What Is A 'Normal' Sexual Response, And How Might It Differ In Men And Women?

Question: What is a 'normal' sexual response, and how might it differ in men and women?

Answer: In general, we think of there being two models for understanding the sexual response: one is a very linear model, and one is a much more circular model. The linear model says -- and this is really developed by Masters and Johnson way back in the '60s -- that there are four phases of the sexual response beginning with excitement, which includes desire, the idea of being interested, the body responding in arousal.

And then we reach a peak level of excitement called plateau, where the body is very, very stimulated and the next logical step would be orgasm, which, ironically, is simply a reflex that in men would often involve ejaculation, and with women, involves blood flow to the clitoris and the uterus and the vagina creating rhythmic contractions that is experienced as the culmination of sexual response.

And then, the fourth stage of the response is resolution, when the body moves back to an un-stimulated state.

The second model really reflects much more of a circular model reflecting the fact that the linear model is too limiting, and particularly for women, many women don't experience desire first. They come to the sexual encounter with a desire for emotional intimacy, but biologically aren't particularly turned on. But once they engage in the sexual encounter, and the stimulation is comfortable and psychologically they're feeling good, it's only at that point that the body kicks in and says: "Oh, this is fun! Why was I so hesitant? Let's do this more often."

And the point here is to understand that that's a normal response for many women, and that the old belief, that drive, that biologic urge has to start the cycle or else we have a problem, really isn't valid. And that as long as we can be responsive and enjoy ourselves, that is still just as normal a model of sexual response as any of the others.