Sexual Response Cycle

Sexual Response Cycle

                                                Sex & Intimacy

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that human beings have a sexual motive, much as we have motives for hunger or thirst. Without a sexual motive, humans and other animals that depend on sexual reproduction would soon be extinct. Whereas hunger, thirst, and other primary motives are necessary for the survival of the individual, sexual motivation is a primary motive that is essential to the survival of the species.

To understand the motive to engage in sexual activity, one must have a basic understanding of the sexual response cycle.

Sexual response cycle

William Masters and Virginia Johnson (1966) conducted ground breaking laboratory studies of volunteers who were observed during the sexual response cycle from the initial excitement to the moment of sexual orgasm. Masters and Johnson’s two most important books Human Sexual Response (1966) and Human Sexual Inadequacy (1970), helped form the basis for modern understanding of human sexual functioning and sexual problems and stood as the foundation for sex therapy.

Although there are substantial similarities between the sexual response cycles of women and men, there also are some important differences.

  1. Excitement phase:
    • Both women and men show an initial increase in physiological arousal, called the excitement phase. This may begin from visual stimulation, physical contact, odors, fantasies, and the like.
    • Blood flows to the penis and the vagina, erection and lubrication occur, the nipples become erect, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, and body becomes aroused in other ways.
  2. Plateau phase:
    • If the sexual stimulation is intense enough sexual arousal builds quickly to the plateau phase, which is characterized by high levels of arousal hat are sustained for periods ranging from seconds to many minutes.
    • The degree of sexual pleasure is very high, but not yet at a maximum.
  3. Orgasmic phase:
    • With sufficient stimulation and under the proper psychological circumstances, the individual usually progresses to the reflexive stage of orgasm. A peak of physical arousal and pleasure is reached. Breathing is rapid, blood pressure and heartbeat reach high levels, the skin flushes, and the individual partially loses muscular control for a brief time and experiences involuntary spasms of many muscle groups.
    • There is little variability in the orgasmic phase of men, but considerable variability in orgasms among women.
    • Three common patterns of female orgasmic response were distinguished by Masters and Johnson (1966). Some women reach a single brief and intense orgasm, like that of men. Other women, depending on the circumstances, experience multiply intense orgasmic peaks. Other women experience a large number of smaller peaks of orgasm.
  4. Resolution phase.
    • Following orgasm, the body’s level of physical arousal rapidly declines in the resolution phase. Within a few minutes, the body returns to a condition much like its original state prior to the beginning of the response cycle, although heightened relaxation and tiredness are common.
    • In males, the resolution phase is accompanied by a period of time when the male is unresponsive to further sexual stimulation, termed the refractory period.
    • Although a woman may briefly be too sensitive to enjoy further sexual stimulation during the resolution phase, with individual preferences determining her interest in further stimulation, there is no refractory period in which women are physically incapable of resumed sexual arousal.
  5. Hypothalamic control.
    • Like hunger and thirst, the sexual motive is controlled by our hardworking friend, the hypothalamus. Once center in the hypothalamus and related brain structures activates motivation and sexual behaviour. This system is the equivalent of the hypothalamic feeding and drinking systems. If the hypothalamus is surgically destroyed, sexual behavior will not initiated even in the presence of the sexually provocative stimuli.
    • A second system of the hypothalamus inhabits sexual behavior. If this inhibitory system is destroyed in the laboratory animals, the animals become hypersexual; that is, they engage in unusual and unrestrained amounts of sexual behavior.
    • These two centers acts in the balance to regulate sexual motivation.
    • The hypothalamus also indirectly influences female sexuality through its control of the menstrual cycle. Women are significantly more likely to initiate sex with a male partner or to masturbate when levels of estrogen peak at the time of ovulation (Adam & others, in 1978). This cycle increased interest in sex may have evolved to increase the likelihood of fertilization of ova. Understandably, women who take birth control pills, which regulates estrogen levels, do not show this monthly peaking of sexual interest.
  6. Role of external stimuli.
    • Like hunger, which can be stimulated by external stimuli, know as incentives, such as the sights and aromas of desert stimulating the hunger of a well-fed person, sexual motivation is highly sensitive to external stimuli. The person who initially is not sexual aroused, whether male or female, will often be aroused by a seductive partner or romantic fantasies. Indeed, external stimuli play a very important role in arousing the sexual motive (Wilson, Kuehn, & Beach, 1963).
    • One aspect of the role of external stimuli has been termed the Coolidge effect. Following intercourse, males of many animal species will have intercourse again with the same receptive female sometime after the refractory period has elapsed. Bermant ( 1976), for example, found that a (ram male sheep) will have sex an average of five times with the same ewe (female sheep) before seeming to lose interest. However, if a different receptive ewe is introduced after each mating, the ram will reach mate more than three times as often as before losing sexual interest, and it will reach orgasm much more quickly than with the same ewe. Apparently, variety is a powerful external factor in sexual motivation for many mammalian species.
  7. Role of learning.
    • We have already seen that learning can play a powerful role in shaping the primary motives. What, when and how much we eat, for example, is great influenced by our learning experiences. Sexual motivation is influenced by learning, at least to the same degree and probably to an even greater extent. The enormous variety in the sexual behavior of the members of any society at any point in history strongly points to the role of learning in sexuality.
    • In North America today, many individuals consider oral stimulation of the genitals to be a natural and loving part of a couple’s sexual repertoire, whereas many others consider it to be a crime against nature. Differences in sexuality between cultures reveal the influence of learning experiences on sexual motivation.
    • Contrast our own sexual behavior to the Polynesian residents of the Island of Mangaia. Sex pleasure is a principle concern of the Mangaians, young and old alike. Sex play among Mangaian children is common, with sexual intercourse with an older experience between the ages of 12 and 14. Most young males begin intercourse with an older experienced woman, who teaches a variety of oral and genitals skills to him. Soon the frequency of masturbation drops and intercourse with age mates become an every night affair. This intense level of sexuality continues into married adulthood, with the average 20 year old male reporting two to three orgasms per night, six nights per week. The quality of sexual intimacy is not overlooked in Mangaia, however, in spite of the quantity. There is a strong cultural emphasis on both partners’ experiencing intense pleasure in intercourse. One of the worst insults that can befall a Mangaia male, in fact, is to be accused of reaching orgasm too quickly and not being interested in the pleasure of his female partner.
  8. Role of emotions.
    • Like the other primary motives, especially eating, sexual motivation is influenced to a great extent by our emotions. Because stress, anxiety, and depression are accompanied by increased sympathetic autonomic arousal, and because sexual arousal is mediated by parasympathetic arousal, which is in opposition to sympathetic activity, these emotions generally result in a decrease I sexual motivation. Because the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is complicated, however, anxiety sometimes results in an increase in sexual motivation. Just pointing to the obvious influence of strong negative emotions on our sexuality, however, does not begin to do justice to the intricate interplay of emotions and sexuality. Far more than any other motive, sexual passion is powerfully linked to even the delicate nuances of romantic love and other subtle emotions.

