How to have better orgasms, according to science

Ladies and gentle-femmes, welcome to Pleasuredome

By Rae Hodge

Staff Reporter

Published July 23, 2023 1:59PM (EDT)

Passion in bed (Getty Images/Prostock-Studio)
Passion in bed (Getty Images/Prostock-Studio)

With all the chaos in the world, maybe you need a guide on how to come so hard your brain turns into an etheric lightening rod and madhouse pleasure spikes your spine with 20,000 household volts of orgasmic delirium. If so, you came to the right place.

As Gloria Steinem once famously hypothesized, women may be the one group that grows more radical with age. For those of us in the Bikini Kill generation of feminism, at least, our belief in the radical possibilities of pleasure only grows more scientifically justified through the years. In fact, a 2010 study of more than 600 female test subjects revealed women aged 31 to 45 are the most sexually active, with 87% reporting they get it on regularly. 

While hormone levels can be credited for the heightened frequency, credit for actual satisfaction in the deed lay mostly in the mind. We're less self-conscious about our bodies in mature age and — as a 2017 poll of more than 2,000 women over 40 found — 91% of us are more confident and "at ease sexually" as we strut into cougarhood. 

That's why I've analyzed the advice of more than a dozen clinical sex therapists and surveyed more than 25 academic studies on the science of female pleasure. All my homework on experiencing transcendent boudoir bliss boils down to three key components: brain hormone production, blood flow to nerve clusters and pelvic muscle contraction training. There are a few ways to get each component in gear and working in tandem with the others, and one element common to all three components — a relaxed psychological state of playful focus.   

Some of these tricks may be old hat to you carnal connoisseurs, but I guarantee you'll find at least a few to be titillatingly novel. Here, then, are the must-know moves for any would-be freak in the sheets. 

Rest, restore, repeat

Boring, I know. Who wants to focus on restoring emotional well-being and physiological nourishment when you're hungry for the kind of unhinged sex normally only found in the hyper-toxic relationships of your early 20s? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but, contrary to the sage wisdom of internet memes, those of us who've gone on grippy-sock vacay (shout-out to my fellow survivors) aren't somehow predisposed to life-altering orgasms. 

Nothing's wrong with you. It's just that sexuality isn't divorced from the rest of your brain health. Pleasure and pain are physically mingled in many of the same subcortical regions in your brain, with your insular and cingulate cortices both lighting up and triggering heart-pounding amygdala responses. 

Stress, anxiety, fatigue — the daily management of these libido-killers is the responsibility of your brain's dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. That's the filter part of your brain that stops you from road-raging through a farmer's market when you see your ex there. It's also the part that stops you from jumping a hot stranger's bones while waiting in line at the bank. 

But too much activation of that part when it's time to get hot can suppress the primal sexual pleasure responses that are howling like a wolf from within your ventral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices. You've got to be able to turn off the filter if you want crazy-good pleasure. 

Long story short? Stress management, daily meditative practices of some kind, brain-healthy nutrition and sleep cycles conducive to emotional regulation — all of these things create the foundation for a thriving sex life and all of them revolve around getting the rest and emotional restoration that you need. 

A 2015 study found that the more women slept, the more randy they were the next day — and that even one hour of extra sleep could spike their libidos by as much as 14%. This relationship between good sleep and good sex has been found to be even closer in women entering menopause and to affect female subjects more than those who are male. 

The takeaway: In the words of Mavis Beaumont, "keep your plants watered." Restore your energy reserves and deplete your cortisol levels with a few nights of deep rest and good food. Nourish the heart, and you nourish the nymph. 

Zen on, zone in, bliss out

Good sleep is the physical component to getting your head in the game, but the mental component can be found in meditative mindfulness practices. A 2013 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine found that mindful meditative practices that are focused on increasing body awareness can actually heighten sensations in your clitoris — and with more than 8,000 nerve-endings there, it's worth a go. 

Wanna hear something that'll really blow your mind? In 2016, a small brain study of 11 people showed researchers that if you simply mentally imagine erotic stimulation of your nipples and clit, your brain will light up in the same way as it does when you're actually getting touched. This research suggests some of you can actually think yourself into having a bonafide leg-shaker. You're welcome. 

