What exactly happens inside the body when you’re having sex, and why? Is it the same for both of us? And how can you use it to your advantage?

What’s going on?

The whole sexual experience has traditionally been defined as a cycle, and this is divided into four transitioning phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. These phases were believed to melt into each other in a continuous process and are experienced differently by men and women – generally, men tend to climax first whereas it can take women up to 15 minutes to reach orgasm. Some rare couples are also able to climax together. But that’s not all…

Phase 1

The excitement usually begins soon after erotic stimulation, and can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. Muscle tension increases, and heart rate and breathing speed up.

The man’s penis starts to become erect, vaginal lubrication begins and the vagina expands and lengthens while the inner and outer labia and clitoris begin to swell.

The second phase

These changes continue to progress in the ‘plateau’ stage, which is not as boring as it sounds! Everything’s getting harder – the penis, clitoris, muscle tension. The testes are drawn up into the scrotum and the vagina swells and deepens in colour. Your breathing, heart rate and muscle tension are also increasing. It’s imminent!

The third phase

Orgasm is the climax of the cycle and the shortest of the phases, usually only lasting a few seconds. Involuntary muscle contractions begin and a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension takes place. This phase is characterised by the release of body fluids for both partners. Rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis result in the ejaculation of semen. The first third of the vaginal walls contract rhythmically every eight-tenths of a second, on average.

The fourth phase

Resolution sees a return to the normal levels of body function and everything gets back to its normal size again. This happens more slowly for women, who can be re-stimulated to have multiple orgasms, whereas men will need a little rest – called the refractory period – before they can feel the excitement enough to orgasm again. Feelings of ‘relief’ and completion leave you feeling great, if a little tired. 

A line, a circle or both?

This is a pretty simplistic way of describing what is an incredibly powerful experience. This straightforward linear pattern can occur but things are usually more complicated than that – especially for women. Research in the 1990s found that for many women, desire is not 

the cause of lovemaking, but rather, its result. That means that many women don’t feel desire before they begin having sex – or at least don’t every time they make love – but rather want to have sex for intimacy’s sake and the pleasure comes later

Knowledge is power

For women, knowing how to identify which stage your partner is experiencing, and when that’s likely to change, offers you the chance to deepen his pleasure. For men, it’s important to remember that her motives may be different from yours: a sensual, massage-based approach to lovemaking, taking things slowly and allowing her to ‘catch up’ with you will pay dividends. Basically, look after her emotions and she’s more likely to have as much fun as you.