The Four-Phase Model of Female Sexual Response by Masters and Johnson

Masters and Johnson were pioneers in proposing a “four-phase” model of sexual response. Their research involved measuring physiological changes during sexual behavior and observing adult actions during intimate moments.

While this framework for female sexual response can serve as a starting point for understanding your own experiences, it’s essential not to rigidly measure yourself against it. The description primarily focuses on physical changes in the body, but sexual response encompasses more than just aspects like blood flow and lubrication.

If your personal experience differs, it doesn’t indicate any issues. Sexual response is highly subjective, and individuals may react differently to various stimuli.

Masters and Johnson’s research has its limitations, with some scholars arguing that dividing sexual response into distinct stages lacks coherence. Nevertheless, the following outlines what Masters and Johnson identified during the four phases of the sexual response cycle for women.

Phase 1: Excitement in the Female Sexual Response

When exposed to sexual stimuli, whether through psychological factors like sexual thoughts or fantasies, or physical stimulation, vaginal lubrication typically initiates. It’s important to note that various factors can influence the amount of vaginal lubrication, even in the presence of excitement and arousal. Additional physical changes during this phase include:

  • The clitoris undergoing engorgement due to vasocongestion.
  • Alterations in the size and shape of the labia.
  • Expansion of the inner two-thirds of the vagina.
  • Possible enlargement of the breasts.
  • Flushed skin and heightened sensitivity in body parts, such as the nipples.
  • Some increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.

Phase 2: Plateau in the Female Sexual Response

During this phase, which occurs with sustained sexual stimulation, it spans the time from initial arousal and excitement up until orgasm. Physical changes in this phase may involve:

  • Continued swelling of the vaginal tissues, potentially accompanied by contractions of the vaginal opening.
  • The clitoris may retract into the clitoral hood, and the external clitoris may shorten in size.
  • Enlargement of the labia minora, turning a reddish-purple hue.
  • Possible manifestation of a sex flush, muscle tension, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.

Phase 3: Orgasm in the Female Sexual Response

In their description of the female orgasm, Masters and Johnson do not address female ejaculation. Physical changes associated with the female orgasm may involve:

  • Contraction of the pelvic muscles around the vagina.
  • Contraction of the uterus and anal sphincter in a throbbing or rhythmic manner.
  • Spasms in muscles, along with a peak in blood pressure and heart rate.
  • The contractions, occurring at varying speeds and intensities, typically lead to highly pleasurable sensations of release.

Phase 4: Resolution in the Female Sexual Response

The resolution phase refers to the immediate period following an orgasm, during which the body starts returning to its “normal” state. This phase encompasses:

  • Flow of blood that had engorged various areas of the body, resulting in reduced swelling, and eventual relief of muscle tension and skin flush.
  • A prevailing sense of relaxation.

Source: Human Sexual Response, W.H. Masters & V.E. Johnson, 1966.