So, this blog post is on arousal.

You might know by now that desire for sex may come *after* arousal for some women (if you didn’t know this, read here).

Therefore, knowing what arousal is, and the physical sensations and changes that happen to our bodies, is crucial for understanding more about our sex drives.

So, what is “arousal”?

 a·rouse  (ə-rouz′)

1. a. To cause (someone) to be active, attentive, or excited: The report aroused them to take action. The insult aroused him to anger.

b. To stimulate sexual desire in.

The idea of being aroused means “to be turned on”, “horny”, “steamy”, “randy”- aka the physical signs that you have got the fanny gallops.


What causes arousal?

Whey-hey! Here’s where things get interesting.

Our minds, on a completely unconscious level, are always scanning for things that we might find sexual. Looking from the postman to adverts on TV to table legs to our bosses, for all of us to get aroused there is normally some kind of “erotic stimuli” or trigger,….. or in laymans terms, something that gets our juices flowing.

Different things that could stimulate us are:

  • Fantasy/thought/memory (of someone attractive, a steamy sex session, a specific body part that you like, an object that you like the thought of)
  • Pictures/image/video (this could be pornography, or maybe a sext from the boyf, or maybe an erotic novel!)
  • Smell (maybe aftershave, suntan lotion, the smell of your BO- yes, my boyfriend is completely animalistic in the way he loves my sweaty pits!)
  • Taste (chocolate, cum, strawberries, lube, strawberry lube- take your pic!)
  • Music (I quite like a bit of Ella Fitzgerald, but each to her own)
  • Physical stimulation/touch (the hand on the lower back, it’s a winner every time!)
  • A flurry of hormones

A lot of the things that we find arousing are innate. But other things we “learn” to find sexy. That’s why, over time, different things have been found sexy- from shoulder pads to curves, heroin chic to ankle-flashing! Whether you attach a sexual meaning to a trigger is often based on past experiences and our biology.

The process of arousal

Being turned on kicks off in the brain, when our head thinks: “helloooooo!” to whatever it is that we like the look of which sets into motion our motivation for sex. This sexual response is elicited by one of the triggers above, and occurs in response to cues in our environment that we have registered as being sexual.

Our brain then sends signals to the rest of our body (including our lady gardens) to let us know the stimulus has arrived- a sort of sexual red alert system.

This is what the Kinsey Institute and Emily Nagoski call the accelerator (or our Sexual Excitation System– SES- posh) which is basically our drive to be turned on!

Our bodies then start experiencing “arousal”, which are the  physical responses (see below) that we feel after our brain has converted the image/taste/smell/touch into a sexual signal.

Arousal is our body’s way of shining a green light for us to put our foot on the gas and go!

What happens when you are aroused?

For men, they can have a raging boner that might be difficult to hide.

But us women can be a bit more sly about it because often the physical signs that we are aroused don’t tend to be so obvious.

Firstly, arousal in both sexes is about the blood flow increasing to our netherregions (I always get a bit confused why that reminds me so much of Amsterdam! Anyone else?).

This increased blood flow to our fannies results in us getting “wet”, or our natural lubricant.

Our vaginas also expand a bit. All of the outer genitalia (note: not called a vagina, called the vulva- that’s all of the bit you can see, the lips and clit part!) become slightly engorged (love that word, means swollen).

Inside, we also get “tenting”.

I’m pretty sure a woman didn’t come up with that word, because who wants their vag associated with a big floppy airy room that sleeps four?


Sorry! Couldn’t resist a visual……

Anyhow, tenting means that our vagina just expands.

We also get:

  • Warm and tingly fannies (haha- see here for more info)
  • Erect nips
  • Dilated pupils
  • Quicker pulse
  • Quicker breathing
  • Raised blood pressure
  • “flushed”- ooh err!

Interestingly, sexual desire normally happens with some degree of physiological/bodily arousal, but you can be aroused without actually experiencing sexual desire!

For example, watching pornography might cause you to get a bad case of the fanny wobbles, but you might not desire any object or person, and just want the end result of the orgasm.

Arousal can be totally different for everyone.

What turns us on can vary from one person to the next, and especially how long it takes for us to get turned on can be influenced by lots of things (tiredness levels, how relaxed we are, if we are drunk or on drugs, and how we feel towards the person we are having sex with at that point in time).

But what do hormones do?

The role that hormones play in arousal is a bit complicated and despite years of research, no one EXACTLY knows what they do when it comes to sex. We just know they are important.

Lots of hormones are involved in sex, but the main characters are Estrogen and  Testosterone. As I couldn’t say it better myself, this author declares that:

“estrogen is to your vulva and vagina what moisturizer is to your face—critical for keeping things moist, flexible and healthy down there”

So, we need estrogen to keep us wet wet wet and make sex easier and more enjoyable.

But, what role does testosterone have?

We often hear that for men, a lack of testosterone means a low sex drive because the male hormone “drives” their penis, but what role does it play for women?

Researchers still haven’t pinned down the exact role testosterone plays.

They know it is highest in women at 20 years and declines after this time, and testosterone appears to have links to a woman’s desire for sex and sexual fantasies.

But, the links aren’t made clear enough because simply increasing a woman’s supply of testosterone doesn’t link to her libido rising, and also has loads of side effects (like extra hair and breast cancer- eek!).

So far, scientists also *think* that testosterone contributes to the “tenting” (jeez, that word!) of the vagina, so it increases blood flow to the clitoris and lips.

Hormones then are pretty important to us actually getting in the mood, and to our sexual pleasure. But, their link isn’t necessarily clear or consistent and much more research is needed.

What *is* clear is that our sex drives are influenced not only by hormones and our bodies but also by other factors like stress and other day to day pressures.

For many women, the issues surrounding arousal come from not registering or paying attention to these triggers. This could be due to distraction, from internal thoughts or worries. Without attention to our sexual response, we often miss these cues (or our awareness of them is dulled), leading to difficulties becoming or staying aroused.