We’ve had some really interesting discussions this week, both on the blog and off the blog, talking about advice to help women reach orgasm.
Yesterday, on our podcast about explicitness and sex, Rebecca and I were talking about some of the problematic elements of sex advice that is often given in Christian books. When it’s presented as, “Do A, then B, then C,” and sex seems paint-by-number, it often doesn’t work.
We also conducted several focus groups on this this week, trying to figure out what level of explicitness and direction women actually like. In each focus group, we got the same results. People like being given ideas, “Some people like X, but you could also try Y.” People really like learning about body parts or different ways of stimulating them. But women REALLY don’t like being told, “Do this, then this, then this,” as if it’s some magic formula for orgasm. Because then you feel like a failure when you don’t.
(We found other things, too, but I’ll go into that in a later post, and in The Great Sex Rescue.)
Now, hold that thought for a second, because I want to switch gears to something else we found, and then bring it all together again.
Rebecca also did several interviews and a focus group on how women’s beliefs about sex have changed over time, and how that has impacted their sex life now.
And one of the things she found was that, when women feel free to say “no” in their marriage, they’re much more likely to want to say “yes”. And sex becomes more pleasurable.
True consent is the key to women’s libido and sexual response.
That’s also what we found in our survey of 22,000 women; feeling like you were obligated to have sex, or that it was a duty, significantly reduced women’s orgasm rates, and increased women’s levels of vaginismus.
Okay, so what do these two findings have to do with each other?
Well, let me take you back to the 1970s. Let’s talk about the sitcom Happy Days, and about making out.
Like many girls of my generation, I watched Happy Days every week, and reruns after school. I loved Richie (though I never really liked the Fonz). But Happy Days had a lot of making out. “I found my thrill….on Blueberry hill…”
I don’t think there was ever much sex in it at all (maybe with Joanie and Chachi?), but making out was a thing. Like steaming up the windows kind of a thing.
And I think there was something vital there, a step in understanding one’s sexuality, that many women have bypassed.
I am not trying to say that everyone needs to make out before marriage. But what I am saying is that making out was FUN in that scenario precisely because it wasn’t going any further. You knew you weren’t going to have sex; you had already decided you weren’t going to cross that line; and so you were kissing and touching (not heavy petting) for a prolonged period of time, and getting yourself all worked up. You were enjoying it. It was feeling good. Your body was coming alive. You were getting aroused.
And that ability to become aroused, and for your body to experience that all on its own, is actually an important part of orgasm and an important part of sex in marriage.
Now, I’m quite aware that for many women this “making out” thing didn’t work out so well before marriage for many reasons:
- You felt it was wrong and so you never did (which is totally okay! Really!).
- Things got too heated and you went further than you wanted to
- You were so afraid of things going too far that you never relaxed, and you were always on alert (the gatekeeper phenomenon)
- You were a victim of date rape (and I’m so sorry that that is so many women’s stories).
And so I understand that not everyone will relate to this from personal experience. But I do think that this making out phase, when it’s not expected to go anywhere, and when it’s done for a prolonged period of time so that your body can come alive, is important.
Many women skipped the making out stage altogether, and went straight to intercourse.
Making out is actually an important part of sex education. It’s very hard to go from A to Z with no stages in between. That’s why in our Honeymoon Prep course we talk about how the goal should be arousal, not intercourse. The most important piece of the puzzle is not figuring out how intercourse works. Most people will figure that out soon enough (unless vaginismus, or sexual pain, is an issue). The key is figuring out how women’s arousal works. If you can figure that out, honestly, the rest will take care of itself over time.
But often we rush so much to achieve intercourse, that we skip some really vital steps in women’s sexual education.
And especially if you marry with some body image issues, or with any amount of shame regarding sex, achieving “intercourse” without that arousal piece can actually set you back quite a bit.
We simply have to learn to listen to our bodies, and that’s why making out, with no expectations of anything else, can be so helpful. (And that’s why I’m talking about making out, and not foreplay.) I mean simply making out and helping her feel aroused just from kissing and touching. And sometimes that can only happen if there isn’t pressure on her to do anything else or to perform in any way (like have an orgasm).
Enjoying sex is really a multiple stage thing:
- Low-key physical contact that makes you feel close
- Kissing and touching that is drawn out, that makes you feel breathless and where you start to feel aroused
- Removing some clothing and learning to touch each other without awkwardness
- Touching each other while kissing and learning what feels good
- Learning to get her aroused fully
- Having intercourse.
The problem is that many of us go from #1 to #6 with nothing in between. And then we wonder why things don’t always work.
Now, again, I’m not arguing that we should have sex before marriage. Believe me, I’m a big proponent of waiting for marriage to have sex, and I believe that there are very important reasons for that. But I do think that we need to proceed through each of those steps in that order, and spend as much time on each step as we need to, before proceeding to the next one. Even if that means that you don’t have sex on your wedding night.
That’s because orgasm for her is never going to work unless she can learn to listen to her body’s cues.
