Orgasm: It’s All in the Mind

As many as one in three women have trouble reaching orgasm, thanks to a culture that represses women’s sexuality.

Others can climax via thought alone.

What we’ve learned from the mind-only technique could help women experiencing sexual difficulty.

Using brain scans, Dr. Barry Komisaruk found that some women can climax from “a combination of breathing exercises and fantasy, while others use their imagination and pelvic floor exercises.” He explained, “Some imagined erotic scenarios, but others imagined very romantic scenes such as a lover whispering to them. Others pictured more abstract sensual experiences, such as walking along a beach or imagining waves of energy moving through their body.

“There’s been a lot of focus on the body and our physical responses,” Komisaruk continued, “but for many people, and women in particular, the mind plays an even more important role.”

Physical stimulation seems to be more vital for men than for women, who require the right ambience, mood and relaxation.

As women move toward orgasm the parts of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety and emotion relax and lower in activity. (Men’s emotional centers also deactivate, but less intensely.) At orgasm the emotion centers effectively close down and women move into an almost trance-like state.

That emotion shuts down at the critical point is interesting, since so many women say they need to feel emotionally connected to enjoy sex. Contradictory? Maybe not. Sex therapist Paula Hall points out that “women in particular need to feel relaxed and safe in order to let go and enjoy sex fully,” and feeling emotionally connected and safe might get them there.

Relaxation is helpful for both men and women. Perhaps that is why orgasm comes more easily when they keep their socks on. In experiments, cold feet kept orgasm rate down to 50 percent. Add socks, and the rate went to 80 percent. Cold is not relaxing.

All of this resonates with techniques suggested by sex therapist, Lonnie Barbach. In one recommendation, she tells non-orgasmic women to touch themselves just to discover how their bodies feel, but making sure not to come to orgasm.

Two things happen here. Unworried about meeting a goal, stress is minimized. And as bodily sensation becomes the focus the women cease to be distracted by other things, including worries about coming.

Which suggests some advice to men: If you constantly ask a woman if she’s coming, do you really think she will? Not a good technique for avoiding anxiety.

Jill Morrison discovered her ability the for mind-only climax one day as she lay with her husband before making love. “He wasn’t even touching me, but I felt very relaxed and I found my mind slipping into a wonderful and relaxed sexual ‘zone’ where I could see myself lying in a sexually abandoned position, naked, having let go of all the stresses in my normal life,” she related. “To my absolute amazement, I had an orgasm there and then, without any kind of stimulation beyond my mental concentration. 

“In my view,” she says, “sex for women is 90 percent in the mind. It’s about concentrating purely on the physical pleasure and removing myself from all the complications of relationships. It’s very liberating!” She adds, “The more you do it, the better you become.”

Interesting advice.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 6, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. As a woman who struggles with climaxing with a partner, this article really got me thinking. Then again, I think thinking is what my problem is to begin with. My mind has trouble shutting off. I often have to distract it, even when I want to do something as simple as sleep. It’s true though. I need to feel relaxed and safe, and I need to be able to trust whomever I’m sleeping with, but that’s not always the case sometimes especially with one-night stands. Having sex while intoxicated helped me out while I was still figuring out my own insecurities, but to enjoy it without alcohol will take some practice. I can see how these mind exercises to relax and take the pressure off could work. Our minds are crazy powerful to be able to do it. Usually during sex all I’m concentrated on is how the guy is feeling. I really should be focused on my own mind. Instead of listing off everything wrong with how I look, I should think about how I feel. It really is nice knowing that I’m not the only one.

  2. towards the end of this post, Jill mentions that for women, our orgasms are about 90% from the mind. I could not agree more! Every time I have ever tried/not tried to orgasm has definitely been easier when I would be in the right mind-set. I feel that foreplay has a ton to do with being in the right mind set for some really awesome sex. I guess that’s why we learned ‘1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base’, and so-forth during high school years.

  3. This article seems quite on track for a female perspective. In the opening, there is a reference to another article which touches on the use of pornography for men. I wonder if the lack of stigma on male sexuality allows them to better “train” for such sexual relaxation techniques. Pornography really is just another form of imagination, a tool stated as necessary for women in the above article. This early engagement in activities allows for an individual to subconsciously prepare for the correlation of bodily and mental release simultaneously. It feels that when a woman engages in such activities, she is referred to as dirty. The simple task of using her own imagination becomes a taboo task that she is reminded of in the privacy of her own mind.
    I appreciate the technique by Lonnie Barbach mentioned above. It seems quite an ingenious way to remove the pressure from a difficult situation. Practicing alone seems ideal, too. Even if your partner says, “No pressure,” believe me… there is still a tendency to relieve their anticipation.

