Before you get down and dirty with your partner, (hopefully) you engage in foreplay. During foreplay, you’re revving your engines up for the big race that is sexual intercourse by producing, uh, some (just stay with us here, please) to help get your cars working. But, what’s really happening inside our bodies flesh vehicles (that’s a bit of a disgusting metaphor and we’re sorry) when we’re aroused? While there are a variety of things that go from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, foreplay should definitely not be one of them—and here’s why!
What side effect of arousal surprised you most on our list? Share your thoughts below!
There’s a lot happening to your body simultaneously when you’re all horned up! Take your time! During arousal, your heart speeds up, your breath quickens, muscles begin to tense up, your pupils dilate, your pain threshold increases and your blood pressure spikes.
Your body experiences an increase in vasocongestion—aka swelling of tissue—due to the extra blood flow (this causes your nipples to get hard, your skin to flush and, the obvious, erections.) The clitoris also becomes erect and a woman’s vaginal walls begin to “sweat” and produce moisture, making some natural lubrication.
But that’s not all! During arousal, a woman’s uterus will literally LIFT UP, lengthening the vaginal canal. So if you launch into sex before this happens (i.e. skip foreplay), sex can be uncomfortable and the increase in friction can cause micro-tears in the vagina. YIKES.
Meanwhile, in your head, there are a variety of other things occurring when you’re turned on.
Dopamine and oxytocin are being pumped out. The former hormone triggers the feeling of motivation (“I gotta get this lady naked!”) while the latter makes you feel bonded (“Can you just hold me for a minute?”) to your partner.
Barry Komisaruk, PhD, has studied orgasms in a neurology lab at Rutgers University and claims that the brain lights up like “fireworks” during arousal, with half a dozen parts of the brain triggered.
These parts include the amygdala (associated with all those mushy feelings you get mid-and-post-coitus), the hippocampus (associated with memory) and the anterior insula (which helps process your physical feelings).
According to researchers, men and women’s brains don’t respond the same way when they’re aroused (wow, what a goddamn shocker), but here’s the kicker: men showed more brain activity in the amygdala (remember how we said the amygdala is associated with your EMOTIONS) than women—who showed hardly any.
Research has also noted that the vagina, clitoris and nipples all correspond to the same area of the sensory cortex, which means that all of those areas are considered erogenous. (We know what you’re thinking: duh. We’re thinking it, too.)
Arousal has been so hard to measure in the past (and, frankly, it still is, even with all this research being conducted) because there’s usually a disconnect between what’s going on in your genitals, your head and your consciousness.
John Bancroft, PhD, has studied how arousal develops, and his research shows us something vastly important; we need to be AWARE of our own arousal before we can actually FEEL aroused. Bancroft says, “In the male, sexual arousal is typically associated with some degree of penile erection. The man will become aware of this, and focus his attention on the idea of his penis being stimulated.”
In women, however, the stiffening of the clitoris isn’t as noticeable (notice how we said the clitoris became erect earlier—did you breeze past that?). Bancroft says, “typically the woman is less aware of her genital response unless her genitals are touched.” In short, it takes more for women to even realize that they’re becoming aroused than it takes men.
Considering this reason alone, the cognitive components of arousal become just that much more important for women. The biggest sex organ in the body is the brain! Sensual thought can jumpstart arousal almost easier than sensual thought can.
Think of all those sexts you’ve ever sent/received. The thought of sex alone got you all hot and heavy, even without engaging in physical contact with the sextee.
So, are there any arousal-enhancing tricks of the trade? Well, doctors say that herbs, supplements, etc. that claim to improve libido have no conclusive evidence of actually working. What does work? According to doctors, good ole’ communication works wonders! A deep connection with your partner, some intimate eye-contact and the open communication of your desires are fantastic arousal jump-starters!