3.1 THE MALE SEXUAL RESPONSE
Every healthy person is able to respond to sexual stimulation. While this response is never exactly the same in any two individuals, its basic physiological pattern is shared by all men and women.
Sexual activity produces many changes in the human body, such as an increase in pulse rate and blood pressure, the swelling of certain organs, muscular contractions, glandular secretions, and many other signs of mounting excitement until, eventually, the tension is released in a pleasurable, seizure-like reaction known as orgasm.
People have, of course, always been aware of these bodily changes. However, until rather recently their true nature and extent remained largely unknown. There simply were no objective scientific studies on the subject. Indeed, the very idea of observing and measuring sexual responses was considered preposterous. In the meantime, the situation has changed drastically. The pioneering work of scientists like Kinsey and Masters and Johnson has provided us with fresh insights and exposed many traditional beliefs and assumptions as false. Today, there are many researchers all over the world who continue to add to our understanding of the human sexual response.
Human beings can be sexually aroused at nearly all times, in many different ways, and by a great variety of objects. For example, a man's excitement may be triggered at any hour of the day or night, by the sight or touch of certain persons or things, by certain smells or sounds, or simply by some thoughts, recollections, or fantasies. Since the possible sources of sexual stimulation are so numerous and varied, they are not easily listed or classified, and no such attempt is made in the present book. Nevertheless, it may be useful to cast at least a cursory glance at some of the more obvious stimuli that can produce sexual responses.
Of all the human senses, the sense of touch seems to be the one most often responsible for erotic arousal. A person becomes aware of being touched through nerve endings in the skin and some deeper tissues. Since some areas of the body surface contain many more of these nerve outings than others, they are also more sensitive to the touch and, as a result, they may be especially receptive to sexual stimulation. These particular regions have, therefore, also often been called erogenous zones (literally, love producing zones, from the Greek eros: love and genesthai: to produce).
The best known erogenous zones are the glans of the penis in men and the clitoris and the minor lips in women, the area between the sex organs and the anus, the anus itself, the buttocks, the inner surfaces of the thighs, the breasts (especially the nipples), the neck, the mouth, and the ears. Touching, stroking, tickling, rubbing, slapping, kissing, or licking these areas can often create or increase sexual excitement. However, this response is by no means automatic. A great deal depends on a person's previous conditioning and on the circumstances under which the stimulation occurs. For instance, when a doctor touches a patient's erogenous zones in the course of a physical examination, there may be no sexual response at all. Neither is such a response likely in cases of rape. In short, psychological factors usually play a decisive role in tactile stimulation. (There are some exceptions to this rule, as in certain cases the body may produce a reflexive reaction to touch. For example, a man who suffers from a certain type of spinal cord injury can have an erection when his penis is fondled, although the stimulation may not register in his brain.)
Because of their different experiences, different individuals are likely lo develop different degrees of sensitivity. Negative mental associations can prevent any sexual response to touch. In fact, there are people who want to be touched as little as possible even during sexual intercourse. On the other hand, pleasurable sexual encounters can develop a welcome sensitivity almost anywhere in the body and thus lead to the discovery of new erogenous zones. In the final analysis, people have to find out for themselves which parts of their own (or their partner's) bodies most readily respond to caresses.
Most people are well aware of the fact that they can become sexually aroused not only by persons or things they touch, but also by what they may see, hear, smell, or taste. The sight of a beautiful body, the sound of a musical voice, the smell of a perfume, the taste of certain foods or of a lover's glandular secretions can be powerful stimulants. However, their effect depends entirely on mental associations. A particular individual becomes excited by a particular sight, sound, smell or taste because he associates it in his mind with a previous pleasant sexual experience. (Unpleasant associations, on the other hand, produce a negative reaction. They can reduce or extinguish sexual excitement.)
It follows from these observations that there are no erotic sights, sounds, or smells as such. They only become so through certain erotic experiences. It is not surprising, therefore, that different times and cultures have felt attracted to very different ideals of beauty, or that a certain piece of music may appear stimulating to some but not to others. (Also see "The Development of Sexual Behavior.")
Human beings in general depend very much on psychological factors in their sexual responses, and many people become aroused by mental images alone. Indeed, there are some individuals who are able to reach orgasm simply by fantasizing about sexual matters. It seems, however, that erotic thoughts, fantasies, and anticipations have a more certain effect on males than on females. During sexual intercourse, most women reach orgasm only as a result of continuing physical stimulation. (See "The Female Sexual Response.")
It should perhaps also be mentioned that certain seemingly sexual responses can occur for entirely nonsexual reasons. For example, many men know that they may have erections when lifting heavy weights or when a full urinary bladder causes some physical irritation. There is also a rare pathological condition called priapism in which a man is unable to lose his erection. This disease can be quite painful and may, eventually, do serious damage to the penis.
Once a man has become fully aroused, he tends to seek release through some kind of sexual activity. The type of activity he chooses depends, of course, on the circumstances. However, no matter what his choice, the reactions of his body always follow the same pattern. In other words, from a physiological point of view it makes no difference whether the sexual response is brought about by solitary masturbation or any conceivable form of sexual intercourse. (See "Types of Sexual Activity.") Psychologically, the experience may very we!l feel quite different, but the basic bodily reactions remain unchanged.
One has to remember, however, that even the physiological reactions are never exactly identical in any two persons or even in the same person on different occasions. People are not machines built on the same assembly line. Any general description of the human sexual response can be only just tható general. The specific responses of a particular individual are bound to show some individual variation. (For example, it is very well possible for some men to experience orgasm and to ejaculate with a limp penis.) The following summary should, therefore, not be considered a norm or an ideal of physical performance toward which everybody must strive. Its only purpose is to shed some light on a previously mysterious subject and to provide men and women with some elementary knowledge of certain bodily functions.