Having a basic understanding of your own body’s sexual response and your partner’s sexual response is an important building block for building a satisfying sexual relationship together. Sexual desire happens during or in anticipation of sexual activity. Sexual arousal can be influenced by the brain, by touching, or by the body’s hormones.
Sexual arousal usually begins in the brain (sometimes called the body’s largest sexual organ). That is, your brain responds to a thought or image, or having a feeling of closeness or affection toward a partner, or the touch of a partner, by sending signals to the rest of your body, especially the genital area.
The sources of sexual arousal are different for everyone; seeing someone they find attractive, like a partner or someone they find appealing, specific body parts, activities, or objects they find appealing, fantasizing about people or activities – the list goes on.
Physiological responses to sexual arousal include – most obviously – an erection for males and swelling of the nipples, vulva and clitoris, and vaginal lubrication for females. For both males and females, the heartbeat quickens, blood pressure increases, and breathing becomes more rapid. Sexual arousal reaches its climax during an orgasm.
How quickly we become aroused and have an orgasm can also change depending on a wide range of factors, including how relaxed or stressed-out we are, whether we are tired or feeling well-rested, whether we have drunk a lot of alcohol or smoked cigarettes, and, probably most importantly, whether we are feeling positively or negatively towards our partner and whether we feel trust.
On average, the time it takes to become aroused and have an orgasm is shorter for males than it is for females. This is important to know because it means that in a relationship between a male and a female, the male may need to slow himself down and not expect that his female partner will become sexually aroused as quickly as he does.
Sexual arousal can also happen without knowing it. It is common to have dreams with sexually arousing images or scenarios, which can cause the same physiological responses of sexual arousal, and ejaculation (called a wet dream).
Some people can be aroused by the idea of holding more power over the other person (domination) or by allowing another person to hold more power over them (submission). Allowing submission during sex can put a person in a vulnerable situation, potentially putting their safety at risk (Consent). This type of arousal needs to be done with mutual consent – where both people feel safe and comfortable. Be very sure it is your choice.