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So, this blog post is on arousal.

You might know by now that for some women desire for sex may come *after* arousal (if you didn’t know this, read this post 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, kissing, sucking, licking etc)
  • A flurry of hormones
  • Or any other cues in our environment that we have registered as being sexual

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

Our sexual response is begun by our brain registering one of the triggers above.

The 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.

This is known as “arousal non-concordance”.

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).

What’s the link between a low sex drive and arousal?

For some women, they struggle to become aroused because they aren’t registering or paying attention to these triggers. 

That could be the sexual triggers above (e.g. fantasy, touch) or tuning in to the physical symptoms of arousal.

Many things can act as barriers to us picking up on these signs, such as stress, anxiety, tiredness, distraction, 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.

If you think you aren’t picking up on your sexual arousal, check out the following posts which address some of the most common factors that block women from focussing on the sensation of being turned on: