This workshop is all about sexual arousal. Sexual arousal plays a key role in promoting sexual satisfaction. Interestingly enough, both men and women experience an almost identical set of phases of sexual activity, known as the sexual response cycle. It is a regular route (like a set of tracks that your train goes down every time) that you travel when you are expressing your sexual energy, whether alone or with a partner. In the early days of American sexual science, researchers Masters and Johnson identified a four-part response cycle: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. Some years later, noted sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan added another twist to the puzzle: desire. And in the 1980s, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, where I hold a faculty post, designed a more elaborate way of describing what happens when humans are turned on and being sexual.
The revamped sexual response cycle works like this:
- It begins with what's fondly known as vague stirring
--that hiccup-like sensation of "mmm" that you feel when seeing a sexy star such as Mel Gibson on the screen or when you notice that your partner's weight lifting has paid off and his abs are starting to get your attention.
- It then moves to desire, which is the realization accompanied by warming sensations signaling that your sexual engine is beginning to wake up.
- Then you move to excitement, or the green-light time, when all systems are go and the physical (physiological) signs are present, such as engorgement of blood in the genitals, lubrication, increased breathing and tender or erect nipples.
Next page: What happens next? Find out >>
4. Next, you enter the plateau phase, when things are ripping into full speed ahead and you may feel that you are just about to reach orgasm.
5. This phase is followed by the orgasm
6. Finally, there is the resolution phase, when all systems return to normal, things calm down and the body becomes a limp dishrag (sound familiar?).
7. Just for the fun of it, we name the last phase of the cycle "What's next?" to show that women really are insatiable in their capacity for sexual pleasure and often are ready for another round while their partner lies there snoring.
In this part of the lesson, we address the initial phase: vague stirring (VS). Whether you are single or have a partner, this is a wonderful time to get those stirrings started. To better understand and become more aware of this part of your sexual cycle, I suggest that you head to your local video store and choose some movies to kick-start your engines. You can watch them alone or with a partner. Whether you rent passion-filled dramas or adult sex films, the idea is to notice and trigger those stirrings. I often recommend the movies by my friend and colleague Candida Royalle, known for her female-friendly, sensual and steamy sex films. Her latest one, Eyes of Desire (parts 1 and 2), kept my attention. She has a gift for bringing a female perspective to her work, especially because she focuses on the story, the romance and passion, and the foundation of real relationships. If Candida's films arouse you so much that you move right from VS to excitement (speeding past desire), that's okay.
Keep in mind that anything can trigger VS, so if movies don't do it for you, try something else. Maybe, for you, this feeling is brought on by watching a handsome athlete, listening to a romantic song sung by an artist with a smooth, velvety voice, or reading a love story. Whatever works for you, I want you to experience vague stirrings. This is the subtlest part of the sexual response cycle, but because it's the wakeup phase, it's crucial. From this phase you can take it or leave it
Another exercise I recommend to couples is this: Trade enticing emails or old-fashioned (hand-delivered) letters to jump-start the VS. If it makes you more comfortable, you can adopt a persona and write from that name and personality to your object of desire. By thinking about your partner or object of desire with lustful words and by building the tension of longing, you can activate the VS phase and fuel desire, and thus begin to put fire back in your relationship if it is lagging. The more alluring your emails, the more you will get your fill later on. In other words, the sexier your letters, the more aroused you will be and the more likely it is that you will keep feeling aroused (and may or may not reach orgasm). Don't worry about achieving total sexual satisfaction this week; the focus is on waking up, on triggering and noticing VS.