The Female Orgasm Explored
Women's Sexual Response Cycle
The four phases of sexual response in women
Sex researchers, starting with Masters and Johnson in the 1950s, have classified a woman's sexual arousal cycle into four distinct phases: the arousal phase, the plateau phase, the period of orgasm and a resolution phase. Although these phases serve as a useful broad indication of how a woman reaches her peaks of sexual pleasure, she may not necessarily be aware of the different phases during a session of sexual activity.
For example, she may become aroused to a greater or lesser extent during a date, but not be aware of her body's response at the time - on the other hand, of course, she may very well be aware of how her body is responding, with an awareness of lubrication in her vagina.
This is a summary diagram of three different possible sexual response cycles in women - either the same woman at different times or different women. Lines A and B represent some kind of multiple orgasm experience. Line C shows the phenomenon of peaking on the way to orgasm, which we will examine later.
An important point as far as woman are concerned is that although their bodies may respond with sexual arousal, they may not be aware of it: this has been demonstrated with research into how women respond when they view pornographic films.
In many cases, although a woman would claim not to be sexually aroused while watching such a film, measures of her level of vaginal lubrication indicate that she is in fact physically aroused - even if she does not feel emotionally or mentally aroused.
This demonstrates the difference between women and men in this respect: generally, a man will feel aroused when he gets an erection, will know he is aroused, and may wish to act on his arousal to obtain orgasm.
(Of course this is not universally true, and men can be erect without feeling sexually aroused in many circumstances; the point is that in general, the emotional aspect of sexual arousal is more subtle for a woman than it is for a man.)
Another indication that our division of female sexual arousal into separate phases is somewhat artificial occurs when a woman is repeatedly sexually aroused during, let us say, the course of an evening out with her boyfriend.
Her body may go through various increases and decreases in physiological arousal, without ever reaching an orgasmic plateau, and so, when she returns home at the end of the evening, although apparently her sexual arousal may have returned to normal, she will be capable of reaching an orgasm very quickly indeed because of the preceding arousal she has experienced.
All in all, it means that the phases of arousal are only an indication of how a woman may progress from "resting" (or unaroused) to orgasm, and they may vary considerably depending on the circumstances in which she finds herself.
However, having said all of that, it's worth going into more detail about the general characteristics of each phase, because they are indicative of a woman's progress towards orgasm, and they may be useful for a woman's sexual partner who is seeking to understand her sexual experience and arousal as they enjoy intimate sexual relations.
In the arousal phase, signs of arousal are not always necessarily particularly obvious. The chief response of a woman to sexual stimulation, whether this is the result of physical stimulation, or mental arousal such as fantasy, is lubrication of her vaginal walls in response to an increase in blood flow to the erectile tissue of her pelvic area and genitals.
The speed with which a woman responds to arousal by lubrication varies considerably, as does the amount of lubrication produced; however, it usually begins between 10 and 30 seconds after stimulation starts.
Nonetheless it's important for men to realize that even if a woman is well lubricated she may not actually be feeling sexually aroused, and she certainly may not be emotionally ready for sex.
The next sign of arousal in a woman is engorgement and erection of her clitoris, which becomes erect when she responds to sexual stimulation with further sexual arousal: the clitoris may swell up to twice its normal size and become much more prominent; however, once again as with the penis in men, the size of the clitoris is very variable, and its prominence and degree of erection may not be a reliable indication of a woman's level of sexual arousal.
The erectile tissue of the nipples also means that a woman will experience nipple erection when she is sexually aroused, and her breasts also may swell, as may her areolae.
As any experienced lover knows, the labia majora and the labia minora fill with blood when a woman becomes sexually aroused: this engorgement of the erectile tissue within the labia means that they also change color, becoming a deep red color as blood flow to the area increases.
There are also internal changes in the vagina, because, during the arousal phase, a woman's uterus moves upwards and backwards, the effect of which is to make the vagina larger and more tent like where it meets the cervix.
Increased blood flow to the erectile tissues of the vaginal walls makes them feel engorged and smooth, and the lubrication to which we've already referred, makes her vagina warm and moist, a fact appreciated by her partner when he enters her. Indeed, it is this feeling of warmth and wetness which usually precipitates a man's orgasm - and the more sensitive he is to the sensation inside his partner, the more likely he is to want to extend sex in bed.
More general changes include faster and possibly shallower breathing and a more rapid heart rate, together with an increase in blood pressure and a degree of muscular contraction throughout the body.
