Decoding the Male Orgasm

Lesson 2

​The progress of a man’s orgasm-from arousal to the come-down after release-is commonly (as well as medically) referred to as the “sexual response cycle.” By breaking down this cycle into four phases, we obtain a greater understanding of male sexuality through concise terms as they are applied to the different sensations that one experiences before, during and after a sexual experience. The four phases that make up this cycle are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Plateau
  3. Orgasm
  4. Resolution

You can probably gather the basics of what at least some of these might detail. But what are the goings-on of the male body during these four separate phases?

male Sexual response cycle


This is where the fun begins! Also known as the “sexual arousal stage,” this is when the penis starts to become erect. A noticeable increase in size and angle will be the telltale signs of excitement, but there can be other things going on too: flushed skin, hardened nipples and heavier breathing are some signs that you could probably identify pretty quickly when in the throes of the excitement phase.

Arousal can occur as a result of enticing stimuli, or simply the penis doing its own thing. A host of factors contribute to how long one’s erection will last, including stress, depression and other distractions that negatively impact arousal.


This is the part where things start to get hot and heavy. The penis and testes will continue to get larger in size, and many men will experience involuntary contractions in other parts of their body as their arousal builds. It is during the plateau phase that pre-ejaculate can be seen at the head of the penis. Many men also experience an elevated heart rate during this phase.

It is worth noting that pre-ejaculate, the clear seminal fluid that comes out of the urethra prior to orgasm, can contain semen from previous sexual experiences. Don’t assume that it cannot cause pregnancy or carry sexually transmitted infections. It is always advisable to use protection, even when it’s “just” pre-ejaculate.

Orgasm and Ejaculation

The male orgasm hits its peak when semen leaves the body through the penis via the urethra. The processes of orgasm and ejaculation are two different functions within the male body, but for the sake of simplicity they are most often lumped together into a singular phase of the sexual response cycle.

What orgasm may feel like differs from person to person, and even from experience to experience. Some orgasms endure for up to a minute, while others can last for much longer periods of time. Many people use “orgasm” and “ejaculation” interchangeably when it comes to men, but that isn’t entirely accurate. You can have an orgasm without ejaculating. Neat, huh?

During the act of ejaculation, semen leaves the body via the urethra and is typically accompanied by the sensations of orgasm in addition to pelvic contractions and involuntary pelvic movements (like thrusting). Rhythmic convulsions can also be felt at the anus and at the head of the penis. These contractions serve the purpose of getting the sperm outside of the body.


After orgasm, your body will gradually return to an unexcited state. This is called the resolution phase and is marked by the subsiding of an erection, muscle relaxation and color returning to the skin after it became flushed in the plateau phase.

Many men also experience something that is called “refraction,” where the body is not willing to go again for some time. Heightened sensitivity after orgasm can be uncomfortable or even painful for those who try to keep the fun going after the body’s called in the towel for now. And under most circumstances, the penis can’t get to that same level of erectness until a bit of time has passed. How much time this is depends on the person and their circumstances.

During this time a man can feel greater intimacy with his partner, as well as heightened senses of contentment and relaxation. Now, this four-stage model of the male orgasm really simplifies things, doesn’t it? But it has been criticized by many since its publication in 1966 because the experience of human sexuality can’t be broken down into 4 simple stages with 100% accuracy.

Sex and orgasm vary wildly in both mental and physical experiences, both of which depend upon a wide variety of factors. A person might not experience these phases in 1-2-3-4 order. They might not experience one or more of them. There are also times where phases can be experienced simultaneously. Sex isn’t linear, and having a sexual response cycle that differs from the one outlined above does not make you “less than normal” in any way.

Sexual dysfunction can cause some of these occurrences, but many times it’s just the body and the mind simply doing its own thing. As long as you enjoy it and are healthy enough to engage in sex and masturbation, don’t worry about it!

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