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What is sexual arousal?

Arousal is the feeling of being turned on sexually. When you’re turned on, your body experiences physical and emotional changes. Your penis or clitoris may get erect (hard), engorged, and sensitive, and you may feel wetness on your vulva or vagina, or on the tip of your penis.

You can become aroused from sexual stimulation alone or with a partner, fantasizing or having sexual thoughts, or reading, watching, or listening to erotic materials (like porn). Arousal can also happen when certain parts of your body are touched that are very sensitive (also called "erogenous zones"). But not everyone feels sexually aroused from touch. 

Feeling aroused can lead to many physical reactions or none at all. Some of the changes that can happen to your body when you’re aroused include:

  • Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature goes up

  • Your nipples, labia, and clitoris fill with blood and become more sensitive

  • Your penis gets harder and stands up (this is also called getting an erection

  • Your vagina lubricates (gets wet) and expands

What’s a sex drive? 

Your sex drive (sometimes called your “libido”) is when you feel desire to be sexual, or are mentally or physically excited about engaging in sexual activities — like masturbation, sexual thoughts, fantasies, or sexual contact with a partner

How do I know if my sex drive is normal?

Everyone’s sex drive is different. There’s no “normal” amount you should want to have sex — everyone’s sexual desire and interest in sex is different, and it can change over time. 

Your sex drive can change based on things like stress, medicines you take, and other physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors. Some people want to have sex every day or more than once a day, while some people rarely or never want to have sex. Some people need to have a strong emotional connection with someone in order to be interested in sex (sometimes called demisexual). Other people may not need or even want to have an emotional connection with the people they have sex with. People who don't feel sexual attraction towards anyone may identify as asexual.

If you have a low sex drive and it bothers or upsets you, you may have something called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. There are lots of things you can do to help increase your sex drive if you want to.

What are erogenous zones?

Some body parts have lots of nerve endings and make you feel excited or aroused when they’re touched — those are your erogenous zones. The biggest erogenous zone for most people is their genital area: the vulva, clitoris, labia, vagina, anus, perineumpenis, scrotum, and prostate. Other common erogenous zones include your breasts and nipples, neck, lips, mouth, tongue, back, fingers, toes, hands, feet, earlobes, buttocks, and thighs. But usually the penis and clitoris are the most sensitive.

Any part of your body can be considered sexual — everyone’s different, and so are their erogenous zones. What feels good to you might not feel good to your partners, so you have to ask them to find out!

What’s the sexual response cycle?

The sexual response cycle is how your body reacts to sexual stimulation. It can happen with a partner, by yourself…and even in your sleep! You don’t always go through all stages of the cycle — you can stop at any time.

The first step is desire, or having sexually arousing thoughts. That can lead to excitement, when your body gets ready for sex. Your heart rate goes up, your muscles tense, and blood flows to your genitals.

The next step is the plateau phase, when you’re really aroused and keep that feeling going by masturbating or having sex.

At the end of the plateau phase is orgasm, when the tension you built up is released in a series of muscle spasms that feel really good. Your body releases endorphins — hormones that make you feel happy and relaxed.

The resolution phase happens at the end of the sexual response cycle, whether you have an orgasm or not. Resolution means your body goes back to how it was before you got aroused.

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