  4. I agree that a woman’s mind plays a large part in her orgasm. I always tell my partners that the mind is the largest sexual organ. I think that’s true because the mind is what produces the chemistry, excitement, desire, etc. I’ve seen partners that believe the female orgasm is similar to the male orgasm, and then proceed to attempt to stimulate while eagerly asking if I’ve gotten off yet. And I have to say; there is no bigger turn off than that. Women need to be relaxed. It’s true that women don’t always need emotional intimacy in order to orgasm, but there is a feeling of vulnerability when it comes to sex. And that’s where being relaxed and comfortable with your partner comes into play. Now, if our society actually accepted women’s sexuality rather than trying to control and repress it, I doubt women would feel as vulnerable and need to feel so secure in order to orgasm.

  5. Neha Nandini

    This article is very intriguing. I always wondered about how women orgasm differently from men and to now connect the pieces together it makes sense even in my sex life. I found this part the most interesting from your article. “He wasn’t even touching me, but I felt very relaxed and I found my mind slipping into a wonderful and relaxed sexual ‘zone… I had an orgasm there and then, without any kind of stimulation beyond my mental concentration.” Its interesting because you hear always that orgasm are often exerted during sex and to understand someone explain that they could simply orgasm by not being touched, but by simply imagining themselves in a blissful moment shows how women use their minds with such vivid imagination and detail while connecting it to someone/something emotional without having the need to be physical. At least if the last person on earth was a woman then she would most likely rarely be sexually frustrated.

    • That would be true if this woman worth the rare exception.

      There actually aren’t that many women who can do what this woman can do. But I wrote about her experience to help those who experience sexual dysfunction. Which is probably at least half of American women — given that nearly half of American women admit to it, And it’s not something that most women would want to admit to.

      If you compare women in sex-positive cultures with women in sex-negative cultures, like ours, you find a big difference in how in touch women are with their sexuality, And how much they enjoy sex. In sex-negative cultures women feel like they must dampen down their sexual interest because they might be punished. After a while it is common to stop feeling. So much so that around half of American women experience sexual dysfunction. But in sex-positive societies Women don’t feel the same pressure to dampen down their sexual interest or their sexual feelings, And they are easily– And easily multiply orgasmic. When you live in a sexist society like ours, that says it’s okay for men to be free to enjoy sexuality, but women will be punished for doing the same thing, you end up with high levels of sexual dysfunction among women.

      But we are all a mix of our natural born personality + social interactions + and culture. So you can get some women who are able to experience sexual pleasure more easily than others. I don’t know if this woman was brought up by more sex-positive parents in a more sex-positive subculture. But women who have difficulty can learn from her technique.

  6. I agree that women have a harder time trying to reach orgasm due to emotional feelings and their minds being filled with thoughts during sex. Women must make a transition from their everyday life to feeling sensual. Women need to feel connected with the person their having with sex to bring about arousal. Women need that experience which keeps them in the moment. If physical stimulation is continuously given possibly will aid in achieving orgasm. Physical stimulation should be longer than a few minutes perhaps include a full body massage some and oral stimulation. The position used should be one a woman enjoys and prefers. So she isn’t overly worried about her performance. Women reach orgasm in different ways either vaginally or clitoral. Both require stimulating body parts (vagina and clitoris) by rubbing, kissing and even sucking. Women need to relax and not worry about having orgasms and neither feel ashamed about having them. Just enjoy sex and have orgasms.

  7. As a woman, it is definitely frustrating sometimes when my husband is done and I still haven’t had an orgasm. I keep saying that I’m going to buy a vibrator to finish myself off, but I never actually follow through with it. I was, like most women in our society, sexually repressed. I never touched myself growing up because it was “wrong”. I was never encouraged to explore my body and to be comfortable with myself sexually. Just the other day, I got a condom stuck in my vagina and I was panicking because I had to try and retrieve it myself. I was uncomfortable with going into my own body. I honestly don’t think I had realized how uncomfortable I was exploring my own body until that day. The worst part is that I should know better because I have taken human sexuality courses and I know that there is nothing, or better said, shouldn’t be anything wrong with exploring my own body sexually. I just hadn’t realized to what degree and extent my culture and society had repressed my sexuality.

