What Happens To Your Body When You Have S*x
Despite the widespread belief that men think about s*x 24/7, science says it ain’t so. A 2003 study published in the Journal of s*x Research found that men think about s*x an average of just 19 times per day. Refuting this stereotype was important to Terri Fisher, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and the study’s lead author. “It’s amazing the way people will spout off these fake statistics that men think about s*x nearly constantly, and so much more often than women do,” Fisher said, after releasing the study online.
While s*x is more of a euphemism than an exact term, some facts just can’t be ignored. From strengthening your immune system, to how aging impacts se*uality, here’s what really happens to your body when you have s*x — however you define it.
First, it’s important to note there is no commonly shared consensus on what the act of s*x is, according to Dr. Steve McGough, associate professor of clinical sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human se*uality. “Many consider [s*x to be] intercourse involving penetration, but that clearly is only one aspect of the s*xual experience,” McGough told me. “s*x is often uniquely defined by each person based on their backgrounds and experiences. There are also widely held differences in what ‘love’ means and how it relates to s*x. The combination of multiple meanings for ‘s*x’ and multiple meanings for ‘love’ tend to get a lot of people confused.”
One general description of the word comes from Canada’s se*uality Education Resource Centre, which defines s*x as “the act of two or more people using words or touch to sexually excite themselves and/or each other.” But whether you refer to the act of s*x as “shagging,” “makin’ whoopee,” or “doin’ the horizontal mambo,” it should go without saying that any s*xual activity should only happen within the context of consent — the clearly communicated agreement between participants to engage in s*xual activity, according to RAINN, the r*pe, Abuse & inc*st National Network.
The s*xual response cycle
In the 1960s, famous researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson observed various individuals engaging in both solo and coupled s*xual activities, later publishing their findings in the groundbreaking book Human s*xual Response. The duo coined the phrase “s*xual response cycle” to describe the physical and emotional changes one experiences during s*x: excitement, plateau, climax, and resolution. Though the model is still considered the standard in clinical and educational settings, modern research suggests a different s*xual response cycle for women, Dr. McGough said.
“The original Masters and Johnson definitions were based around a male paradigm, where ‘arousal’ was all that was needed,” McGough explained. “More recent models differentiate for women by introducing the concept of desire, or the mental state that is related to attraction and [the] wish for s*xual activity. Further, instead of being ‘linear,’ women can experience continuing series of plateau and climax in sequence, if they’re familiar with achieving orgasms and are comfortable with their bodies and the situation.”Score one for the ladies.
During the s*xual response cycle’s excitement stage, both men and women experience increased blood flow to their private parts. “Men tend to get an erection and women tend to have slight swelling of the cli**ris, vulva, and v**ina,” McGough said. “Women often produce lubrication, but the amount varies. Many women [also] begin to have increased blood flow to their br**sts and develop erect bosoms.”
The period between initial excitement and climax is referred to as the plateau stage, McGough explained, during which the body’s responses, which began in the excitement phase, continue to intensify. For example, women produce more lubrication and often develop skin flushing in the face, neck, and chest. Men can experience similar flushing, as well as hardening of the bosoms. “It isn’t confirmed, but [it’s] widely believed bosom erection in both men and women is due to the release of oxytocin,” McGough said.
At this point, overall muscle tension increases for both partners. Also notable about the plateau stage is how a woman’s cli**ris becomes more sensitive — in some cases, almost painful to the touch — and retracts under the hood to avoid direct stimulation.
climax is the s*xual response cycle’s shortest phase, lasting between 10 and 25 seconds for both men and women, McGough said. The climax phase is generally characterized by a sudden release of tension caused by involuntary muscle contractions. For women, such contractions can be felt in the v**ina, uterus, and rectum, according to the nonprofit organization Our Bodies Ourselves. Men typically experience rhythmic contractions in their prostate, often resulting in the Release of semen.
“climax can be just the reflex contractions in the private parts, which is pleasant, or the more common [and far more pleasurable] state where the private part’s reflex contractions correspond to an intense mental state where the person momentarily becomes lost in the moment,” McGough pointed out. “This brief loss of a sense of self is why the French slang for climax is ‘la petite mort’ or ‘the little death.’”
During the resolution phase, “the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning.” Men go through what McGough called the “refractory period,” in which they naturally lose their erection and require time to recover before engaging in further s*xual activity. However, some women can quickly return to the climax phase, particularly if they have continued stimulation in areas other than the cli**ris, or if the initial climax occurred vaginally or elsewhere, McGough said.
Despite a plethora of scientific research about s*x, fallacies about the act persist, including the assumption that women “should” achieve penetrative orgasms, or the stereotype that a woman’s libido is somehow less than a man’s. When a woman is unable to climax via penetration alone, “men just don’t get it and women often feel like there’s something wrong with them,” McGough said. “According to The Hite Report and other studies, fewer than 30 percent of women can achieve climax through intercourse. My observations in talking with thousands of women over the years, though, is [that] this percentage is much smaller.”
Another misconception about s*x is the belief that simultaneous orgasms are the “holy grail” of s*xual activity. While many people desire to have them, doing so is “not usually easy,” McGough said. “I can say from extensive discussions [with clients] that most people enjoy climax more if they can just experience the stimulation and not worry about the details for their other partner. So if one partner has a strong climax and then, after enjoying the moment, takes care of the other, it’s often more fulfilling.”