Sexual Response Cycle

Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. offers a specialized approach to sex therapy, helping individuals & couples all over the East Bay, South Bay & Central Valley.

Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. offers a specialized approach to sex therapy, helping individuals & couples all over the East Bay, South Bay & Central Valley.

Sexual Response Cycle

One of the most important tools in the field of sex therapy and sex education is the sexual response cycle, originally proposed by Masters and Johnson and revised by Helen Kaplan. It is a linear model of human sexual functioning- a description of what happens when we have sex.

Stages of the sexual response cycle:

Present day sexologists & sex therapists refer to a 4 stage sexual response cycle that integrates the contributions of Masters and Johnson & Helen Kaplan to this construct.


This is the psychological component of the sexual response cycle. Sexual desire is the motivation to have sex. It includes fantasies or thoughts that you may have about sex. The desire component also comprises of your psychological turn-ons: your physical attraction towards your partner, the way they smell or talk, specific touch & foreplay. Most couples that I see for sex therapy tend to experience desire incompatibility with one partner experiencing more or higher desire than the other.


This is the physiological component of the sexual response cycle. It is a bodily response that indicates that you are turned on. In addition to arousal being a physical response, it is also the feeling of being turned on. The physical indicators for sexual arousal include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and higher respiration rate. Vasocongestion or increased blood flow is perhaps the most prominent indicator of being turned on. For men, increased blood flow produces an erection and swollen testes whereas for women, it results in the clitoris & labia (vaginal lips) becoming swollen, lubrication and expansion of the uterus.


This stage is the peak of the arousal stage, when heart rate, respiration & blood pressure increase dramatically and the tension is released in the form of pelvic muscle contractions. For men, orgasm usually results in ejaculation but not always. At times, men orgasm without producing any ejaculate. Women may or may not ejaculate when they orgasm.


This is a physiological stage wherein the body returns to the pre-desire state. For men, the penis may return to its normal size and for women, the clitoris, vagina & uterus also return to their pre-arousal state. The resolution stage is much shorter for women than men. Women are able to move out of the resolution stage and into the arousal stage pretty quickly. However, for men, the resolution stage can last for several minutes or many hours during which they are unable to become aroused despite experiencing sexual desire.

Sexual response cycle & gender

The sexual response cycle was developed as a linear model, i.e. desire is followed by arousal which is in turn followed by orgasm and is an accurate representation of male sexuality. However, the linearity of the model makes its application to female sexuality difficult. Women often do not experience desire first. However, upon stimulation by their partner, they become aroused and results in desire. In that case, a more circular model of the sexual response cycle would be more fitting for female sexuality. Women tend to be more responsive when it comes to sex- they respond to the stimulation being provided which underscores the need for elaborate and effusive foreplay. But that is a topic for another article!

Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy,  couples therapy & marriage counselingpremarital counselingindividual relationship therapy LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.

If you or your partner would like to enhance your sexual connection or need help with a sexual issue or concern, sex therapy at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay can help. Dr. Clark has advanced & specialized training in sex therapy and she has helped many couples & individuals resolve their sexual concerns.

Call 925-400-3541 or email to schedule a free 30 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.