That’s what we were really talking about in the comments section yesterday, where a few women were saying that they really want very explicit directions of Do A then B then C exactly this way, because they had no idea what to do, and they needed someone to tell them. One woman said this:
For a woman who never masturbated and has a hard time figuring things out, vague language is more frustrating than helpful. Clear steps to try to start things off is more helpful than “do clitoral stimulation.” I literally needed descriptions for where to place my hand what finger to use etc to start feeling anything at all. The whole asking “am I feeling good? ” while he touches me has never ever done anything helpful for us. Clinical, mechanical descriptions? Those have given us a starting point to work off of.
Another woman said something similar:
My husband and I have only benefitted from extremely explicit sex information, as we were completely clueless about how to help me get aroused, and the things my husband has tried orally and manually have only gotten me partly there. I have always been a rule-follower, and I still have no clue how to use my own hands to bring myself to orgasm. (Why is masturbating wrong before marriage and okay afterward? I feel completely uncomfortable with the idea of masturbating alone or with my husband. None of my friends who were “naughty girls” before marriage have trouble with arousal or orgasm. Something feels unfair to me about this, like I was sold a bill of goods that staying pure before marriage would result in bliss.)
I really appreciate their honesty, and I know that they are not alone. And I really, really want to help as much as I can, because I can only imagine how frustrating this is. And I completely understand that hearing explicit instructions on how to stimulate the clitoris seems useful and necessary.
I just want to offer this counterpoint, which I believe is really important.
The secret to orgasm is listening to what your body wants and then “riding” it.
Not every woman orgasms in exactly the same way. And often, over the course of arousal, the way you want to be touched changes. You might want it to start out light, but as you get more aroused, your body wants faster, or more. Often women hate their nipples being touched early in the arousal process, but really enjoy it close to orgasm. Telling people “Do A, then B, then C” just doesn’t work for most people, because you can do exactly the right thing and it won’t result in orgasm if you’re not listening to your body. Women who do orgasm regularly will tell you that what works one night won’t necessarily work the next. Depending on where she is in the cycle, sometimes she’ll want long, drawn out foreplay, and sometimes she’ll say, “forget that, just take me!” It depends on your body.
The way to learn how to be touched, too, is not to listen to someone else telling you explicitly. That can help give you some ideas, but ultimately you have to figure out what feels better, and what works. The clitoris, for instance, is a relatively small piece of your body. Touch it 1/4 ” down and it may feel weird. Go too far to the left and you’ve missed it. You need to figure out WHERE and WHAT PRESSURE is right.
The only way to do that is to be concentrating not on what you should be doing but on what your body wants you to do.
Again, none of this is to say that instructions on how to give oral sex can’t be helpful. They completely can if it gives you ideas! But ultimately the only way it works is if you’re calling the shots. You’re not trying to do a paint-by-numbers thing. You are honestly just listening to your body and letting your body carry you.
This is also why I’m reticent to recommend vibrators. It’s not that I think they’re a sin. It’s just that a vibrator is so powerful that it can allow you to orgasm WITHOUT having to listen to your body. It doesn’t actually teach you how to do this. (If you’ve never, ever reached orgasm in years, then they may help by showing you what it feels like. But a vibrator can’t “teach” you how to orgasm with your husband).
“Listening to your body” is very hard to do if you’ve spent your whole life trying to ignore your body.
If you grew up feeling as if sex was shameful, or as if your body is shameful, it is very, very hard to all of a sudden start listening and trying to figure out what arousing is.
“Listening to your body” is also very hard to do if you’re goal focused.
If you’re aiming for an orgasm, listening to your body is also difficult because you’re seeing it as a pass/fail thing. Are you there yet? Am I doing it right?
That’s why I think many women would benefit from rediscovering making out!
Seriously, if this has been a challenge for you in your marriage, and if you skipped several steps from #1 to #6 and you’ve never figured sex out, maybe take a few nights where you say, “we are NOT having intercourse and we are NOT aiming for orgasm”. We’re simply going to make out.
(And husbands, if you’re reading this: It’s so important to not make your wife feel that she has to “help you out” afterwards. I know this is difficult; but try to exercise self-control for her. She needs this. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle. If you can give her time to figure this out, you’ll both benefit in the long run).
Like we found in our focus groups, being able to say no was the key to unlocking women’s yes. If sex has become goal oriented, and if she has never really figured out her own sexuality, maybe the best thing to do is go backwards and start again. Learn the arousal piece. Let her learn how to focus on arousal and, instead of a book telling her where she wants to be touched, let her ask herself, “what wants to be touched right now?”, and then let her learn to listen. It’s an important skill and it’s vital to understand your sexuality. No book can do that for you.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
- Ten tips for newlyweds who haven’t reached orgasm yet
- Why we should focus on arousal, not intercourse
- 10 Things to Know about Women and Arousal
- Podcast: Aiming for Arousal
Anyone else have anything to add? How can women learn to “listen to their bodies”? Was this a learning curve for you? What helped? I really do want to help these women, so let’s talk in the comments!