Margaret, who had a history of sexual abuse, thought she didn’t like sex. She had no orgasms with her husband and after they split, in a busy life raising children, working and going to school, she didn’t even bother to masturbate. She didn’t care.
Then, in her late ‘40s, she met the man who became her second husband. They had sex every day, and still do, after five years. She consistently has climaxes that transport her to “another realm,” she says. “I see a blue light.”
Yes, things can get that much better—from zero to ten, from nada to the blue light.
Like Margaret, we tend to believe our sexual capacity won’t change. In fact, it evolves as we age, and with changes in confidence, health, medication and partners.
And you can take charge.
Some women aren’t sure what orgasms are. If you feel a surge of relaxation, that may be it, for you, right now. On the other hand, you’re probably not coming if sex leaves you feeling edgy.
To get past the problem—or to be multi-orgasmic and bathed in bliss—you may have to make it a project.
The key is to explore and learn what’s best for you, says San Francisco sex therapist Linda Perlin Alperstein. Sexuality is so “highly individual,” she says, that people can change their experience significantly by varying minute details. That exploration, for many people, takes courage, though it needn’t require a partner or trip to a sex shop.
Consider these moves:
Explore your breath. Many women hold their breath near climax without thinking. A deep exhale can intensify it. Some women say that moaning intensifies their orgasms as well. If you’re worried about waking the kids, experiment with moaning into a pillow. Moan when it will help you—many women do it near the man’s climax, in order to encourage him.
MORE: Learn to Breathe More Deeply
If holding your breath has become a habit, practice exhaling and moaning in private sessions. A technique from the Indian Tantric tradition is to take 15-20 panting breaths, followed by a long exhale. Repeat this three times, as you approach orgasm.
By contrast, some women find that intentionally cutting off their air supply intensifies orgasms, sometimes by hanging their heads over the side of the bed. Or just try not putting your head on a pillow.
Strengthen your vaginal muscles. While urinating, stop the flow of urine, release and stop it again—you’re squeezing the muscles that contract during orgasm. If you try contracting your vaginal muscles when you’re not peeing, you may find that you’re actually squeezing your butt and abs. The pee-test confirms that you’re using your vaginal muscles.
Don’t do the exercise every time you pee; you might end up with bladder infections if you don’t fully empty your bladder. Instead, squeeze and relax throughout the day—for example, while doing dishes or driving (you may know this as "kegel exercises").
Now that you’re used to the sensation, squeeze and relax those muscles while directly stimulating your clitoris. You can also do it during intercourse—each time he thrusts, you relax, and squeeze as he exits.
As with any muscle building program, resistance weights up the ante. GyneFlex sells plastic tongs that you close and release with your vaginal muscles, starting with a lightweight plastic good for new mothers to a stiff pair for champs. Pelvinn sells bulb shaped plastic weights in six weights. Silicone Benwa balls can be worn during the day, so you can squeeze whenever you’re bored.
Try new positions. Vaginal entry from behind can intensify orgasms. Or try climbing on top of him while he’s sitting, but at a slight angle. So if he’s facing 6:00, you face 3:00. You’re sideways. Or lie on your back, with your legs up in the air, as he kneels in front of you. Squeeze your butt muscles right before you think you’ll come.
Take fish oil and cut carbs and soy. Marrena Lindberg, the author of “The Orgasmic Diet” featured on “The Dr. Oz Show,” created her diet when she was inorgasmic. She says that women have boosted their sex drive and orgasms in two weeks to a month by following her program. Every day, you’ll consume a multi-vitamin, a glass of orange juice for extra vitamin C, and fish oil: for a 130 lb woman, 1700 mg EPA and 1300 DHA.
You’ll aim for meals with a balance of 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fats—in effect a low-carb, high protein diet. Protein portions should be about the size of a deck of cards. She also recommends staying away from soy products altogether, avoiding coffee for six hours before sex and eating a half-ounce of dark chocolate a day. Get the recommended daily allowance of zinc and magnesium to help maintain your testosterone levels. Theoretically, the diet helps regulate your hormones, circulation, muscle tone and brain chemistry. It isn’t proven, but some women swear by it, so you can see if it works for you.
Talk to your doc about medication. Some anti-depressants and anti-hypertensive drugs interfere with orgasms in many women. It’s considered a side effect, so bring it up to your doctor so he or she can work with you on a solution. For some people, switching to the anti-depressant Bupropion (Wellbutrin) can help—some studies suggest that it can even enhance sexual response, although it has not been officially approved for that purpose.
Have a committed partner. Women have fewer orgasms in hook-ups, in part because men provide less oral sex to a partner who isn’t a girlfriend, according to surveys of college students collected by New York University sociologist Paula England, Ph.D.
Stay aware. Sexual pleasure and emotional rewards deepen when we observe our partners, look for ways to give them pleasure, and respond to their efforts towards us. If you’re both concentrating, you make love together, rather than drift off into your own heads.
Margaret explains her sex life by saying: “We’re thoroughly and entirely present to each other when we’re in bed.” My friend Jamie saw a huge change when she followed advice to "keep searching for the other person and be willing to be seen. It takes a lot of awareness. And it really works."
The odd thing is, with all the pressure in our culture to think about sex, we don’t often hear this wisdom.
You don’t need to come every time, or during intercourse. But it’s healthy to consider whether you’re getting all the pleasure you would like. Orgasms are one of nature’s ways of helping us relax and feel safe. They can soothe cramps and headaches and lull you to sleep. During a climax, we release oxytocin, the bonding chemical, which remains elevated in the bloodstream for at least five minutes. And having orgasms will make your romantic relationships happier—but you knew that.
Books that can help:
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