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The Sexual Response Cycle

Sexuality is a part of each person’s development, and studying even one’s own sexuality is a life-long process. Despite all the diversity of people, there still exist universal processes concerning human sexuality. One of such processes is the sexual response cycle which follows one and the same pattern, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, identity, etc. (Cohen, 2003). Some researchers distinguish only three phases of this cycle; however, most of the modern ones agree with the idea that there are four of them, namely, excitement phase, plateau phase, orgasmic phase, and resolution phase. The processes which take place with the human body during the sexual response cycle are different for males and females, though certain commonalities can still be observed; causes of sexual dysfunctions which males and females may regularly have or occasionally are numerous, but most of these dysfunctions can be dealt with.

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The first phase, the excitement one, involves sexual arousal accompanied by certain physiological changes. The common changes which take place with both males and females are vasocongestion of genital tissues, quickened heart-beating, increased blood pressure, and erection of nipples. The processes which males go through during this phase include thickening of the scrotal skin, the elevation of testes and their increase in size, and erection. These usually start taking place already in 3-8 seconds after the beginning of the sexual stimulation (). The women experience an expansion of the inner part of the vagina, vaginal lubrication, and swelling of vaginal tissue. This all is accompanied by the enlargement of lips and breasts, with some blood vessels (on the neck and the like parts of the body) becoming visibly noticeable. Though sex flush takes place in both genders, it is still more typical for women. With the females, the excitement phase takes place 10-30 seconds after the stimulation, which is more than three times longer than with the males.

The second phase, the plateau phase, is marked by the enhancement of excitement and corresponding changes in physiological processes. With both the genders, vasocongestion increases, as well as the heart beating, blood pressure, and myotonia continue increasing further. At this stage, the heart rate may even reach 160 beats per minute. During the plateau stage, the size of men’s testes gets increased and is almost one and a half times bigger than in their ordinary state; the tip of the penis changes its color and becomes deep reddish-purple with droplets of semen sometimes released far before ejaculation (). In the case of women, this phase is accompanied by a full expansion of the two-thirds of the inner vagina, thickening of the outer third of the vagina, and forming of the orgasmic platform, as well as elevation and increasing of the uterus. The loss of erection is unlikely to happen with men at this phase; however, for women, “reaching the plateau phase may be sufficient for sexual satisfaction” (Greenberg, Bruess, & Conklin, 2007, p. 262).

The third phase of the sexual response cycle is the orgasmic phase. It consists of “peaking of sexual pleasure, a release of sexual tension, and a slight clouding of consciousness, along with rhythmic contraction of the perineal muscles and reproductive organs” (Cohen, 2003, p. 409). Both the genders experience these processes; in addition, heart, breathing rate, and blood pressure are at the highest peak. In the case of men, this phase consists of two stages. The first stage includes semen collection; at this, “the internal sphincter of the urinal bladder prevents urine from mixing with semen” (p. 446). At the second stage, this semen is ejaculated out of the body. The orgasm is accompanied by contractions with the first 3 or 4 being the most intense and the subsequent ones much weaker. Women, in their turn, experience from 3 to 15 contractions of the pelvic muscles which surround the vagina, followed by several weaker and slower ones ().

Finally, the resolution phase returns the body to the unaroused state. Both males and females experience a lack of sexual stimulation with vasocongestion and myotonia significantly decreasing and the color, shape, and size of some areas returning to the normal state. The muscles relax, and breath, heart beating, and blood pressure get back to normal. During the refractory period, which takes place at this phase, men cannot ejaculate or experience orgasm. Depending on age, this period may take from several minutes to the whole day (). At this phase, the erection disappears, and the testes get smaller. In the case of women, nipples, clitoris, and vaginal barrel return to the normal size and state. Women do not enter a refractory period and can achieve multiple orgasms if receiving stimulation. At this phase, the impregnation may take place if no methods of contraception were used because if the semen gets into the seminal pool, it is likely to get contacted with the cervix, which will further result in fertilization.

It is not always that males and females go through all these stages, with both the genders being equally possible to have sexual dysfunction. The causes of sexual dysfunction may be both physical and emotional (Dollinger, Rosenbaum, Tempero, & Mulvihill, 2002). They can range from diabetes and heart diseases to fatigue and mental health problems. Sexual arousal and erection disorders are the most common social dysfunctions. They consist of females having difficulty becoming lubricated and males losing erection quickly. Together with several similar dysfunctions, they are referred to as hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Orgasmic disorder is also a widespread dysfunction, though the inability to reach orgasm is more typical for women. Premature ejaculation, in its turn, is a dysfunction typical for males only. Most of these dysfunctions are treated by means of sex therapy which focuses on such aspects of sexuality as performance anxiety, expectations, and self-defeating attitudes, as well as sexual skills, knowledge, and communication (). Apart from therapy, there exist biological treatments for specific sexual disorders.

Therefore, during sexual intercourse, males and females go through four phases of sexual response cycle, namely excitement, plateau, orgasmic, and resolution phases. At each of these stages human body experiences certain processes. Some of these processes, for instance, ejaculation are typical for men only; others, like lubrication, are possible only with women. However, increase of blood pressure, breathing and heart-beating rates is common for both the genders. Possible sexual dysfunctions which may arise are treated either by means of sex therapy or biologically.

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Reference List

Cohen, B.J. (2003). Theory and practice of psychiatry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dollinger, M., Rosenbaum, E.H., Tempero, M., & Mulvihill, S. (2002). Everyone’s guide to cancer therapy: how cancer is diagnosed, treated, and managed day to day. New Jersey: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Greenberg, J.S., Bruess, C.E., & Conklin, S.C. (2007). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. London: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

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