  8. What I wonder is what would happen if there was not such an oppressive hold on sexuality from society in general. I wonder if people had more sexual freedom and expression if things would be any different, if emotions would not be as constrained.

  9. I want the “from thought alone” thing too! Would savw so much hassle!

  10. I agree that when a woman is more comfortable with their partner, the settings, ect. it is easier to orgasm. I think it is really interesting that just by focus a woman can orgasm. This just goes to show how powerful the mind really is. It makes me really wonder how a males brians operates during sex vs. a females. I feel it is sad that so many women struggle to orgasm, whereas it is a pretty basic thing for a male to do. I think this largely has to do with the fact that women have more trouble relaxing during sex whereas a man, usually, is in complete euphoria. In this modern time I hope more women will seek out and really learn what their bodies need.

    • Yes. And women’s sexuality is more repressed, too. Women are often punished for being sexual, gaining a bad reputation, called slut, ho’s, hearing that “good girls don’t, for example.

  11. This is true, it is in the mind. Again, if a woman feels good in her body, has a good self-esteem, she will be more likely to have an orgasm. On the one hand, as we were saying in class, she will not be worried about the way she looks, since she feels confident and she knows her partner is enjoying it. On the other hand, a women with low self-esteem will be so worried wondering if her partner is enjoying or not. In addition, it happens a lot of time that the woman might not like when her partner touches her, because she will be wondering if he is enjoy it as well, and therefore will be again focused on him/her rather than her.

  12. I agree the brain powers sexual stimulation and satisfaction. When it comes to reaching orgasm it takes a lot of stimulation for women as well relaxation. Since a majority of women have so much on their mind from looks to performance to daily chores that have to be done in the house women are focused or relaxed enough to be able to reach an orgasm.

  13. i agree that thsi can be a possiblity. With sex it usually takes two to tango and you have to be a “team”.lol. Both have to work together to help the other reach their final destination which is “climaxing”. But if that one person can really zone in more and think about something that makes them feel good to help them release then thats great. While your partner has to find ways to make you reach a climax you also have to help out to get yourself to that place because well men and women aren’t mind readers. In cases the other sex will give you pleasure to the best of their abilities so you have to put your two sense in and help out so you both can

  14. Great blog post! Useful information! As a multi-orgasmic male I can relate to a lot of this. It is a shame people do not realize the wide variety of pleasure available to them when they do not just think orgasm orgasm orgasm and think that that is ejaculation ejaculation ejaculation.I really feel that education can solve most of these problems if not all of them whether the culture appears repressive and puritannical or not if the information gets to them it will win.

  15. I agree that it is all in the mind for a woman to reach an orgasm. I have met a lot of older women who have yet to reach an orgasm, and apparently that is normal…? Well tying back into your blog about casual sex for women, women need that connection in order to be intensely satisfied during sex, or else a women can never reach climax. Without that emotional connection for women, the pleasure is brought down compared to if the emotional connection is there. Without the emotional connection women can’t relax, they don’t feel comfortable with their partner and by feeling this way, they will have a very hard time reaching climax. For men, a vagina is a vagina to them, but for women, they don’t concentrate on the penis, they concentrate on the man.

  16. I agree that sex is in the mind for a lot of women. It’s really difficult for women to let go of daily worries and relax during sex, much less have an orgasm. I think men underestimate how mental sex is for a woman. I feel that women are socialized to worry a lot (like it’s their job), but they also might biologically be wired to hang on to these things more than men (like always have to keep track of kids). I think these are some great tips, and I can totally relate to some of what you are writing about. It would be interesting to investigate how much womens’ orgasms and sexual experiences are socialized.

    • Thanks.

      Re ” It would be interesting to investigate how much women’s orgasms and sexual experiences are socialized” we definitely know culture plays a role. For instance, in egalitarian cultures where women aren’t sexually repressed, they are highly orgasmic. More later.

  17. I agree with you because females tend to lean of the physical instead of the emotion when it comes to sexual intercourse between their sexual partners. And if you actually think about it females that are a virgin tend to have more sexual needs and are easlly to obtain a orgasm because of the tingling senstation and urged they have while watching or fancizing about sexual pleasure. I do think its in the mind because lots of females out here actually fake it in order for their partner to feel satisfied.

  1. Pingback: [ENFP] Do you fall in love and then have sex, or do you have sex and then fall in love? - Page 3

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