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Analytic forms of the linear and the third-order nonlinear optical intersubband absorption coefficients are obtained for general asymmetric quantum well systems using the density matrix formalism, taking into account the intrasubband relaxation. Based on this model, we calculate the electric field dependence of the linear and the third-order nonlinear intersubband optical absorption coefficients of a semiconductor quantum well. The energy of the peak optical intersubband absorption is around 100 meV (wavelength is 12.4 μm). Thus, electrooptical modulators and photodetectors in the infrared regime can be built based on the physical mechanisms discussed here. The contributors to the nonlinear absorption coefficient due to the electric field include 1) the matrix element variation and 2) the energy shifts. Numerical results are illustrated.