When do men get an erection?

Sexual arousal in men

Sexual arousal is a very complex and highly individual process. Despite all the differences that can be identified in this area, commonalities between different people can still be made out.

On the basis of such observations, the sexologist William Masters and the psychologist Virginia Johnson made a classification of the sexual reaction cycle in men and women in the 1960s, which is essentially still valid today.

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Four phases of arousal in men

According to William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the sexual response cycle comprises four phases:

  • the arousal phase
  • the plateau phase
  • the orgasm phase
  • the regression phase

The following illustration provides an overview of the procedures and processes in these four phases of the sexual response cycle.

Arousal phase

Sexual arousal can occur very quickly in boys and men, but it can also develop slowly. The most noticeable physical sign is the erection of the male member: the erectile tissue of the penis fill with blood, causing the member to straighten up, become harder and larger. At the same time, the testicles move towards the abdomen. With increasing excitement, general muscle tension sets in, pulse and respiratory rate increase.

However: Even with great excitement, it can happen that the erection does not occur sufficiently or not at all. This happens to almost every man once and - unless the problem occurs more frequently - shouldn't be a cause for concern. For example, fears can work in the background against sexual activity, even when arousal and pleasure are superficially present. If, on the other hand, the erection does not occur regularly, it should be absolutely excluded that a pathological change is behind such an erectile dysfunction.

Plateau phase

During the plateau phase, the pulse and blood pressure rise and breathing becomes faster. The penis or the extent of its erection no longer experience any significant change in this phase. However, the testicles swell and are pulled even closer to the abdomen. In the Cowper's glands, which are located in the prostate area, a clear secretion is formed in this phase: This so-called pleasure drop can already contain one or the other sperm, which is why contact with the pleasure drop also results in pregnancy can pull itself. Caution is therefore advised in connection with the pleasure drops. In the case of premature ejaculation, this plateau phase is often only very brief - the point at which an orgasm inevitably occurs is reached quickly.

Orgasm phase

The orgasm - when the man comes - only lasts a few moments and manifests itself in convulsive jerks at the height of the excitement. Involuntary muscle contractions occur in the genital organs, causing the semen to be thrown out. The strength of the semen discharge and the amount of fluid released vary from ejaculation to ejaculation. Until this happens, the sphincter muscles of the anus and urethra contract. All muscles in the body and face are tense, breathing and pulse rates rise, blood pressure rises even further. The orgasm corresponds to a "spasmodic release" of this tension. The strength of the ejaculation has nothing to do with the sensation of orgasm.

Regression phase

In this phase, the changes caused by arousal recede: pulse, blood pressure and breathing normalize, the penis initially remains erect. The erection depends on the duration of the arousal and plateau phase. If there is no renewed sexual stimulation, the penis usually swells quickly. Immediately after orgasm, the man is in the so-called refractory period, part of the regression phase. He is not excitable, sexual stimulation can even be perceived as painful in this phase. The duration of the refractory period tends to increase with age.

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Increase and control of the erection

The entire erection process in men is a very complex interplay of nerves, brain and blood vessels, but hormones and the psyche play a role. The general state of health and diet also have an influence on erectile function. Whether and how the excitation can be increased depends on many factors and should be discussed with the doctor on an individual basis.

In many cultures, different foods are traditionally assigned aphrodisiac (pleasure-increasing) effects, for which there is little or no scientific evidence. Medicines to increase pleasure should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor - and not on your own. The doctor will also pay attention to whether drugs that are taken for other reasons may have negative effects on sexual arousal and / or the duration of the erection.

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Dr. Britta B├╝rger, specialist in gynecology and obstetrics (2009)
Editorial editing:
Claudia Schneider MA (2020)

Updated on:

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