Don't think I'm advocating for a far-fetched mental-gasm either. Regular mindfulness and meditative practices increases your ability to control your thoughts and enrich your fantasies so that you can quickly swat away any errant distractions while you're getting it on. A focused mind is a sexy thing — and a 2011 study found a direct connection between women who lack erotic thought engagement during sex and women who have reduced or no orgasms. So make it a point to get your head in the game while you're getting your head in the game. 

It's not just about meditating and getting a golden eight hours and waking up ready for a pounce, though. It's about all the things we can do in the long haul to deal with grinding existential dread and the resultant cortisol build-up that suppresses testosterone (a necessary sex-drive hormone). 

Exercise routines will burn off cortisol the best, of course. Might I also recommend including these five hip-opening yoga poses that are known to heighten sexual pleasure? They seem like excellent warm-ups for the four coitus techniques that are known to produce orgasms for women at the highest rate of reliability. (But let's not leave out the hero of our more grind-centric sessions, the ever-delicious Side Straddle.)

The takeaway: Develop long-term stress management habits and get your fantasies rocking with meditative focus. If you give your brain a chance to work with your body, you'll be back on demon time before you know it. Oh, and don't forget the kegels. 

The vibe is off 

No, this isn't implying that vibrating sex toys are harmful or deplete your sex life. On the contrary, a 2017 study found that when women use vibrators, they generally report positive sexual benefits that ultimately increased long-term satisfaction, with the majority reporting improved vaginal lubrication, orgasm frequency and genital sensation. 

Furthermore, the over-hyped sexist myth about vibrators causing "dead vagina syndrome" (what a name) was put to rest in a 2009 article studying vibrator use among more than 2,000 U.S. women (more than half used vibrators.) In 2010, another study found that the continuous restructuring of vulva nerve beds make it highly unlikely that sex toys will cause any permanent nerve damage.

All the same, vibrators are a well-studied consumer health product for which proper usage guidelines should be noted and adhered to, so that you aren't over-clocking your crotch. In the 2009 study above, 17% of women reported experiencing low-grade desensitizing affects that lasted anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. 

Temporary numbness isn't the biggest problem you're likely to find with vibrator overuse, but the psychological dependency that can be created by repeated physiological conditioning. That means longer term misuse of vibrators can train your brain to respond to that particular sexual stimuli of a vibrator at the cost of reduced partner response and arousal building.

The takeaway: If you want to trigger astral-projection levels of soul quivering, lay off the vibrator for a bit. Or at least use it more lightly and in varied ways. You're going to need a full head of steam to reach new heights. You can give yourself that by retraining your body and brain to derive pleasure from the first two stages of the three-stage sexual response cycle — arousal building and the pleasure plateau. 

Love wins

To hookup culture connoisseurs, we regret to inform you that your more tender-hearted counterparts are (probably) actually having hotter sex than you. And among committed lesbian couples, that sex actually gets progressively hotter through the years. Across the range of studies and expert advice I've surveyed, the release of serotonin and dopamine — and, most importantly, the love chemical known as oxytocin — among committed partners was found to be tied to stronger and more consistent orgasms for women.  

In most cases, scientists seemed to find it hard to tell whether the chicken or egg came first: the more emotionally satisfied a partner was, the more likely they were to reach increasingly powerful orgasms. And the more powerful the orgasm, the more satisfied they were emotionally. 

The feedback loop of love doesn't appear by itself, though. Among the most consistent factors that appear in the literature is a female partner's openness with communication about her pleasure. The truth is, if you're a hetero-partnered gal over the age of 30, you probably want more sex than him. That means you've got to start talking about what you like and don't like — and what exotic adventures you'd like to try — with warmth, plainspoken frankness and humor.

That last bit isn't a bit. As the science has shown: partners who laugh together, come together. 

The takeaway: Get comfortable, let yourself feel something secure, develop intimacy and trust and a good sense of humor with your partner. All of these things not only help you relax, but bring your pleasure chemistry to a faster and more intense boil. They also help you cultivate the sense of emotional safety necessary to discover new things about your tastes with a sense of playful curiosity. 

Whatever you do, just keep the socks off in bed, babes — I don't care what the science says.

By Rae Hodge

Rae Hodge is a science reporter for Salon. Her data-driven, investigative coverage spans more than a decade, including prior roles with CNET, the AP, NPR, the BBC and others. She can be found on Mastodon at @raehodge@newsie.social. 


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Explainer Health Love And Sex Orgasms Pleasure Psychology Sexual Health