Often what we think about sex gets in the way of great sex.
We’re in the middle of our orgasm series, and we’re less than one week out from releasing our Orgasm Course! I’m so excited (though I still have a ton to do!).
One of the things that we’ve talked about repeatedly this month is how a big roadblock to orgasm for women is THINKING the wrong way about sex–specifically thinking that intercourse=sex, and anything else is “extra” or “bonus”.
Intercourse does tend to result in orgasm for men virtually all the time, but most women do not orgasm through intercourse alone, and many don’t orgasm through intercourse at all, even though they can in other ways. Intercourse is actually the least reliable method of stimulation to bring a woman to orgasm (manual and oral stimulation tend to be more reliable). By stressing intercourse above all else, then, women often feel selfish when we want our husbands to do something “extra”. What brings him pleasure is the norm; what brings us pleasure is optional. When women believe that, and when men believe it, orgasm is elusive.
But that’s not the only way our minds can stop us from experiencing orgasm!
In our Orgasm Course, we’ve developed five different prototypes of women who often have specific struggles with orgasm based on what they believe.
In our survey of 20,000 women last year, we found a bunch of different beliefs that are prevalent in evangelical teaching that can keep women from having great sex–beliefs like, “he’ll watch porn if I don’t have enough sex,” “all men struggle with lust,” “I have to give him sex whenever he wants it,” etc. etc. And many evangelical books have also solidified other ideas, like Love & Respect blatantly said: “If your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.” In other words, sex is for men. Not women.
We took all of these beliefs and put them together into five different “characters” for our course, to help women better see themselves and some of the roadblocks they may have.
These aren’t scientific (though the effects of a lot of these beliefs that we found in our survey are), but we thought they were a fun way of conceptualizing some of our issues.
I thought today I’d share one of those characters, to help us see how our approach to sex overall can stop us from having great sex.
The Engineer is a bit of a control freak. When she was younger, she may have been taught that boys will try to push her sexual boundaries, and so she started to believe that unless she was in control, she was in danger.
While dating, she learned to ignore her arousal cues and instead became a bit of a spectator, always watching to catch if he tried to do something bad. As a result, she never really got to enjoy the whole making-out phase. If she felt she crossed a sexual boundary, she may do some sort of penance to make it up–a kissing fast, a Bible study on purity as a couple, or just self-flagellation to make herself feel guilty enough to never do it again.
Now that she’s married, that emphasis of control over her own sexuality and doing sex “right” means that she sees sex as an equation to crack. She’s sure that once they figure out the right amount of clitoral stimulation, or the exact right sexual position combination, she’ll crack the code that is her orgasm. That means she can’t just “let go”, because she’s always looking for a step-by-step instruction manual. She tends to trust her mind more than her body–since she was taught that she had to silence her body and ignore her body and only listen to her brain.
Because of that, The Engineer’s mind is always going a mile a minute during sex. She has a hard time experiencing because she keeps thinking, “Is that right? Is this what the book meant to do? He moved a quarter of an inch–was that OK or should I tell him to go back?”
The Engineer is most likely to read every sex book she can and follow them exactly, having hundreds of long, drawn-out conversations with her husband about how to make sex better. When sex doesn’t work, she tends to see her body as the enemy–her mind needs to unlock why the body is failing and why the body isn’t working.
But the answer for The Engineer isn’t necessarily found in the brain. The Engineer has to re-integrate her brain with her body, and rediscover her sexuality within her body, and not just in her brain.
Can you relate to The Engineer when it comes to sex?
Last weekend I was looking for a post to share on Facebook, and I decided to try to find the post this year that had garnered the most comments and share it. Now, I know the post with the most comments was my open letter about Love & Respect that I wrote to Focus on the Family, but other than that–what was the biggest one?
I took a look through the stats, and it turns out it was the one asking if you felt that you had to be a sexual gatekeeper when you were growing up.
Here’s part of what resonated there:
When women feel as if they have to be the sexual gatekeepers, to make sure that as a couple you don’t go too far before the wedding, it impacts your sex life after marriage.
That gatekeeper role is very hard to discard.
Here’s what happens: you start making out, and the guy’s really into it. But you’ve been taught your whole life that guys can’t control themselves, and that they will want to push your boundaries. So you have to stay alert and make sure that doesn’t happen. You are the one who is responsible to make sure that it doesn’t get out of hand.
While you’re making out, then, he’s totally enjoying himself, getting into it. But she feels like she’s standing back, as if she’s an observer, looking at the whole thing from the outside.
Should I be stopping him yet? How about now? How about now? How about now?
And on and on and on it goes. She teaches herself to never give in to the moment, and to never allow herself to just feel. She must always be hyper-vigilant, or things will get out of control.
When she marries, that “observer” role isn’t so easy to toss aside.
She’s so used to always judging what’s going on–“am I doing this right? Am I doing this right? How about this?”–that she can’t just let go and feel.
That’s often why women can have such difficulty learning to be aroused, we found, in both our survey and some focus groups. When you’ve trained yourself to be on alert, your body doesn’t automatically relax.
The gatekeeper role doesn’t ONLY affect the Engineer–it has an effect on some of our other characters, too. But in the Engineer the gatekeeper role embodies herself in a very specific way.
Sexuality becomes so dissociated from the body that it’s very difficult to figure out what actually feels good, or even what arousal feels like. Combine this with messages that good girls don’t like sex (or, as Emerson Eggerichs said in Love & Respect, women don’t like or need sex as men do), and many women don’t understand how to relate sexually to their own bodies.
That’s why so many women get frustrated when I say, “You have to learn to listen to your body,”
Sex can’t be paint-by-number, and it can’t be “do A for 5 minutes, flick B 84 times, then move on to C.” It depends on YOUR level of arousal.
In fact, what feels good early in the sexual response cycle may just bother you once you become more aroused, or what feels terrible early may be quite appealing once you’re really aroused. Many women who hate their nipples touched, for instance, like it once they’re very aroused. Or women who love light kisses or light stroking on the arms find it very annoying once their body is saying MORE! MORE!
So no one else can completely tell you how to have great sex. It’s actually a process of learning how to listen to what your body actually wants.
As we’ve been writing up the exercises for The Orgasm Course, we’re trying to find ways to help women become re-integrated with their bodies, and discover what actually does feel good.
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Recognizing how some of the ways that we think about sex hold us back, though, can also help us to deliberately think differently about sex.
When you know you’re being an Engineer, you can start to say to yourself, “I don’t have to be in control. I’m allowed to just feel. I don’t need to have all the answers or to have this all figured out.”
That’s scary. But learning what WRONG messages you believe can also help you believe some RIGHT ones.
Now, the Engineer is only one of our characters. But let me know–can you relate to her? Or are there other beliefs that are holding you back? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Orgasm Series:
- You Are Not Broken if Orgasm is Elusive
- The Orgasm Podcast
- 5 Things that Make it More Likely that She Will Reach Orgasm
- What Sex is Like for Women Who Don’t Orgasm
- How Do I Not Feel Self-Conscious about what it Takes to Reach Orgasm?
- 10 Things Husbands Who Are Great Lovers Do
- Figuring out What’s Holding You Back from Orgasm
- The Orgasm Course Launch (October 26)
- Start Your Engines Podcast: When your wife has difficulty with orgasm (October 29)
And don’t forget to check out:
- 31 Days to Great Sex
- The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex
- And sign up to be notified when The Orgasm Course launches!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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