What Happens to the Body During Sex?

The Phases and You

Sex, Mind, and Body

Most adults understand the general facts about how sex works in the general sense. They know what feels good and what things turn them on, but many are unaware of all that goes on within one’s body before, during and after the act itself. Though things might seem haphazard in the throws of passions, everything that happens during all sex acts pretty much follow a pattern.

This pattern has a unsexy name and is called the sexual-response cycle, at least to the iconic sex therapists Masters and Johnson. It is the order of events that happen to one’s body during such activities from foreplay to oragasm and then some. The cycle has four distinct phases (excitement, plateu, orgasm and resolution) that overlap each other during the act but pretty much go in a consistant order for both men and women but the timing of each event can vary from person to persoon. In general, men tend to reach orgasm during intercouse while women can take longer to get there. The idea that a couple can or should reach orgasm at the same time is romantic, but unrealistic. It just doesn’t happen like that in most cases.

The First Phase: Excitement

They say that men tend to get aroused by visual cues while women get aroused more from physical touch. Either way, it only takes about 10 to 30 seconds to kick start one’s engine after erotic stimulation. This phase can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the circumstances. During this time, the man’s penis will shift and start to become erect. Some men will also experience their nipples becoming erect as well. For women, lubrication in their vagina will begin. Like the penis, the vagina will start to change shape as well expand and lengthen. Both the clitoris (and the surrounding areas) will begin to swell as well as the woman’s breasts. The heart rate, blood pressure and breathing pattern of both partners will increase too.

The Second Phase: Plateau

Though the second phase doesn’t sound very sexy, most people don’t mind. It is during this time that the couples’ bodies continue to prepare for intercourse. For men, the penis continues to get hard and fully erect while the lips of woman’s vagina becomes, for a lack of a better word, puffier. Her vagina will swell with blood causing the opening to narrow and the clitoris will hide under its hood. According to WebMD, it is also during this time when the lips of vagina will change color from pink to bright red or in case of women who have already had children, turn from bright red to deep purple. However, most couples will be too busy to notice! (WebMD)

It is also during this time when the couple’s breathing and pulse rates go even faster. Areas of their body may flush with color. Beside the neck and face, many people may experience this same flushing on the stomach, chest and shoulders. Then, the muscles in one’s thighs, hips, hands and buttocks begin to tense. In some cases, spasms may begin in these parts of the body as well. Overall, both men and women will find that their erogenous zones (nipples, ears, neck and genitals) have become very sensitive due to the increased blood flow and the release of sensation-enhancing neurotransmiters.

The Third Phase: Orgasm

Of all the phases of sex, this one is shortest lasting only a few seconds for both partners. The couple will find themselves breathing even faster with both a pulse rate and blood pressure to match. The tension of their muscles and engorement of blood comes to a peak. Some people will start to make grasping changes with their hands and feet.

For men, they will notice that seminal fluid is collecting in their urethral bulb giving him the sensation that orgasm is in deed on its way. To prolong the event, the man might back off a bit but if not, semen is then ejaculated from his penis with pleasurable contractions happening within and around the penis.

For women, the walls of vagina will contract in a quick rhythm and the muscles of the uterus will also contract although it is not very noticeable for most women.

The Fourth Phase: Resolution

This the phrase where the bodies begin to reset themselves and move back into a resting state. For men, it can be relatively quick while taking longer for women. The time can vary from just a few minutes to close to a half hour. The swelling in both bodies slowly recedes, the flushing of skins begins to fade and the muslces begin to relax.

Men will find that their penis begins to return back to its normal soft state. Though in his mind he may want to begin again quickly, he will through what is known as a refractory period where it becomes impossible to have another orgasm until a certain amount of time has passed. The refractory period is realitively short for younger men and longer for older men, but other factors such as one’s physcial fitness can effect this timeframe as well.

Duriing this process, oxytocin and dopamine hormones are released making couples feel closer to each other. Orgasms also send out an increase in prolactin, a hormone that has a calming effect. It is a hormone that is naturally released during the higher levels when people are asleep.

While men have to wait to have more, women will often find that their bodies are ready to respond to more stimulaton and have even more orgasms. If both parties agree and their bodies cooperate, they might be able to go through the whole process all over again.

The More You Know

Couples who understand how their bodies and their partner’s bodies change and respond during sex will usually have a more enjoyable experience. However, it is recommended that couples also have open and honest communication about sex including reasonable expectations, desires, safe sex practices, etc.


WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/sexual-response-cycle#1

Health.com – https://www.health.com/sex/your-body-sex