Differences between Sexual Motivation and Other Primary Motives.

Although sexual motivation is similar to the other primary motives in the many ways just mentioned, there are important differences as well (Houston, 1985):

  1. Survival value.
    • We must satisfy the primary motives of hunger, thirst, need, for warmth, and so on to survive as individuals and, collectively, to survive as a species. Although satisfaction of the sexual motive is essential to be the survival of the species, it is not necessary for individual survival.
  2. Increase and decrease in arousal.
    • We are motivated to decrease the physiological arousal created by hunger and other primary motives. However, humans are motivated to both increase and decrease their sexual arousal. The intimate behavior that we engage in to initiate the arousal phase of the sexual response cycle (foreplay) obviously increase arousal. Yet the fact that Americans spend many millions of dollars each year on erotic videos and topless bars is strong testimony to our motive both increase sexual arousal and then decrease it through sexual activity.
  3. Role of deprivation.
    • Motives such as hunger and thirst rather predictably rise and fall according to the length of time since they were last satisfied. A person who just eaten a large meal will not be hungry, but a person who has been deprived of food for eight hours will be ravenous. To an extent, the same is true for sex. If you are used to a regular sex life, the two weeks that your lover goes home to visit family may lead to a noticeable increase in sexual interest. But sexual motivation is far linked to deprivation than to the other primary motives. Except during the refractory period, humans are susceptible to sexually arousing stimuli and situations’ at almost all times. However, many individuals without a sexual outlet report going for long periods of time without arousal of sexual longings. Conversely, the more often we are sexually aroused ad satisfied, the more sexual motivation we seem to have.
  4. Decrease in energy. The other primary motives lead to behavior that increases the body stores of energy and other bodily needs. In contrast, sexual behavior results in the use of stored energy.

 

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