Sexual function

Whatever your sexual orientation and choice of sexual activity, sexual arousal will lead to similar physical changes in your body.

Your brain is your most important sexual organ. It is followed closely by your skin. Both play an important part in sexual function. When you experience sexual arousal:

  • your skin becomes flushed
  • your nipples become more erect
  • there is increased heat around your body’s sexual parts
  • both your breathing and heartbeat speed up

It is a whole-body experience.

As your sexual interest and excitement increases, so too does the blood supply to your genitals.

If you are a man, then your penis will become erect and the colour of your scrotum (the skin pouch holding your testicles) will go darker as the blood supply to them increases. Also, your testicles will be pulled upwards and closer to your body.

If you are a woman, your clitoral tissue will swell and become more erect. Your vulva and vagina will become warmer and become moist as your body produces vaginal lubricant.

This stage of heightened sexual excitement is called the ‘plateau phase’ and it is usually followed by orgasm and ejaculation in men and, often, orgasm in women.

Not every woman experiences orgasm, and of those who do, research says that only one in four women have their orgasm during vaginal intercourse. Most women need additional stimulation.

Sexuality is part of who we are - we are all sexual beings

One way in which most of us express our sexuality is through sexual activity. Most people are sexually active in adulthood and this can be a source of great pleasure.

Many of us suffer from some sort of sexual dysfunction during our life. This is when our physical response to a sexual stimulus is not what we would like it to be. This can be because of an underlying illness which needs medical attention. But even if that is not the case, then a lack of interest in sexual activity is not necessarily a dysfunction.

For example, not responding sexually might simply be because of your preference. There are a growing number of people who would happily describe themselves as ‘asexual’, which means they do not feel the urge to have sex.

However, if you find that your lack of interest in sexual activity, or your physical response to sexual stimulation, causes you distress, you may be experiencing sexual dysfunction. This could be a short-term problem that you can manage and solve within a relationship, or you might need professional help to find a solution.