Jack remembers the moment vividly. His fiancée, Tamara, pulled the sheet over her head, afraid to face him. She blurted it out: “Jack, I don’t come when we do it.”
His head spun. They’d been having sex for 2 years. She seemed, well, satisfied. To his—and her—credit, they talked about it; they didn’t let this bombshell wreck their relationship. And they tried everything: vibrators, romantic weekends, oral sex—until my jaw ached,” Jack says.
After a month of effort, he came to my office, desperate and distraught, not sure what to try next.
“Maybe you have to stop trying so hard to turn her on,” I said, “and learn how to turn her off.”
Jack looked at me. Who was I, Yoda?
I switched from Zen-speak to sex-therapist mode, explaining that a woman’s arousal depends on deep relaxation and an absence of anxiety. I’ve counseled countless women, and it’s universal—when they’re relaxed, it happens. There are brain scans to prove it.
Fun in the Lab
In the Netherlands, scientists used positron-emission tomography to peek at women’s brains while their partners stimulated them to orgasm. They noticed that the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety, was noticeably quiet prior to and during orgasm.
“It seems that letting go of stress and anxiety might be very important, and even necessary, for women to have an orgasm,” says neuroscientist Gert Holstege, M.D., Ph.D. This would explain why many women, alone with a vibrator, stress-free, can easily reach orgasm. It would also explain why Tamara, full of anxiety about having an orgasm, couldn’t.
Eventually, Tamara was able to reach orgasm. Her breakthrough was partly because she learned she wasn’t alone: It was a common problem. And once she relaxed, she could replicate the feeling. Jack, of course, played his role: chief of relaxation.
For Jack, and for you, the brain-deactivation sequence is best executed over the course of a full day. Remember, the more she enjoys sex, the more she’ll want it.
Tell her how hot her skirt looks. The scientific reality is that her androgen levels are high in the morning and low in the evening, which means her body is most ready for sex in the a.m. The reality-based reality: At 6 a.m. she’s thinking about 9 a.m. meetings, the commute, and picking up the dry cleaning.
Your job is to make her think of you during her busy day, and that starts with brewing the coffee (teamwork), giving her a morning kiss (affection), complimenting her outfit (sex), and letting her take the lead sometimes during sex (empowerment). This is step one toward relaxation.
Make the call or send the e-mail. Men respond most readily to external, visual triggers. Women usually respond to internal triggers—a thought or memory of something sexual or romantic. When you touch base with her at midday (you do that, right?) think relationship, not sex. You can do this.
I have a patient whose wife loves Italy. “Whenever I want to make her feel good,” he says, “I e-mail her a photo from one of our trips, when we were really happy and connected, and let her know how much I love her.” Bonus: If she’s stressing at work, your call will let her start unloading her worries. That’s another step toward relaxation.
Hug her when you come home. Don’t let go. Don’t always feel like cuddling after sex? Fine—get it out of the way now. The stress of her day produces cortisol, but what she really needs is oxytocin—the so-called cuddle hormone that counteracts stress and encourages bonding. Oxytocin production is stimulated after only 20 seconds of hugging. Yes, I know: You’re stressed, too. But for us guys, stress can increase desire.
Do some impromptu cleaning. Remember Tamara, who couldn’t reach orgasm? She was more receptive to stimulation if the house was clean. No, it wasn’t a fetish for vinyl gloves; it was a typical female response. Women still do most of the housework. If it’s already done? Instant relaxation.
Says Tamara, “I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to have sex on the days we have the housekeeper come—the house is clean, and I don’t feel like I have a ton of chores to do.”
Sip wine and share. Turn off the TV. You don’t need Wolf Blitzer detailing the carnage in Iraq. Conversation is pivotal to deactivation. “More than anything, I just need him to listen,” Tamara says, “and I need to feel connected.” (Tip: Pay attention.) Later, sure, watch something—I’d suggest laughing at The Office instead of watching Jack Bauer torture terrorists on 24. Laughter means relaxation.
Hit the lights. One of the biggest reasons women can’t relax during sex is body image. Keep the lights low. A candle? Perfect.
Some of the best foreplay is verbal. Quiet talk continues the unwinding process and helps you connect. Talk about the kids, the dog, upcoming events, anything that reinforces the notion of you as a team.
But encourage sexual talk, too. If she thought Jude Law looked hot in The Holiday, play with that thought. In a Woman’s Day/AOL survey, 76 percent of women said they’d fantasized about another man. Tell her that’s fine–in fact, ask her to elaborate on her fantasies. Fantasy, a cousin of dreaming, helps her brain deactivate. It may be crucial for her to close her eyes and let her thoughts wander.
Lastly, remember that consistency is important. Think waves at the beach, which are hypnotically relaxing; again, that’s the key. “Right when I’m close,” Tamara told Jack, “you do something different.” Unlike a man, a woman can lose an orgasm even as it’s happening. As her brain is shutting down, any sort of change will wake her up again. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.
Cuddle. You didn’t really think you were getting out of this, did you?