Human Sexual Response, Phases of

The human sexual response cycle refers to the structured series of changes the body goes through physically, psychologically, and emotionally when becoming aroused and engaging in sexual activity. Most current models of the sexual response cycle include sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm. This entry discusses several traditional models of the sexual response cycle, challenges and criticisms to those models, and subsequent modification to the models.

Early Models

In 1966, William Masters and Virginia Johnson proposed a four-stage “linear” model of human sexual response based on some 10,000 recordings of changes in participants’ physiology. From these data, they identified four successive (hence, linear) stages: (1) excitement, (2) plateau, (3) orgasm, and (4) resolution.

The first phase, excitement, refers to the initial physiological sexual arousal response as characterized by increased ...

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