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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Female Physiology Before Pregnancy and Female Hormones

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Female Sexual Act

Stimulation of the Female Sexual Act. As is true in the malesexual act, successful performance of the female sexual act depends on both psychic stimulation and local sexual stimulation.

Female Sexual Act

Stimulation of the Female Sexual Act. As is true in the malesexual act, successful performance of the female sexual act depends on both psychic stimulation and local sexual stimulation. Thinking sexual thoughts can lead to female sexual desire, and this aids greatly in the performance of the female sexual act. Such desire is based largely on a woman’s background training as well as on her physi-ological drive, although sexual desire does increase in proportion to the level of sex hormones secreted. Desire also changes during the monthly sexual cycle, reaching a peak near the time of ovulation, probably because of the high levels of estrogen secretion during the preovulatory period.

Local sexual stimulation in women occurs in more or less the same manner as in men because massage and other types of stimulation of the vulva, vagina, and other perineal regions can create sexual sensations. The glans of the clitoris is especially sensitive for ini-tiating sexual sensations.

As in the male, the sexual sensory signals are trans-mitted to the sacral segments of the spinal cord through the pudendal nerve and sacral plexus. Once these signals have entered the spinal cord, they are transmitted to the cerebrum. Also, local reflexes inte-grated in the sacral and lumbar spinal cord are at least partly responsible for some of the reactions in the female sexual organs.

Female Erection and Lubrication. Located around theintroitus and extending into the clitoris is erectile tissue almost identical to the erectile tissue of the penis. This erectile tissue, like that of the penis, is controlled by the parasympathetic nerves that pass through the nervi erigentes from the sacral plexus to the external genitalia. In the early phases of sexual stimulation, parasympathetic signals dilate the arteries of the erectile tissue, probably resulting from release of acetylcholine, nitric oxide, and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) at the nerve endings. This allows rapid accumulation of blood in the erectile tissue so that the introitus tightens around the penis; this aids the male greatly in his attainment of sufficient sexual stimulation for ejaculation to occur.

Parasympathetic signals also pass to the bilateral Bartholin’s glands located beneath the labia minora and cause them to secrete mucus immediately inside the introitus. This mucus is responsible for much of the lubrication during sexual intercourse, although much is also provided by mucus secreted by the vaginal epithelium and a small amount from the male urethral glands. This lubrication is necessary during intercourse to establish a satisfactory massaging sensation rather than an irritative sensation, which may be provoked by a dry vagina. A massaging sensation constitutes the optimal stimulus for evoking the appropriate reflexes that culminate in both the male and female climaxes.

Female Orgasm. When local sexual stimulation reachesmaximum intensity, and especially when the local sensations are supported by appropriate psychic conditioning signals from the cerebrum, reflexes are initiated that cause the female orgasm, also called the female climax. The female orgasm is analogous to emission and ejaculation in the male, and it may help promote fertilization of the ovum. Indeed, the human female is known to be somewhat more fertile when inseminated by normal sexual intercourse rather than by artificial methods, thus indicating an important function of the female orgasm. Possible reasons for this are as follows.

First, during the orgasm, the perineal muscles of the female contract rhythmically, which results from spinal cord reflexes similar to those that cause ejaculation in the male. It is possible that these reflexes increase uterine and fallopian tube motility during the orgasm, thus helping to transport the sperm upward through the uterus toward the ovum; information on this subject is scanty, however. Also, the orgasm seems to cause dilation of the cervical canal for up to 30 minutes, thus allowing easy transport of the sperm.

Second, in many lower animals, copulation causes the posterior pituitary gland to secrete oxytocin; this effect is probably mediated through the brain amyg-daloid nuclei and then through the hypothalamus to the pituitary. The oxytocin causes increased rhythmi-cal contractions of the uterus, which have been postu-lated to cause increased transport of the sperm. A few sperm have been shown to traverse the entire length of the fallopian tube in the cow in about 5 minutes, a rate at least 10 times as fast as that which the swim-ming motions of the sperm themselves could possibly achieve. Whether this occurs in the human female is unknown.

In addition to the possible effects of the orgasm on fertilization, the intense sexual sensations that develop during the orgasm also pass to the cerebrum and cause intense muscle tension throughout the body. But after culmination of the sexual act, this gives way during the succeeding minutes to a sense of satisfaction charac-terized by relaxed peacefulness, an effect called resolution.


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