The orgasm gap is real. Researchers found that while heterosexual men orgasmed 95 percent of the time, heterosexual women O’ed far less frequently at only 65 percent of the time. And that parity only improves somewhat when looking at the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, with gay and bisexual men reportedly climaxing 89 and 88 percent of the time, respectively, and lesbian and bisexual women coming in at 86 and 66 percent of the time, respectively.
“Lots of women struggle with orgasm,” Dr. Jennifer Vencill, a sex therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, tells SheKnows. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that at least a third of young women experience low sexual desire and impaired arousal.
In part, the problem could be cultural. Society continues to shame women for desiring to explore their sexual selves, Vencill says. But today’s woman also has a lot on her mind — a distraction that emerging research suggests can limit the amount of pleasure you experience.
One potential fix? A little bit of mindfulness. While for years, mindfulness has been shown to play a role in anxiety, depression and chronic pain, a growing body of evidence suggests that nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment could help sexual health too. That awareness could lead to increasing desire, enjoyment and even up the likelihood you’ll orgasm.
One study published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy found that women with low sexual desire who participated in mindfulness-based therapy experienced a whole slew of sexual benefits: improved desire and arousal, lubrication, satisfaction and overall functioning. Plus, sex-related distress significantly dropped. Different therapies from the study included mindful meditation and simple education.
Researchers suspected paying more attention to your body could increase arousal (and being disconnected from it could sink it) for decades, Vencill says. The latter is called spectator-ing — “this idea that you’re outside of the body; anxious about how you look, hypercritical, wanting to cover up your stomach and so on. It takes you out of the physical experiences,” she says.
Mindfulness is the opposite of spectator-ing in that it builds interoceptive awareness — or how attuned you are to your body’s internal sensations (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing), explains Dr. Lori Brotto, director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory and author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire. “When you extrapolate that to orgasm,” Brotto tells SheKnows, “it’s probably the case that people notice the early signs of building arousal and orgasm and tune into that, which could contribute to a stronger sensation.”
Mindfulness also challenges distractibility, helping you stay in the moment. And the ability to “click into” the present — how particular touches feel, for example — could boost orgasm, Vencill notes.
So how can you improve your O with a little bit of mindfulness? Below, five expert-backed tips to a better orgasm.
1. Focus your thoughts to stay in the moment
Distracting thoughts (“Ugh, I forget to pick up paper towels”) are normal — even during sex. And negative, judgmental ones (“I hate the way I look”) are common among women with orgasm issues, says Brotto. Retraining your brain not to go down the rabbit hole takes practice (hence why meditation is called a practice).
If you’re in the heat of the moment and notice a thought pop up, acknowledge it as just a thought — something the brain does — and refocus on a bodily sensation (how your partner’s hand feels on your skin). “You might have to do that 1,000 times in a 60-second time period, but it gets easier with practice,” says Vencill.
2. Open your eyes
If you’re insecure, in your own head or just feeling like your mind is somewhere else, you might be inclined to close your eyes. Don’t! Visual input can help you stay in the moment, providing even more important sensory information, says Brotto.
3. Explore your body outside the bedroom
To increase mindfulness in the bedroom, practice it elsewhere too, suggests Vencill. “I often talk about how we can incorporate mindfulness into things you’re already doing.”
One good example: In the shower, take a few minutes to focus in on sensations you tend to overlook — how a loofa feels on your skin, the smell of your skin care products, the sound of the water. Practicing tuning into your five senses throughout the day strengthens your ability to stay present in any moment (yep, even in the bedroom), she says.
4. Do some solo work
Working toward orgasm? Consider starting on your own. Masturbation is less distracting than sex with a partner, says Vencill, allowing you to tune into your body even more. A little physical, mindful body exploration with the goal of pleasure (just try not to get too fixated on the goal so you don’t wind up frustrated) can go a long way toward your end game, she says.
Brotto encourages ladies looking for a little bit of oomph to pick up a daily meditation practice. Body scans, practicing mindful eating, going through breathing techniques — all can build upon basic skills that’ll help keep you rooted in the present. “The better we are at practicing using mindfulness in life, the more apt we are to use that during sex when things are so much more emotional,” says Brotto.
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