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Masters and Johnson's Description of Female Sexual Response

Four Phase Model of Female Sexual Response


Masters and Johnson were the first researchers to propose a “four phase” model of sexual response. They conducted experimental research with adults, observing adults engaging in sexual behaviors and measuring what happens to the body during sexual behaviors.

While this description of female sexual response can be a helpful way to start thinking about your own sexual response, try not to use it as a strict guide to measure yourself against. For one thing, the description only deals with physical changes in your body. Your sexual response is much more than blood flow and lubrication.

If your experience is different it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with you. While there are some generalities, the reality is that everyone is different, and everyone’s sexual response may be a bit different too. There are limitations to the research that Masters and Johnson conducted, and some researchers argue that separating sexual response into stages doesn’t make any sense at all.

Here is what Masters and Johnson found to happen during the four phases of the sexual response cycle for women.

Phase 1 – Excitement

In response to sexual stimuli (whether psychological in the form of sexual thoughts or fantasies, or physical in the form of physical stimulation) vaginal lubrication will usually begin. There are many reasons why women may have less (or no) vaginal lubrication, even when there is excitement and arousal. Other physical changes may include:
  • Vasocongestion will result in the clitoris becoming engorged.
  • The size and shape of the labia may change.
  • The inner two thirds of the vagina may expand.
  • There may be an enlargement of the breasts.
  • The skin may become flushed, women may experience heightened sensitivity in parts of their body, like the nipples.
  • Some increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.

Phase 2 – Plateau

With continued sexual stimulation this phase represents the time between the initial arousal and excitement, up until orgasm. Physical changes during this phase may include:
  • A continued swelling of the tissues in the vagina, which may be accompanied by contractions of the vaginal opening.
  • The clitoris can withdraw into the clitoral hood and the external clitoris can shorten in size.
  • The labia minora increase in size and turn a reddish-purple.
  • There may be a sex flush, muscle tension, increase in heart rate and rising blood pressure.

Phase 3 – Orgasm

Masters and Johnson description of female orgasm does not include any information about female ejaculation accompanying orgasm. Physical changes involved in female orgasm may include:
  • Contractions of the pelvic muscles around the vagina.
  • The uterus and anal sphincter also contract in a throbbing or rhythmic way.
  • Muscles may spasm, blood pressure and heart rate reach a peak.
  • The contractions (which occur at different speeds, and in different amounts) are usually what are experienced as highly pleasurable feelings of release.

Phase 4 – Resolution

Resolution phase refers to the period of time immediately following an orgasm, when the body begins to return to its “normal” state. This phase includes:
  • Blood that had engorged areas of the body now flows out, swelling decreases and eventually muscle tension and skin flush go away.
  • A general feeling of relaxation.

Source: Human Sexual Response, W.H. Masters & V.E. Johnson, 1966.

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