Four stages are used to describe the physical changes that happen when a woman is sexually excited. These changes may occur when a woman masturbates or when she is sexually active with another person. What is exciting is unique to each woman. Some women are aroused when their breasts are fondled; other women hate this kind of touching. Learning what kind of physical contact you enjoy is an important part of learning about your sexual self. When you have sex with another person, there are also many emotional and social factors that will affect your physical experience.

You may not experience all four stages every time you are sexually active. Most women find there are many times when sexual play involves only the first one or two stages. Some women never or rarely have orgasms. Both physical and social/emotional issues can be barriers to a woman’s sexual response.

Stage One – Excitement

This stage can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Sexual activity during this stage is often called foreplay. Extending foreplay can sometimes make the other stages more intense. During this stage:

  • the blood flow to the genitals increases
  • the clitoris swells
  • the vagina begins to lubricate (get wet and slippery)
  • blood flow to a woman’s breasts increases and her nipples may get hard
  • heart rate and blood pressure increase
  • breathing may speed up

Stage Two – Plateau

During this stage:

  • due to increased blood flow, the outer third of the vagina swells and the genitals appear darker
  • the clitoris is very sensitive and retracts beneath its hood
  • heart rate, blood pressure and breathing continue to increase
  • muscle tension increases and spasms may occur in the feet, face and hands

Stage Three – Orgasm

This stage is also called climax. During this stage:

  • muscles in the outer third of the vagina contract in a rapid series of pulses
  • the first contractions are the most intense and the closest together
  • the muscles in the uterus also contract
  • heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are at their highest rate
  • the skin may appear red or flushed (this may begin in earlier stages)

Orgasm is the shortest of the four stages, usually measured in seconds.

Just before or during orgasm, some women release a clear fluid from their urethra. This is now commonly called female ejaculation. Most researchers (and women!) believe that this is not urine, but instead a clear fluid similar to the fluid containing a man’s sperm. Ejaculation is most likely to occur when a woman is being penetrated vaginally and pressure is being applied to the top wall of the vagina. This is where the back of the clitoris meets the wall of the vagina and is sometimes called the G-spot.

Stage Four – Resolution

During this stage:

  • a woman’s clitoris and nipples get soft
  • the vagina and genitals return to their normal size and colour
  • breathing, heart rate and blood pressure decreases

This process typically takes longer for women than men, although some women may be able to return to the plateau stage at this point.