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How Tension and Relaxation are Important to Women’s Orgasms

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March 13, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

About 10% of women have never had an orgasm — either with a partner or during masturbation. So quite a few of them have found their way into my therapy practice. Many come to their first appointment with some confusion about issues involved when learning to become orgasmic.

One key issue is learning to develop a balance between relaxation and tension during sexual activity. But, how can a woman be both tense and relaxed at the same time?

The type of tension that helps reach orgasm is muscle tension (myotonia, the scientific language for the same thing). Many women who have not yet had an orgasm have the mistaken impression that they should relax and “just lay there.” They’ve heard that relaxation during sex is important. But it turns out that muscle tension is very often necessary to have an orgasm. So many women learn to have their first orgasm by incorporating a fair amount of leg, abdominal and buttock tension. Sometimes even the muscles of the feet can be tensed in a productive way. And some women tense their upper body as well.

Only a very small percentage of women experience no body tension as they approach the release of orgasm. Interestingly, there are muscle contractions that occur in the lower pelvis that are a key part of the experience of orgasm. The same muscles that you squeeze in order to stop the flow of urine midstream contract automatically during orgasm.

This group is called the pubococcygeus muscle group and a conscious contraction of that group is called a “Kegel exercise.” Many women contract these muscles during their sexual experiences in order to help build up their arousal. Contractions (or tensing) of the various muscles bring more blood to that area of the body. One important aspect of arousal is increased blood flow to the genital area (called vasocongestion in scientific terms).

So, where’s the relaxation part of this equation? In the brain. By suggesting that a woman “relax,” what is meant is that during sex it’s best for them not to be worrying, questioning themselves, or getting ahead of where they actually are in the process of building sexual arousal. The main task is to be focused primarily on the feeling of the sensations of the stimulation.

To help keep this type of relaxation going, I recommend using the “silent radio technique.” You may have seen one of these in post offices or other public places in which long lines can form. Their purpose is to keep people’s hostility at a low level despite long waits. Think of a Times Square sign in which words stream into view from the left-hand side of a rectangular black box, travel to the right edge, and then disappear off the screen. The ones I’ve seen have horoscopes, sports scores, news highlights and such.

When using it during sex, some women find it helpful to put a repetitive mantra such as “I can take as long as I want” or “This really feels great” on their mental silent radio. It keeps the brain occupied — but with a thought that will foster sexual arousal rather than with one that decreases arousal.

So one aspect of learning to be orgasmic involves these two suggestions that, on the surface, seem to be contradictory, but when employed tend to help make substantial progress toward the desired outcome.

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