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During love making the body goes through four different phases. These are the excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution phases. Each stage is characterised by certain physical responses and changes.
Making love however is not just about the physical body. In order for a person to feel relaxed during sexual intercourse, there are some important psychological factors.
If a person is tense or worried, their body can often not perform sex. In a man, this is usually demonstrated in his inability to achieve an erection. In a woman, she may have difficulty in secreting vaginal lubrication or simply not reach orgasm.
Toni Belfield, director of information of the Family Planning Association, agrees that a healthy sexual relationship is both emotional and physical.
She says: 'Healthy sex is holistic - involving the mind and body. It is about permission, strong communication and nurturing.'
Here we look at what happens to you and your partner's body when you make love.
The four phases of sexual intercourse
The excitement phase: This is the first stage of sex, when mutual stimulation prepares the vagina (and penis) for sexual intercourse.
The first sign of sexual arousal in the female is the appearance of vaginal lubrication or fluid - which starts to be secreted around 10 to 30 seconds after stimulation. The amount of fluid increases as excitement builds up.
Also during this stage, the woman's nipples become erect. This is due to contractions of small muscle fibres in response to sexual arousal. Also the small veins in the breasts become more visible and there is often a slight increase in breast size.
The plateau phase: This is the stage when sexual stimulation is more intense and orgasm is imminent. At this stage, the opening of the vagina narrows by around 30 per cent in order to grip the penis.
As orgasm approaches, around two-thirds of the vagina expands - the inner lips of the vagina can double or triple in thickness, the clitoris swells and the outer lips of the vagina flattens and parts in order to receive the penis. This reaction is due to an increased amount of blood flow which causes the widening of blood vessels, rather like an erection.
Colour changes to the inner lips of the vagina can also occur. The lips of women who have never been pregnant range from pink to bright red. While the vaginal lips of women who have been pregnant range from bright red to deep wine colour - the result of more blood flow to this area.
Contrary to popular belief, the penis is not a bone. An erection happens when the spongy tissue of the penis is filled with blood. Also, the testes are slightly pulled towards the body, and increase in size.
At this stage a woman's breast size can increase by 20 to 25 per cent. The plateau phase is also often identified by sex flush.
Around 50 to 75 per cent women and a quarter of men experience red spots forming on the skin known as sex flush. These spots resemble measles and appear on the front of the chest, spreading to the neck, buttocks, back and face. This is the result of an increase in blood flow just below the surface of the skin.
Typically at this stage, breathing and heart rates speed up, not because of physical activity, but because of stimulation of the autonomic nervous system - the part of nervous system that is active during stress or danger - and is involved in regulating the pulse and blood pressure.
Orgasm: This is the point where the body explodes into intense physical contractions followed immediately by relaxation.
Orgasm in the female is characterised by rhythmic muscular contractions in the uterus - a hollow muscular organ where an embryo is nourished and develops before birth - the outer vagina and anal sphincter (the muscular ring that surrounds the anus). The muscles throughout the body also contract in response to orgasm.
The initial contractions can arrive at less than one second intervals, and become further apart as the orgasm continues. A mild orgasm can contain three to five contractions, while an intense orgasm could have ten to fifteen.
Most women do not ejaculate during orgasm, although some scientists claim that women expel semen-like fluid from the urethra - the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.
Orgasms in men - unlike those in women - occur in two stages. During the first stage of male orgasm, contractions force semen into the urethra - the tube that carries urine and - during orgasm - semen from the bladder during ejaculation.
In the second stage of male orgasm when orgasm is inevitable, contractions of the urethra and penis merge with contractions in the prostate gland - the gland in men that secretes a fluid into the semen that acts to improve the movement of sperm. When orgasm is reached this results in the spurting of semen out of the body through the tip of the penis.
As orgasm climaxes in both sexes, high levels of muscles contractions that last longer than normal occur in the buttocks, feet and pelvis. The face is often characterised by facial contortions and deep frowns.
Resolution phase: This is when the body returns to its unaroused state. Some women may become multiorgasmic - or experience several orgasms - before the body normalises during the resolution phase.
Men, however, cannot experience multiple orgasms because it is biologically impossible. Immediately after ejaculation, the man enters a recovery period where the penis becomes semi erect and then flaccid.
During the resolution phase, the vagina returns to normality as blood is pumped away from the vaginal tissues. The uterus moves back into its normal position and the colour of the vaginal lips subsides. Also during this stage the vagina shortens in length and the clitoris and breasts return to their usual size.
For men, an erection disappears in two stages. At first, as orgasmic contractions pump blood out of the penis, there is partial loss of stiffness. In the second stage, blood flow returns to normal levels, the testes decrease in size and drop away from the body.
Shortly after orgasm, fast or heavy breathing is noticeable in both sexes. As the body returns to its normal state, the sex flush diasppears and excessive sweating is noticeable.
Contacts: If you want to talk about family planning, contact the Family Planning Association, helpline 020 7837 4044. For further reading, Sex and Human Loving by Masters & Johnson is published by Addison-Wesley.
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