent much time thinking about what happens to our bodies while we are engaged in the act. Masters and Johnson; two groundbreaking sex therapists, coined the term "sexual-response cycle" to define the sequence of events that happens in the body when a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities.

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Knowing what happens to your body and brain before, during, and after sex has the potential to make sex amazing. That’s because getting in touch with your body allows for a more comfortable experience—you'll be able to better understand how you feel and what you like. It can also open up communication between you and your partner, and with practice, better serve your needs both emotionally and physically.

The sexual-response cycle is divided into four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. There is no distinct beginning or end to each phase - they're actually all part of a continuous process of sexual response. Although, both men and women go through all four phases, their timing is different. Men typically reach orgasm first during intercourse, while women may take up to 15 minutes to get to the same place. This makes the likelihood of simultaneous orgasm during intercourse a rare event.

Phase One: Excitement; You Start To Really Want Sex

This phase usually begins within 10 to 30 seconds after erotic stimulation, and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. In this phase, you have a biological desire to have sex—it's caused by hormonal changes that happen inside your body. This is the process of arousal, the first physiological experience of the body getting turned on. MRI studies show an increased activity in the limbic system (your emotional centre) during this phase.


Both Men And Women:

  1. Heart rate speeds up.

  2. BP rises.

  3. Your breathing becomes faster.

  4. Your pupils dilate by upto 4 times their normal size.

  5. Your body releases more nitric oxide. This triggers effects like increasing blood supply to various parts of your body.

  6. You might start to notice your skin flushing in areas like your chest and back. (This is fittingly called a “sex flush.”)

If You’re A Woman:

  1. A phenomenon called tenting happens, which is when your vagina dilates. The purpose of that dilation is to make it easier for the penis to fit in there.

  2. Made of the same kind of erectile tissue as a penis, your clitoris has the ability to get "erect" once it begins receiving that extra blood flow. This can make it more sensitive to stimulation.

  3. Your labia minora (inner vaginal lips) also swell with extra blood, as do your vaginal walls.

  4. Your breast size may increase by as much as 25 per cent during arousal due to blood vessels in the breast tissues dilating. At the same time, blood flows to the areola – the area around the nipple – sometimes making it look darker and causing the nipples to stand erect. Women’s nipples are more sensitive than men’s.

  5. That extra blood flow also helps to increase vaginal lubrication, which make insertion happen more easily.

  6. Your muscles start tensing up in the buildup to eventual orgasm and the resulting physical release.

If You’re A Man:

  1. Your penis becomes slightly erect.

  2. Your nipples may also become erect.

  3. Your penis also goes wet; it secretes a fluid whose main purpose is to lubricate you for when you have sex.

Phase Two: Plateau; Sexual Stimulation Starts To Feel Even Better

Everything that was already happening before generally keeps happening, and a few new developments join in. Now at this stage, there’s an even higher neurological activity in parts of the brain that are connected with sexual enjoyment. Specifically, the limbic system.


Both Men And Women:

  1. Your muscles tense in the thighs, hips, hands and buttocks, and spasms may begin

  2. Your hairs stand on their end. This is called piloerection or goosebumps.

If You’re A Woman

  1. If you've never had children, your vaginal walls turn from pink to bright red. If you've had children, the colour turns from bright red to deep purple.

  2. Your clitoris is becoming even more sensitive than it was before. Knowing what's good for it, it retracts under your clitoral hood to avoid becoming overstimulated.

If You’re A Man:

  1. Your penis becomes fully erect.

  2. The glans of your penis grows to its full size and sensitivity.

  3. Your testicles are drawn up into the scrotum so that sperm has a shorter journey to the end of the penis.

Phase Three: Orgasm

This is the climax of the cycle. It is also the shortest of the four phases, usually only lasting a few seconds.


Both Men And Women:

  1. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure hit the roof. Each one peaks in a way it doesn’t at any other point during sex. A man’s heart rate peaks at about 100 beats a minute, while a woman’s hits around 90 at the start of an orgasm.

  2. Your muscle tension and blood-vessel engorgement also reach a peak. Sometimes orgasm comes with a grasping-type muscular reflex of the hands and feet.

  3. A sudden, intense release of tension is a major orgasm characteristic, but it’s worth noting that orgasms can feel different for different people (and even for the same people in different sexual experiences). Sometimes that release might be so strong you nearly black out, other times it might be a gentler whoosh.

If You’re A Woman:

  1. The first third of the vaginal walls contract rhythmically eight-ten times a second. (The number and intensity of the contractions vary depending on the individual orgasm.)

  2. The muscles of the uterus also contract, although barely noticeably.

If You’re A Man:

  1. First, seminal fluid collects in the urethral bulb. This is when a man may have the sensation that orgasm is certain, or "ejaculatory inevitability."

  2. Next, semen is ejaculated from the penis. Contractions occur in the penis during the orgasmic phase.

Phase Four: Resolution; You snuggle, Fall Asleep, Or Go Again

This phase is a return to the normal resting state. It can last from a few minutes to a half-hour or longer. This stage is generally longer for women than men.

Both Men And Women:

1. Happy hormones are released. Sex stimulates the secretion of hormones such as oxytocin, which makes you feel connected to your partner, dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward centre and reinforces the sexual act, and prolactin, which improves your sense of smell, helping you remember the odour of your partner’s pheromones - chemicals in your sweat that attract the opposite sex. The result: You feel satisfied and close to your partner.

2. Your heart rate settles back to its baseline within 10 to 20 minutes.

3. Swelling recedes, any sex flush disappears, and there is a general relaxation of muscle tension.

4. After sex, you may also find yourself reaching for the tissues. The same process that triggers arousal in your genital regions can also make the lining of your nose swell, causing a stuffy nose or a sneezing fit. The phenomenon, known as ‘honeymoon rhinitis’, is caused by an overlap in the nervous (system) circuitry that controls both sexual arousal and blood vessel function in the nose.

If You’re A Woman:

  1. The uterus and clitoris return to their normal positions.

  2. Some women may be able to respond to additional stimulation and have additional orgasms.

If You’re A Man:

1. Your penis returns to its normal flaccid state. There is usually a refractory period, where it's impossible to orgasm again until a certain amount of time has passed. The amount of time varies among men by age, physical fitness and other factors.

Let's start meaningful discussions at the WORLD'S BEST Mental Health, Sexual Health and Addiction/De-addiction forum: https://www.thehappytreehospital.com/forum


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