You lean in for a kiss and brush the back of her head with your hand. You pull her close and kiss her neck. She moans. You whisper in her ear, telling her you’re “so hard right now.” She whispers back — two short words — but you don’t quite catch it.
You know what she was saying, though … right?
Most straight guys have at least some understanding of how female arousal works — that is, what’s going on in their bodies when they’re feeling the same feelings you are — but sex education generally can still be spotty even in the 21st century. And even when you are taught about it, there’s a decent chance that the physiological mechanics of female arousal weren’t given too much attention.
So if you’re not clear on the finer points of what’s going on when she’s into it, well, keep reading.
How Women Get Turned On
For something as complex and mysterious as arousal, it can be difficult to know where and when it begins and ends — and that goes double for women.
“Throughout history, women were hugely misunderstood,” says Lina Velikova MD, Ph.D., who writes for the sleep and wellness website Disturb Me Not. “Either they were labelled as nymphomaniacs or as frigid. The fact is: We don’t know a lot about female arousal. In some cases, it’s because women were less comfortable discussing it, or the methods scientists used to test stages of woman arousal weren’t convenient and comfortable for the woman.”
Things have progressed greatly in the past 100 years or so, but unfortunately, there still remains much ground to cover.
“There is no current metric to accurately measure psychological arousal,” says Caleb Backe, a certified health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “In fact, it would be nearly impossible to scientifically calculate the countless intricacies involved in the arousal process. Every person has their own individual set of experiences, subconscious desires and external influences which shape their sexual appetite that it would be almost impossible to replicate results and data.”
However, that doesn’t mean we’re working 100 percent in the dark. For the time being, it’s believed that women are less aroused than men by what they see.
What Happens in a Woman’s Brain When She’s Aroused
The saying that “the brain is the largest sex organ” may be true, but the brain is also incredibly complex and not fully understood by researchers and scientists. Meaning, what we do know about human sexuality may be subject to change as new studies are conducted and new technologies are developed.
“Typically, sexual arousal requires a complex interplay between stimulation of the periphery (e.g., a hand slowly stroking a cheek) and central stimulation (i.e,. the brain has to recognize stimulation as being sexual in nature),” says Dr. Nicole Prause, Ph.D., founder of Liberos, a sexual biotechnology company. “Studies have applied a vibrator to the penis, for example, with little effect until the study participants also were viewing pornography. The brain is a crucial mediator that translates stimulation to generate a sexual response.”
However, she notes that doesn’t make it the ‘sex zone’ by any means. “There is no area of the brain that is specific to ‘sex,’ as this network is also strongly engaged in processing emotions,” says Prause.
Another impact that sex has on a woman psychologically is at the hormonal level.
“Sex can reduce a woman’s stress level,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a leading Beverly Hills-based couples, relationship and family psychologist. “This is especially so if the woman is relaxed and not constricted during the sex.”
However, the flip side is that existing stress can massively cut down on a woman’s ability to become aroused.
“Women experiencing chronic stress produce higher than normal levels of stress-related hormones that may affect the production of female sex hormones,” says Walfish. “Pregnenolone, an essential building block for the production of both sex hormones and stress-related hormones, is diverted from its normal sex-hormone pathway when you are stressed.”