Using the Anatomy of Arousal to Become Orgasmically Proficient
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: October 10, 2021
Updated on: November 1, 2022
For the past two decades, Sheri Winston’s focus as a sexuality teacher has been inspiring people to have more sexual pleasure. Her approach to pleasure is uniquely informed not only by her knowledge of female anatomy but also her prior experiences as a certified nurse-midwife, registered nurse, childbirth educator, and licensed massage therapist. Winston spent the ’80s and ’90s helping people give birth, which involved creating techniques that supported the pelvic floor and, inadvertently, allowed her patients to deepen their capacity for sexual arousal. In her 2010 book, Women’s Anatomy of Arousal, she shared her tools to help more people elevate their sexual experiences.
A Q&A with Sheri Winston
Generally, there’s a misunderstanding of how long it takes a woman or a person with core yin energy to get highly aroused. There can be an expectation that women are—or should be—turned on quickly and ready for anything right away, when that’s just not the case most of the time. It can take thirty or forty-five minutes to get into a state of deep, total arousal. Yet the average amount of time a couple spends in an erotic encounter from the beginning to end is about twelve minutes. So it’s not surprising that a lot of women are dissatisfied and thinking that there’s something wrong with them or their partner, or that their partners think something is wrong with themselves.
If you’re not fully aroused—genitals fully engorged and in an altered state of arousal with a deep trance—and you start having intercourse, it’s not going to be great. It might feel okay, but it’s not going to be amazing because your body’s not ready yet. Understanding how long it takes to get aroused can help with sexual satisfaction. And then we can learn how to speed it up. Women have the same amount of erectile tissue as men. If we know how this tissue is structured in the female body, we can learn how to enhance our erotic trance, which is part of learning erotic skills. We can learn how to master and channel our erotic energy to get it moving faster, deeper, and more intensely.
Another common misunderstanding is that vaginal lubrication is a sign of being highly aroused. We often think if the vagina is wet, she’s highly aroused and it’s time for penetration, and if it’s not so wet, she’s not aroused. But this is not necessarily the case. The amount of lubrication that a woman makes can be different at different times of her cycle or different times of her life. A women can be wet and not highly aroused or not wet at all and highly aroused. Either way, I’m a huge fan of extra lube. Coconut oil or an aloe-based lube and something that has a neutral taste. And it’s lovely to have something that you can slather all over the place.
There’s this cultural idea that “real” sex is what we do with another person. And the sex we have with ourselves is not that important—it’s throwaway sex or sex we have when want to have a quick orgasm to fall asleep. We often don’t see the potential of a sexual relationship with ourselves, but it’s the foundation for sexual relationships with others. It’s our sex learning laboratory or rehearsal hall.
Once you have the sexual foundation with self-pleasure, then you have the option to incorporate this into a sexual relationship with a partner. And of course, once you start doing that, then sex becomes so much bigger, deeper, and fuller—holistic. You then have the option for a range of sexual experiences, from a fun rendezvous to deeper erotic encounters.
If you want to learn how to have orgasms or more of them, start with self-pleasure. Believe it or not, you can discover how to be what I call orgasmically proficient. And that means you can have an orgasm one way or another: When you want one, you can get there. With self-pleasure, you can collect a bunch of tools in your erotic toolkit—breathing styles, pulsing of the pelvic floor muscles, vibrators, etc.—that can help you move your erotic energy. Vibrators are an awesome tool to have in your kit; they’re a great training tool for finding your path to orgasm and beyond.
There are things that we can do to keep things fun, lively, and sexy in long-term relationships. But it requires conscious effort because the flame does not continue to burn by itself. Taking the time and valuing the connection are key. Learning about sexual pleasure and how to communicate your desires is part of it, too. And having your sex toolkit for those times when you’re less aroused gives you multiple pathways to arousal and orgasm.
Also, it’s helpful to accept the times or time periods when you don’t want to have sex. In these cases, you can have what I call unilateral-sex-support sex, where you invite your partner to self-pleasure and support them while they do so. You can cuddle with them, use your hands, explore erotic talk, etc. Doing this can create loving, connecting energy between the two of you, too. And sometimes, you might find that you become interested in having sex.
Then there are times when people in monogamous relationships don’t want to be monogamous anymore. If this is the case, there are ways to communicate your desire to shift to an open relationship and decide if that will work for both parties. There are many things that can come up in long-term relationships that require adjustments, and it’s especially important to communicate during these times.
There is a component of sex that is natural and instinctual, but there’s this enormous learning component, especially because of the unhealthy cultural ideas around sex that many of us have adopted. With sexual-pleasure education, you can learn how to have awesome sex the same way we can learn how to play the piano or speak another language. You can learn how to have amazing orgasms, different types of orgasms, and multiple ones. You can learn to get better at being sensual, pleasuring yourself, giving pleasure, and so forth. And even learn the full model of the female genital anatomy, which is still not in most textbooks or sex books. It’s all learnable, but without sexual-pleasure education, most people aren’t going to know how to do those things. You can learn more about sexual pleasure in my books, Women’s Anatomy of Arousal and Succulent SexCraft, and in my online courses at the Intimate Arts Center.
Sheri Winston, CNM, RN, BSN, LMT, is a holistic sexuality teacher, an author, a medical professional, and the founder of the Intimate Arts Center. Her first book, Women’s Anatomy of Arousal: Secret Maps to Buried Pleasure, won the 2010 Book Award from AASECT (the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists). Winston is also the author of Succulent SexCraft: Your Hands-On Guide to Erotic Play and Practice.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.
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