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Human Sexual Response

Updated: JULY 17, 2017

Human sexual response is a general term to describe the way the human body responds to sexual stimulation.

Human sexual response was famously studied by American sexologists William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, who reported their findings in their 1966 book, Human Sexual Response. Masters and Johnson found that human sexual response could be broken down into four distinct phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

More About Human Sexual Response

Human sexual response may occur through masturbation, foreplay, and/or sexual intercourse. In these cases it may occur when we touch our own erogenous zones, when someone else touches our erogenous zones, or when we touch someone else. It can also occur as a result of fantasies, watching erotic films or reading erotic literature, and having erotic dreams.

There are many common responses to sexual stimulation. These include an increase in breathing speed and heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a swelling of the body’s erogenous tissues. The swelling, known formally as vasocongestion and informally as sex flush, causes the penis to become erect and the clitoris and vaginal walls to swell in preparation for sexual intercourse. The woman’s vagina also becomes lubricated to make sex easier and more pleasurable.

Muscular contractions can be observed when both males and females enter the orgasmic phase. Ejaculation typically occurs in males, and sometimes in females. In the resolution phase, breathing and heart rate slows, the penis becomes flaccid and the female genitals also return to their original state.

While Masters' and Johnson’s work has been celebrated, the linear nature of their findings is also problematic. Their model does not consider sexual desire, relationship factors, cultural attitudes, or other factors which may influence human sexual response.


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