Male Sexual Response
As soon as his brain registers sexual interest, the male body goes through a number of physical changes in response to it. This is known as the Male Sexual Response Cycle, a model of human physiological responses that occur during sexual stimulation. Although men and women have many similarities in experiencing sexual arousal, the timing of key stages of sexual response is considerably different.
Men generally tend to become aroused quite quickly and experience a long stage of heightened arousal (known as the plateau phase) before finally experiencing orgasm. For this reason, some believe that the male version of the sexual response cycle has fewer stages involved than a woman’s. However, that fact is that males do experience the same pattern as females, but reach each stage at differing rates.
The way sexual response is experienced will vary depending on the individual. Though the model for male sexual response is meant to serve as a loose guide to one’s pattern of arousal, some variation should be expected. After all, different stimuli can elicit different responses – plus, a man’s physiological functioning, state of mind, and comfort level with his sexual partner affect his experience of sexual response greatly. It is perfectly normal that it won’t be the same for everyone, every time.
Phase 1: Desire
Desire is the preliminary stage of sexual response that is common to both sexes. Before the brain registers sexual interest, the penis hangs down in a flaccid state. When a male receives some form of arousing stimulus to pique his interests, be it psychological (e.g. an arousing memory, a fantasy, or the anticipation of sexual activity) or some form of pleasurable touch, sight or sound … physical reaction will occur.
In most cases, men with healthy penile functioning will becomes aroused with ten to thirty seconds of initial stimulation, literally giving rise to an erection within seconds after the signals responsible for affecting specific nerves and blood vessels have traversed the appropriate paths. For men, the desire stage can occur almost concurrently with the arousal stage, whereas women require more time for the same physiological changes to occur. This occurs because men’s desire is far more responsive to visual stimulus than a female’s.
Desire is the prelude to arousal; without that drive, passion, or lust for intimate contact, it is difficult to carry-through to the next phase. Not only that, but a man’s health, mood and level of confidence will also greatly impact his physical and mental readiness to continue through successfully. When sexual response ends at the desire stage, rather than focusing on the inability to become aroused, it’s important to look at ways to increase sexual tension to stimulate stronger desire.
Phase 2: Excitement
After responding to a combination of emotional and/or physical stimulus, males enter the second phase of sexual response: excitement. This stage is characterized by vasocongestion, a function of the body that increases blood flow to the genitals and exerts pressure on the blood vessels and surrounding tissue. The most visible change in the male body in response to the buildup of arousal is erection of the penis.
How does an erection happen?
The penis is made up of 3 three structures: the two corpus cavernosa and the corpus spongiosum. The corpus spongiosum runs along the length of the penis and surrounds the urethra, acting as a pipeline for both semen and urine. The corpus cavernosa are cylindrically shaped tubes that run parallel along the top of the penis, having sponge-like material inside of them that can fill with blood.
When a male becomes sexually excited, the nerves in his penis become activated, causing the muscles surrounding the vasculature of the arteries to relax so as to allow more blood to enter the penis. The spongy material of the corpus cavernosa absorbs the extra blood, making the penis erect and stiff. Once the penis has become engorged, it creates enough tightness that the blood can no longer leave, permitting the erection to remain firm. Men reach this stage in sexual arousal far more quickly than women, so in order to reach the orgasm stage together, it is advisable that males try to extend foreplay for longer.
- approximately 25% of men experience a reddening of the skin known as “sex flush”;
- perspiration increases;
- nipples harden;
- blood pressure rises by approximately one third (with men experiencing a slightly higher increase than women);
- breathing rate, muscle tension and heart rate all increase;
- reduced sensitivity to pain occurs; and
- blood rushes to the genitals, the scrotum contracting and the testicles getting drawn closer to the body …and as more blood enters into the penis, its head swells further and becomes a dark red/purple color.
Phase 3: Plateau
Some women will require around fifteen to thirty minutes to pass the excitement stage - a great deal longer than her male counterpart, who tends to reach the plateau phase within a mere few minutes. This stage is a continuation of the excitement phase and is characterized by heightened arousal. Continued sexual tension plays a vital role in maintaining an erection, and as sexual tensions rise and stimulation continues, the man’s path along the sexual response cycle steadily ascends closer to orgasm.
In this extension of the excitement stage, the following physiological responses occur:
- the testes enlarge and get pulled closer to the body;
- the rigidity of the erection increases;
- the head of the penis swells; and
- pre-ejaculatory fluid gets released by the Cowper’s Gland.
Stimulation helps maintain erection hardness until it reaches the point of no return - also referred to as the moment of inevitability - wherein the body undergoes the final contractions that lead to the fourth stage of the sexual response cycle.
Phase 4: Orgasm
Men experience a wide array of physical responses to orgasm, which is essentially an ultimate discharge of sexual tension, ranging from involuntary muscular contractions (mainly in the genital area and the rest of the body), muscle spasms, and increases in blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. Orgasms last between three to ten seconds, at intervals lasting no longer than one second. For more information, see our article on Male Ejaculation/Orgasm.
Phase 5: Resolution
The Resolution is the time the body goes back to a non-aroused state. In this last phase, once a man ejaculates – or alternatively, his arousal fades - he experiences a phenomenon known as de-tumescence, in which the brain sends signals to allow the excess blood in the penis to finally exit, while letting the rest of the body slowly return to normal.
Men will also experience a refractory period during this phase; this is the time needed after orgasm before a man is physically able to have another erection and respond to more sexual stimulation. If a man has been aroused but has not had an orgasm, it will take longer for the blood to flow out.
Due to the high degree of attention regarding orgasm, the other stages of sexual arousal tend to be overlooked. However, there is actually much physical and psychological gratification that arises from all the other stages, so it is certainly worth understanding how they work and exploring ways to get every ounce of pleasure from them!
Also, click here for our editorial on Female Sexual Response.