When I survey the headlines and images in articles offering sex advice, I sometimes feel like I’ve dropped into an episode of Girls Gone Wild. Titles like “How to Be the Best He’s Ever Had” and “The 10 Types of Female Orgasms” leave me feeling embarrassed or even a bit disgusted. Yet I realize that such raunchy depictions of sex are only a narrow and distorted snapshot of the beautiful mural of our divinely created sexuality.
Even if you are completely satisfied with your sex life, what is presented as “normal” in our pornified culture still may leave you feeling uncomfortable. And if you struggle with sexual desire, arousal, or enjoyment, the assault of articles promising things like “three tips for mind-blowing orgasm” can produce feelings of shame, inadequacy, and failure.
The disconnect between a woman’s personal experience and the ecstatic depictions of sex in the media can leave her feeling like and outsider who doesn’t belong in that world of sexual pleasure.
The truth remains that God created us intentionally and uniquely as sexual beings. We are made to experience sexual intimacy and connection. In fact, God made the female body with a sexual organ—the clitoris—with no function or purpose outside of pleasure!
Sometimes, however, the gift of sexual pleasure seems elusive, like the proverbial carrot being held just beyond our reach.
If you’ve felt that way, you are not alone. Many people struggle with sexual desire, arousal, pleasure, and orgasm, and in my counseling in this area I emphasize the reality that sex is a whole body experience. I encourage women to try a few new strategies, not as a quick fix but to help them open up to the possibility of greater sexual enjoyment and marital intimacy.
1. Get Sex on the Brain
Before you head to the bedroom with your body, you have to get there in your mind. Read about sexual pleasure (see sidebar) to learn how the female body reaches arousal and orgasm. Your reading can spark new ideas for ways to enhance pleasure during lovemaking, and it has the added benefit of helping you think about sex.
Shifting gears to be ready for sex—physically, emotionally, and cognitively—can be a challenge for many women. Intentionally thinking about sex throughout the day increases your ability to be ready for pleasure when the moment arrives. Spontaneous sex sounds romantic and exciting, but if you’re having trouble with desire or arousal, planning for sex is a better bet.
If you know you’re going to be intimate with your spouse, begin your day by noticing sensory pleasures like the warmth of the shower against your bare shoulders or the softness of your shirt against your abdomen. Thinking about sex and intentionally attending to sensual pleasure primes your body and brain to be ready to enjoy sexual intimacy.
Once the time arrives, you may enjoy setting a romantic mood in the room with candles or music. Lock the door if you have kids or pets; you’re more likely to enjoy sex if you can relax and not worry about unwanted visitors.
Before you get intimate with your spouse, take two to five minutes to quietly relax. You can do this alone or with your spouse. Lie or sit in a quiet spot and focus your energy and attention on your breath. Slowly inhale and exhale while counting your breaths to ten, then count back down to one. This simple breathing exercise slows the body down and decreases anxiety, which is the enemy of sexual enjoyment.
As you breathe, imagine the air going deep into your abdomen, into the palms of your hands and the tips of your feet. Wiggle your toes and fingers lightly as you inhale. Visualize your breath reaching the parts of the body most involved in sexual pleasure, such as your breasts or genitals. Being able to give and receive touch and stimulation is essential to sexual enjoyment, and preparing the body and brain with these breathing exercises increases your capacity for physical pleasure.
3. Be Here, Now
Sometimes tunnel vision is a good thing. If you are bowling with friends and it’s your turn, you probably pick up your ball, position yourself, focus on the pins, slowly walk up the lane, and release the ball. A successful bowler has tunnel vision for her own lane. She’s not looking around at other bowlers, reviewing her calendar, or turning around to check on her kids.
Bowling may not be a sexy metaphor, but it’s a good one. When you’re having sex, stay in your own lane. Anything outside the immediate moment of this touch and this sensation is off limits. It doesn’t matter whether you bowl a strike; what matters is staying in your own lane. The only way you can enjoy sex is to be fully present.
If, while being intimate with your spouse, you begin to experience intrusive mental images such as visualizing yourself from the outside (sex therapists call this spectatoring), come back to the present moment. If your mind wanders to frustrations with your spouse or to your to-do lists, simply notice those thoughts and let them go without judging or chastising yourself. Take another deep breath and remember that sexual intimacy is about connection.
Wandering thoughts are normal, and the moment you notice them is a success! The noticing allows you to return to the present moment and to be here now for true connection.
4. Become Curious About What Feels Good
If you have trouble with sexual desire or pleasure, you may feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious. When we experience unpleasant feelings like those, we tend to tense up and stop breathing—which precludes the possibility of pleasure. Anxiety tightens, closes off, and shuts us down; curiosity expands, opens up, and frees us to explore new territory.
Instead of focusing on an end goal like orgasm, remind yourself to be curious about your body and the possibilities for sexual pleasure with your spouse. For women who have difficulty experiencing orgasm, sex therapists often suggest experimenting with their own bodies to discover where pressure feels good and when it hurts. Ask your husband to join you in getting curious about your pleasure centers and discover together how you can both experience greater intimacy and pleasure in your lovemaking.
True Sexual Intimacy
True sexual intimacy is about vulnerability, and women’s bodies are particularly vulnerable in sexual union. We fear being vulnerable for many reasons. If you have had unwanted sexual experiences or abuse in the past, addressing that with a counselor may be helpful or necessary. Even those without trauma histories may struggle with emotional and physical vulnerability.
If you do not feel emotionally or physically safe, sexual intimacy will suffer. Likewise, if you spend all your energy trying to protect yourself and maintain control, it will be difficult to experience sexual pleasure.
So the next time you are standing in line at the grocery store and feel shame or embarrassment at the magazines touting 10 new ways to please your man or mind-blowing orgasms, remind yourself that sex is more than an erotic release.
Sexual intimacy is about vulnerability, trust, connection, and pleasure. By planning, thinking, breathing, and being fully present with curiosity, you can move toward greater pleasure and intimacy with your spouse.
Kim Gaines Eckert is a psychologist in private practice in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is the author of Things Your Mother Never Told You: A Woman’s Guide to Sexuality and Stronger Than You Think: Becoming Whole Without Having to Be Perfect. You can find her at DrKimEckert.com.
Copyright © 2016 by the author and Today’s Christian Woman