A healthy sexual response

So what is supposed to happen, exactly?The normal human sexual response has four phases: desire, excitement, orgasm and resolution. Generally they go in the same order, but just because you feel ‘desire’ doesn’t mean you need to ‘orgasm’. This can all happen by yourself or with a partner.

Phase 1 – Desire

Desire is interest in sex or sexual activity, such as feelings, thoughts, feeling attractions, or feeling frustrated by lack of sex. People would refer to this part as feeling horny, toey or otherwise on heat.

Phase 2 – Excitement

The medical textbooks call it sexual arousal; we call it getting hot and heavy. Everything feels amazing and the minute someone touches you, you explode with pleasure, but not in an orgasm. Yet.

Each sound, fantasy, smell, sight and taste make this part great, as it all builds up and up and up and up. It may come back down, it may go backwards, it may do lots of things at this point.

Your body will be throbbing, so your heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, your breathing changes, blood is sent to the genitals and it all swells up, including on a woman.

A penis swelling up is obvious, but did you know that your labia and clitoris do the equivalent, albeit much more quietly? The medical texts like to say engorged.

Women will start to get wet, as special glands in the vagina just for this purpose, secrete lubrication (unless you have Sjögren’s syndrome). The vagina also opens up, inviting an erect penis in.

Phase 3 – Orgasm

Orgasm is the peak experience for many people, and is where your nervous system goes nuts. The genital area has waves of muscular contractions, and it all feels pretty good​1,2​.

Phase 4 – Resolution

This is the few minutes after you orgasm, whereby your body relaxes into its un-hot and un-heavy state, heartbeat return to normal and your breathing slows down.

All the extra blood drains out of your vulva and vagina, and your mind stops thinking dirty things, just for a moment if you’re lucky.

Resolution still takes place if you don’t orgasm, it just takes a little bit longer and can ache a little bit as the extra blood leaks back into your bloodstream.

Phase 5 – Refractory period, men only

Men have a period of time after an orgasm where they can’t have another orgasm, and this time gets longer as a man gets older​3​.

Women do not have a refractory period, and can have as many orgasms as she can, one after the other​4​.  


  1. 1.
    Wise NJ, Frangos E, Komisaruk BR. Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Published online October 4, 2017:1380-1391. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.08.014
  2. 2.
    Safron A. What is orgasm? A model of sexual trance and climax via rhythmic entrainment. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology. Published online January 2016:31763. doi:10.3402/snp.v6.31763
  3. 3.
    Alwaal A, Breyer BN, Lue TF. Normal male sexual function: emphasis on orgasm and ejaculation. Fertility and Sterility. Published online November 2015:1051-1060. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.08.033
  4. 4.
    Levin RJ. Revisiting Post-Ejaculation Refractory Time—What We Know and What We Do Not Know in Males and in Females. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Published online September 2009:2376-2389. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01350.x
  5. 5.
    Redelman M. A general look at female orgasm and anorgasmia. Sex Health. Published online 2006:143. doi:10.1071/sh06005

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)