Arousal has an objective and a subjective component:
- The subjective component refers to feeling involved, connected and turned on.
- The Objective component refers to the biological response which includes vaginal lubrication in women and erection of the penis in men. Increased blood flow to the genital area, increased muscle tension and nipple erection are common to men and women.
Each sexual act involves an Arousal Threshold, and an Orgasmic Threshold. These are the levels of stimulation that is required for a person to feel aroused (Arousal Threshold) or to climax (Orgasmic Threshold). Both the subjective and objective component contribute to a person reaching each of these thresholds, and thus also becoming aroused or orgasmic.
These thresholds are not constant. The natural fluctuation of hormones and effects of ageing that lead to the lowering of libido also can raise both the Arousal and the Orgasmic Threshold, making arousal and climax more difficult. Also, the relative contribution of each component can change; for example, an adolescent may reach the arousal and orgasmic threshold with very little subjective contribution – his biological response is so rapid and strong, that he doesn’t need to feel emotionally connected or involved with his partner. An older person, typically has a slower biological response, so the contribution of the subjective component will be relatively higher.
Most men and women have different arousal patterns. For many men, arousal is easy, predictable and automatic. Female arousal is typically slower, variable, complex and easily lost if distracted. For a woman, arousal difficulties may be resolved by a more flexible pattern of stimulation. Sex therapists recommend that couples let the woman’s arousal response direct the rhythm and direction of stimulation and touching. Many women prefer multiple sites of stimulation, and some require different types of stimulation during various stages of arousal. For example, direct clitoral stimulation is often uncomfortable or irritating if the woman is not already aroused.
Saliva, or water-based lubricants purchased over the counter can assist some couples, especially in cases when lubrication is inadequate due to lower oestrogen levels as occurs during pregnancy and menopause. However, it is a mistake to assume that the use of a lubricant displaces the need for foreplay. Penetration is best delayed until both the husband and wife are adequately aroused. As a guide, a minimum of 15 minutes of foreplay, sometimes more, is recommended before penetration is attempted.
Some men have difficulty becoming aroused; a problem which is often reinforced by Anticipatory Anxiety; his memory of previous sexual difficulties causes anxiety which causes him to become stressed and distracted. This exacerbates the problem and makes it harder for him to become aroused. One way to overcome this, is to decide not to have sex or aim for orgasm. Rather, plan to just be close, to enjoy kissing and caressing each other.