What does arousal feel like?

Sexual arousal is composed two different phenomenon that do not necessarily occur at the same time: psychological arousal and physiological arousal.

Physiological arousal

Physiological arousal refers to unconscious bodily changes that occur as a result of or in preparation for sexual activity. Physiological arousal can occur even in cases there isn't consent, or (in particular with respect to erections) as a response to non-sexual arousal. Examples common to both sexes include:

Some effects are particular to people with male anatomy:

Some effects are particular to people with female anatomy:

Psychological arousal

Psychological arousal on the other hand, refers to self-reported feelings of arousal and/or the desire to participate in sexual activities (alone or with partners). While physiological arousal correlates with psychological arousal, it is not uncommon for them to occur separately [1].

In particular, it is not uncommon for a man to get an erection without being psychologically aroused. Mechanical stimulation alone can result in an erection – for example, male rape victims may report having an erection. There is also "nocturnal penile tumescence", which is a largely unexplained effect where men get an erection during (or shortly after) sleep without any apparent cause.

Some forms of physiological arousal can also occur as a response to non-sexual arousal – for example aggression or excitement. This is particularly the case when it comes to erections.


  1. This can also occur in men but it's less common and usually less intense. A female sex flush can extend over the chest and upper body.
  2. There are several other forms of vaginal wetness that are not related to lubrication or arousal. You can read more in this article.

See also