Sex & Sociability

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Demystifying the Sexual Response Cycle

Sneezing is a phsyical phenomenon very similar to orgasm.

What I am about to describe is a common cycle of bodily reactions which, with individual variations, holds true for every human being, man or woman, alone or with a partner. Kinsey has described this, and Masters and Johnson. I'm going to take it out of the technical and into the vernacular. As such, the sexual response cycle has 6 stages: HO HUM, OH?, OH YES, WOW, AAH, and OH NO.

HO HUM: Stage number one is neutral, what I call Ho Hum.
 
OH?: This second stage, this OH? of mild sexual arousal, is one which most people pass in and out of a dozen times a day, sometimes without even being aware of it. Eyes have opened a bit wider, one is more alert, blood flow throughout the body has increased, heart rate is a bit stronger. If you are a man, you may have the beginnings of an erection. A woman might notice a genital tingle and perhaps an increase in vaginal lubrication. One might not notice any of these body responses. Erotic speculating about an attractive stranger, the fleeting thought of an old love, even the pressure of articles of clothing can produce this mild sexual arousal. It's one of the little pleasures of life.

OH YES: Whether  this is a fantasy, perhaps accompanied by your own hands, or is actually taking place with the body of someone real and exciting, Stage 3, OH YES,is a state of advanced sexual arousal. Breathing is now labored or irregular. Heart might be pounding, hands feel clammy, body hot and flushed. A man's penis is likely to be fully erect, and a woman's vagina wet and engorged.

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If you were to stop what you were doing at this point, willingly or un, nothing terrible would happen. It would take a while, several minutes say, for your body to settle down, for your breathing rate and temperature to go back to normal, and for that aching, congested feeling to vanish from your genitals. You might feel disappointed or frustrated but the condition is not terminal.

WOW: Orgasm. Essentially, this is release of tension. All that heat, all that shivering, gasping, labored breathing, genital congestion, all that muscular straining toward completion is released. Think of it like a sneeze. Some people sneeze with one window shaking explosion. Others do it in a series of little stifled noises like a cat bringing up a hairball. Unromantic as that sounds, sneezing, with its variations of patterns, is a physical phenomenon very similar to orgasm - tension/release.

Like the range of possible sneezes, orgasm can be as simple as a surcease from straining, ("whew"), or as complicated as a loss of consciousness and a sense of blissful blending with the cosmos. It can be achieved by friction alone on particular parts of the body, or by a combination of friction and feelings.

AAAH: The fifth stage in the sexual response cycle, the Resolution Phase. It describes that lovely feeling of completion that follows a good connection...or a good sneeze. It's a blend of satisfaction and exhaustion, no matter how brief. Sometimes this is called "the After-glow."

OH NO: There is a resting stage, or OH NO, when there is just no possibility of sexual arousal. The body is satiated. You find yourself just too sensitive to tolerate a touch that would have been welcomed eagerly just moments before. Many people deal with this stage of post-sexual arousal by falling quickly asleep. Others are energized.

You did notice that none of these responses required intercourse. The Sexual Response Cycle is an outline, an overview, not a set of rules or prescriptions. Sexual arousal is not an amusement park ride where once you get on you can't get off until you get off, so to speak. Any activity which feels good enough can initiate any of these responses. One can go in and out of any of those stages of arousal at anytime; sometimes by choice, sometimes not. A person might complete the full cycle in 60 seconds flat, or take hours to get just from stage 2 to stage 3.

One can go phases 1,2,3,2,3 or directly from 2 to 5, or any possible variations. Just the way "I'll call you" does not necessarily result in a follow-up connection, or "I love you" mean the taking of lifetime vows, sexual arousal need not lead automatically to intercourse, nor intercourse to orgasm, nor orgasm to  ejaculation. There are no scripts.

Most of what are called sexual dysfunctions are cases of people being stuck in one or another of the six response cycle stages. Lack of desire is a seemingly permanent Stage 1, HO-HUM or stage 6, OH NO. Failure to achieve orgasm when one is wanted, or not having one at the time you want one, may be explained as getting stuck in one of the early sexual excitement phases, like OH YES. The body may agree, but then add "on second thought, maybe not."

Other common sexual problems such as the coordinating of pacing with a partner (who gets hotter faster), the duration of erections, painful intercourse, orgasms at "the wrong time" or in the "wrong way", are often a matter of moving into differing phases of sexual response at a pace that's slower or quicker than one would prefer, and different from those of one's partner. Knowing that these are timing problems, not insurmountable absolutes, may help those concerned find an approach to solving them.

Once you understand that the sexual response cycle is a map whereon you can trace any number of routes to any number of destinations, you can begin to experiment with the ways one can get from Point A to Point B - taking the familiar path, a new scenic route, an expressway, a detour by way of points C and D. You can even entertain the question of whether you necessarily want to go from A to B at all. You might want to try going from B to A for a change. Many routes to satisfaction are possible.


Knowing that there is more than one path through the sexual maze, that your choices extend beyond going directly from point A to point B or not going anywhere at all, may help open new vistas of sexual possibilities.

 

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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