Sexual arousal in women

There are various stages of physical response during arousal and sex. Researchers have identified four stages of sexual response in women and men: arousal, plateau, orgasm and resolution. This is what happens in a woman's body when sexually aroused.

Stage 1: excitement or arousal

When a woman becomes aroused, the blood vessels in her genitals dilate. There is increased blood flow in the vaginal walls, resulting in fluid passing through them. This is the main source of lubrication, which makes the vagina wet.

Her external genitalia or vulva (including the clitoris, vaginal opening, and inner and outer lips or labia) become engorged (swollen) due to the increased blood supply. Inside her body, the top of the vagina expands.

Her pulse and breathing quicken, and her blood pressure rises. She may become flushed, especially on her chest and neck, due to her blood vessels dilating.

Stage 2: plateau

Blood flow to the lower third of the vagina reaches its limit, and causes the lower area of the vagina to become swollen and firm. This is called the introitus, sometimes known as the orgasmic platform, and it undergoes rhythmic contractions during orgasm. 

The woman’s breasts may increase in size by up to 25%, and blood flow to the area around the nipple (the areola) increases, making the nipples look less erect.

As she gets closer to orgasm, her clitoris pulls back against the pubic bone and seems to disappear. A woman needs continuous stimulation in this phase to build up enough sexual excitement for orgasm. 

Stage 3: orgasm

Orgasm is the intense and pleasurable release of sexual tension that has built up in the earlier stages, characterised by contractions (0.8 seconds apart) of the genital muscles, including the introitus.

Most women don’t experience the recovery period that men do after an orgasm. A woman may have another orgasm if she's stimulated again.

Not all women have an orgasm every time they have sex. Foreplay is an important role in orgasm occurring in most women. It can include stroking erogenous zones and stimulating the clitoris.

Stage 4: resolution

This is when the woman's body slowly returns to its normal state. Swelling reduces, and breathing and heart rate slow down. 

Female ejaculation

Female ejaculation is an uncommon condition where a woman expels clear fluid from her vagina during sex. In this video, an expert explains more and members of the public give their thoughts. Part of the embarrassing conditions series.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2012

Next review due: 12/01/2014

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 130 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

AlanHamletWatford said on 29 December 2011

This is really informative and new to me - very interesting - you cant always get this from magazines. Amy is in for a good night tonight.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

jackbrosnan said on 15 February 2010

Nice Information Thanks..

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Tools

Sex in pregnancy

The facts about having sex when you're pregnant, including positions and what to do if you're not in the mood.

Sexual health

Articles and videos on contraception, STIs and talking about sex. Includes a section for teens

Menopause

Find out about HRT, early menopause, supporting your partner and how to deal with symptoms

Good sex

How to have a fulfilling sex life, including sex tips, and talking to your partner