As one moves into the plateau phase of sexual arousal, she will experience further engorgement, congestion or tumescence in the walls of the vagina which is directly responsible for causing a swelling of the outer part of the vagina; the effect of this is to tighten and narrow the vaginal opening so that it may potentially grip the penis more tightly when the woman reaches orgasm. The inner part of the vagina swells up further as well; at this time, a woman may experience a profound desire to be penetrated.
The labia minora increase by two or three times greater than their usual thickness, and this increase may have the effect of exposing the vaginal opening and making it much more obvious.
Increased blood flow results in the labia majora changing color from their normal pale red or pink to a deep red or even a dark purple. but while individual women show different variations in color change, the overall change from light to dark is a common factor of sexual arousal, just as a man's erection is a common sign of sexual arousal in the male sex.
A woman's breasts may also swell, and in some women this increase may be as much as a quarter of their normal size; many women also have a so-called "sex flush" on the chest - - this is due to an increased flow of blood to the skin of the abdomen and chest.
We referred earlier to an increase in muscular tension: this is most obvious in a woman's thighs and buttocks. At this point in her arousal, a woman is physically ready for sexual intercourse; she may also be ready to move into the orgasmic phase of sexual arousal.
One absolutely reliable indicator of whether or not a woman is likely to achieve orgasm is the change in color of her labia: she will not achieve orgasm unless they do undergo this dramatic color change. You can read about great ways to make love here.
During the orgasmic phase of sexual arousal, a woman usually experiences muscular contractions through the pelvic region: they may extend throughout her vagina, anus and uterus. In general the first contractions are the most powerful - they occur at 0.8 second intervals; as they diminish in intensity they may occur slightly more randomly.
A long orgasm may extend over as many as 10 to 15 contractions and will be accompanied by a profound sense of pleasure and release of sexual tension.
The sex flush, the spreading of color across the skin of the chest and abdomen during arousal, may become more intense at the point of orgasm (although this is not a universal phenomenon associated with orgasm in women).
At the moment of greatest orgasmic intensity, a woman's whole body may become rigid and there may be contraction of skeletal muscles throughout the whole body including those in the pelvic region, and in particular a woman's face may be distorted into an expression which can resemble that of somebody in pain. It's also possible for a woman to spurt or eject fluid from her urethra with more or less force as she reaches orgasm; this fluid is produced by the Skene's glands (aka the paraurethral glands) and its emission from the end of the urethra is known as female ejaculation.
When a woman does ejaculate fluid in this way during orgasm, she usually has a much more intense experience of orgasmic pleasure than if she does not. It seems that female ejaculation is generally achieved or promoted by stimulation of the G spot, and we'll look at how this is achieved on another page of the website.
Like men, the sensation of reaching orgasm is preceded by a moment where a woman feels herself to be on the edge of orgasm, with a momentary sense of expectation of release before the crescendo of orgasm actually begins. When sexual stimulation is appropriate and sufficient sufficient for woman to move into orgasm, she will enjoy the intensely pleasurable sexual feelings of orgasm, beginning in her clitoris or in her vagina or both, feelings which radiate outwards through her whole pelvic region.
As you can see from the descriptions of orgasm provided by women elsewhere on this website, the feelings are often described as electric, powerful, intense, hot, and so on, and as originating from deep inside the body. There is considerable contraction of both pelvic musculature, and also abdominal musculature, during orgasm.
During what has became known as the resolution phase, all of the above symptoms dissipate: the engorgement of erectile tissue in the vagina, clitoris and labia slowly reduces, the sexual organs including the uterus, clitoris, labia and breasts, resume their normal size, return to their normal position and regain their usual coloration.
The clitoris may retain a degree of sensitivity just as the penis does after orgasm, so that further touching is uncomfortable.
However, some women are able to achieve another orgasm if they receive continued stimulation, a phenomenon known as "multiple orgasm". Assuming that multiple orgasm is not achieved, then a woman's heart rate, breathing, respiration and blood pressure slowly return to normal over a period of time which is generally much longer than the recovery or resolution phase in a man.
And, if a woman doesn't actually tip over into the orgasmic phase of sexual arousal, it will take even longer for the engorgement of her genital and pelvic tissues to dissipate: indeed, repeated stimulation to a high level of arousal without the release of orgasm can lead to feelings of discomfort and pelvic congestion. Finally, we want to point out that sex after 50 can produce the best orgasms of a woman's life - because the build up to orgasmic release is so prolonged.