Good sex is good for you. Like all exercise, it helps you destress, lowers your blood pressure and risk of heart disease, and stimulates your immune system. The endorphins released during sex and orgasm can help diminish pain and enhance blood flow to the genitals, preventing vaginal atrophy, the thinning of the tissues of the vaginal wall that can accompany menopause. Remember the senile vagina? This is one reason why many gynecologists remind their older patients to use it or lose it.
Nearly all animals have sex for procreation only; they mate only when fertile, and then usually from behind. Remember, humans and bonobos, who have sex for other reasons, have vaginas tilted to accommodate face-to-face sex. In our species, sex is not only for creating life. It is a means of communication, a reflection of our relationships, a sign and measure of intimacy. And sex has a tremendous impact on our moods: good sex can calm you down or elate you, and it can enhance your self esteem.
A BODY BUILT FOR PLEASURE
As you may have noticed, men have all their stuff easily visible and accessible on the outside of their bodies. Women, sly creatures that we are, hide our erectile tissue inside our bodies. Let me be clear: the primary sex organ of a woman is the clitoris, not the vagina, which is the birth canal. The word phallus refers to both the external portion of the clitoris and the penis. During the arousal stage, when stimulated, a woman’s erectile tissue fills with blood just like the tissue of the penis. We get erections, too, but, inevitably, wetness is how our arousal is measured and described in research and in porn.
The glans of the clitoris, replete with eight thousand nerve endings, is the most intensely innervated and sensitive part of a woman’s body. Unlike the penis, used for expelling waste as well as DNA, the clitoris is used only for one thing: sexual pleasure. How’s that for intelligent design? As for gender equality, our erectile tissue is nearly the same size as a man’s. That little nub of the clitoris called the glans, visible under its protective hood, is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a large area of sensitive tissue right behind the glans called the clitoral body, or root, and there are extensions (called vestibular bulbs and legs) that course outward and down, like a fishbone, to circle the vagina and urethra inside the body, measuring between nine and eleven centimeters in total. To fully appreciate your sexual potential, you need to familiarize yourself with your clitoris. You need to become clitorate. I’d love us all to educate one another about the relatively new discovery of the 3-D anatomy of the clitoris. Spread clitoracy! (Thanks to artist Sophia Wallace for this great word.)
For sex to be good, we need to tackle the shame and discomfort we have with our bodies. We worry that our inner labial lips are too large or lopsided, that our clitoris is too small or hard to find, and that we smell bad or taste funny. Fully seeing and accepting your unique genitals as beautiful and perfect in their imperfection is crucial to relaxing and receiving sexual pleasure. Many sex therapists recommend you sit in a well-lit place with a hands-free mirror to examine and learn to appreciate all the beauty that is you down there. And if your partner isn’t complimentary and verbally appreciative of your glory, tell him (or her) to get with the program. Not only should he put you at ease about your taste, smell, and appearance, but he also should assure you that he is in no hurry and will do everything it takes, and wait as long as required, for you to fully experience waves of intensifying sexual pleasure that crescendo in sublime spasms of release. This is your birthright, and I want you to exercise it.
Being fully present in your body and breathing deeply through your nose will go a long way toward helping you reach orgasm. Focus on your bodily sensations and what feels good to you instead of worrying about how you look, whether you’re taking too long, and what your partner is thinking. Many women have a hard time receiving pleasure. When it comes to sex, we need to fight the urge to give. Sometimes being a little bit selfish is just what sex requires. Consider adopting the practice of orgasmic meditation, which cultivates attention to sensation and gives you permission only to receive.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF ORGASMS
So what is an orgasm, exactly? Muscle tension and pelvic engorgement build to a release of between five and fifteen rhythmic involuntary contractions of the uterus, outer third of the vagina, PC muscle, and anal sphincter. The first few contractions are stronger and closer together, becoming further apart, shorter, and weaker as the orgasm peters out.
The pleasure of an orgasm can stay localized to the genital area, which is more typical, or it can spread through your entire body. (Tantric sex practices focus on whole-body orgasms by taking much more time to build up, incorporating deep breathing, relaxation, and focus.) Arousal creates blood pooling in the genitals, and an orgasm expels blood and tension from all the pelvic organs, which returns the body to its original, nonaroused state, called resolution.
The cigar- and cocaine-loving psychiatrist Sigmund Freud had the idea that orgasms arising in the clitoris were immature and that a better adjusted woman would climax from vaginal stimulation alone. Thus the idea of the vaginal orgasm was born. But Freud was a thirty-year-old virgin with a complete lack of intercourse experience when he came up with this theory. Masters and Johnson determined that all orgasms result from clitoral stimulation, and Betty Dodson agrees. However, there are still those sex researchers who believe in different types of orgasms arising from different forms of stimulation. Dr. Berman refers to a “pelvic floor” orgasm arising from stimulation of the G-spot, for example.
All sorts of stimulation can lead to an orgasm. There are women who can reach orgasm without clitoral involvement. There are reports of people climaxing from stimulating just about every erogenous zone imaginable; even toe sucking can bring some women over the edge. Certain paralyzed women can orgasm even after their spinal cord has been severed. Some women can climax from nipple stimulation alone, and other women can orgasm simply from thinking about their breasts or genitals being touched. Masters and Johnson found no subjects who could fantasize themselves to orgasm, but the Kinsey study put the rate of spontaneous orgasms (with no physical stimulation) at 2 percent in women. Did you ever wake up in the middle of a dream and realize you just came? Plenty of women have these “wet dreams.” Two researchers put the number at exactly 37 percent. Nocturnal orgasms are related to “neurosis” or anxiety, meaning if you’re really stressed out, your brain might be trying to do what it can to give you a short, calming orgasmic vacation.
Multiple orgasms are more accurately called serial orgasms. For many of us, after climax the clitoris is extremely sensitive and “off limits.” This is the refractory period and is more definitive in men than in women. But if your partner continues to stimulate other erogenous zones and works his or her way back to the clitoris before things settle down too much, there are more aftershocks to be had. By contracting and relaxing the PC muscle, focusing on deep breathing, and rocking the pelvis back and forth, it is possible to move your way toward another set of sexual spasms.
Sex is a natural antidepressant, and the reasons why good sex makes us feel good are emotional just as much as they are physical. Being unified with your lover, enjoying space and time as one, can be a powerful spiritual experience. Chemistry is great for starters and may even carry you for the long haul of a committed relationship, but the depths of intimacy are endless. The path of creating closeness and safety has a big payoff. Receiving the loving attention of another helps you to love and accept yourself.
Excerpted from "Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy" by Julie Holland, M.D. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Julie Holland, 2015