The Ins and Outs of Sexual Arousal

How Men Experience Arousal... and How It Might Be Hampered

A couple in bed together.
A couple in bed together.. fotostorm/Getty Images

When we talk about sex, we often conflate arousal with desire when, in actuality, arousal is the physical response to desire. In men, this generally refers to an erection. So what is the real truth about how you experience desire, and what might happen in order to inhibit arousal?

The Physicality of Sexual Arousal

Men and women generally experience arousal in very different ways. While with women, desire often comes as a response to sexual arousal, men are more often capable of experiencing desire first, even if they are not at first aroused.

Cause and effect aside, however, what is actually happening in your body when you become sexually aroused?

First thing's first. In the first stage of sexual response, you will experience excitement. That physical sign of arousal—your erection—will appear, thanks to an increase in blood flow along the length of the penis. Your scrotum will grow tighter, drawing your testicles closer to your body.

During the plateau stage, the glans (head) of your penis will get wider, the blood vessels in your penis will fill, your penis will appear deeper in color, and your testicles will increase in size. You will begin to experience a warm feeling around your perineum and, as both your blood pressure and your heart rate rise, you will rapidly approach the point of no return (orgasm). Your breathing will quicken and your thighs and buttocks will tighten.

During your orgasm, you will experience muscular spasms, which will affect all of the various groups of muscles in your body, starting at your face and moving downward from there.

Contraction of the rectum will also occur. And in the case of some men (though not all men), arousal and orgasm will lead to sweating, and to flushing and erection of the nipples.

After ejaculation, the flush red color of your penis will disappear. There will be a loss of erection, and the penis will return to its previously flaccid state.

What Are Some of the Things That Might Inhibit Sexual Arousal?

In order for sexual arousal and orgasm to occur, conditions need to be just right. The process of arousal can be inhibited or quashed entirely if you are feeling anxious or distracted, or if you have other things on your mind. You may also have trouble experiencing arousal is you are feeling fatigued. In fact, the most common causes of struggles with sexual arousal are psychological in nature. Performance anxiety, stress, and mental disorders are all commonly to blame.

But there can also be other culprits, such as antidepressants, smoking, and even just aging.

There are many forms of intimacy you can still enjoy if you're having trouble with physical arousal but, if this lack is causing distress in your life or in your relationship, it can worth talking to your general practitioner or to a sexual health professional.

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