The #1 Lie About Getting Laid
We’re big proponents of orgasm equality, the topic of a brilliant new book from sex therapist/psychology professor Laurie Mintz, Ph.D. As Mintz explains in Becoming Cliterate (while the book has plenty about the clitoris, the overarching theme is the gap between male and female sexual pleasure—and how to fix it), we’ve got a long way to go:
50 percent of 18- to 35-year-old women say they have trouble reaching orgasm with a partner.
64 percent of women vs. 91 percent of men said they had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter.
4 percent of women vs. 55 percent of men say they usually reach orgasm during first-time hookup sex.
The way to close the gap? Mintz says we need to first realize that the way we’ve traditionally been taught women orgasm—via penetration—is wrong: 95 percent of women do not orgasm from intercourse alone. In sexual encounters that include intercourse, Mintz reports that 78 percent of women’s orgasm problems are caused by not enough or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation. Mintz is quick to point out that she’s not anti-intercourse. Rather, she’s about equally valuing clitoral stimulation—the route to orgasm for most women.
Here, she makes a worthy case for becoming cliterate and shares some of her solutions to the issues she hears about repeatedly from her college students and private clients, i.e. how to better communicate with a partner and stay in the moment during sex, as opposed to being pulled away from orgasm by the noise in our heads.
A Q&A with Laurie Mintz, Ph.D.
Why should we all want to be cliterate?
It’s about making sex better for everyone involved! And by sex, I don’t mean just intercourse, but the whole of a sexual encounter. Cliteracy benefits both women and men. For women, it means they know what brings them pleasure, and they feel empowered to receive such pleasure, as well as to communicate their needs to partners. Cliteracy benefits men in at least two ways. First, the overwhelming majority of men want to please their partners, but don’t know how (as they are subject to the same cultural myths and misinformation as women are). Second, cliteracy takes the performance pressure off of men to thrust hard and last long—which isn’t actually the most reliable way to orgasm for most women—and instead to immerse in their own pleasurable, erotic, orgasmic sensations.
How does body image and self-talk affect women’s pleasure/orgasms?
A great many women dislike their own bodies and thus are self-conscious during sexual encounters. It’s impossible to have an orgasm while holding your stomach in (believe me, I spent my younger years trying!). In fact, it’s actually impossible to have an orgasm when you are thinking, period. Along with thinking about how their bodies look, women are often “in their heads” during sex about a variety of concerns, including, for example, if they smell funny and if they are taking too long to orgasm. Psychologists call this “spectatoring”—meaning becoming an observer to your own sexual activity. It’s putting your focus on evaluating how you are doing, instead of what you are feeling. Spectatoring diminishes sexual pleasure and enjoyment, and actually makes it impossible to orgasm.
Are there any stats around how many women vs. men are pulled into “spectatoring” during sex?
Both women and men have difficulty staying present during sex, and I don’t know of any research on sex differences in this behavior. However, there is research on sex differences in what women and men worry about during sex. Women’s most common form of spectatoring involves evaluating and worrying about their bodies and men’s most common form of spectatoring involves performance concerns.
Anything that works to keep us in the moment during sex?
Yes, indeed! Turning off your brain during sex can be accomplished with mindfulness, which is a simple but potent remedy that’s been proven to improve sex.
In a nutshell, it’s simply focusing completely on what’s happening in the present moment. When I teach my students and clients about mindfulness, I tell them that being mindful is akin to riding a roller coaster: As you climb upward, you might be thinking: This is fun! Or: Why did I get on this thing? I want off! But as the roller coaster descends, you become too immersed in the sensations to think any thoughts at all (Aaaahhhh!!!). This not thinking—just feeling what’s happening—is mindfulness. And it is sex’s best friend.
“Your body can be in the midst of being touched by a sexual partner while your mind is thinking about an email you need to respond to.”
Another way I’ve heard mindfulness described is: It’s putting your mind and body in the same place. Recall that roller coaster—as you fly downhill, your mind and body are focused on the same sensations. But in daily life, your body may do one thing while your mind is somewhere else. Your body can be in the midst of being touched by a sexual partner while your mind is thinking about an email you need to respond to. Or, as a client recently told me, while receiving oral sex, instead of focusing on the sensations, you could be wondering whether your partner is getting bored. Or, as another client told me: while her partner was caressing her naked body, all she could think about was whether or not her thighs looked fat.
While such invasive thoughts are fairly common during sex, the antidote to them is mindfulness—it’s being able to bring your mind and body back in sync and focusing on the sensations. It’s not thinking at all, but just feeling.
This takes practice. I recommend to clients and readers that they practice this in daily life (e.g., when washing dishes, brushing their teeth, or taking a walk), and then apply it to their sex lives. There are also a lot of fantastic apps and books that teach mindfulness. One of my favorite is the phone app, Insight Timer, but there are many others.
Can you explain where people go wrong in communicating about sex (and relationships in general)?
The four faulty ways of thinking about communication are:
“I shouldn’t have to say what I want,” which is the mistaken belief that our partners should know what we want without us telling them (in life and in bed!).”
“I’m sure I know,” which is basically assuming you know something without actually checking it out.”
“It’s useless to discuss,” which is the idea that talking through an issue isn’t going to work.”
“Fights have winners and losers,” which is the idea that the purpose of a disagreement is to prove your point and sway the other person to your side.”
And your best tips for getting around faulty communication?
With the opposite, more functional beliefs:
State what you want. Don’t expect someone to mind read.
Check out your assumptions. Don’t act on beliefs about the other person without verifying their accuracy.
Work out issues as they arise.
Work to resolve issues rather than to win a fight.
Implementing these beliefs requires using some powerful, but easily learned communication skills. There are three that I believe are the most important and the most powerful in terms of enhancing relationships (and I cover more in the book):
1. Don’t ask questions that aren’t actually questions.
People often ask a question that isn’t a question, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid facing their needs head-on. For example, the question, “Do you want to have sex?” isn’t really a question, and in fact, can have many possible meanings, from, “I’m totally horny and want to get it on,” to, “I hope you aren’t horny because I’m exhausted and want to cuddle and get some sleep.” Depending on what the asker actually meant—and their partner’s reply—you can see how things could go downhill quickly.
2. Start sentences with “I” rather than with “you.”
Starting a sentence with the word “you” almost guarantees a non-productive conversation. It comes across as an accusation, and puts the other person on the defensive. Contrast how you would react if your partner said, “You never go down on me!” with, “I’d love you to go down on me more often.” My guess is that the “you” statement would result in you feeling attacked, defensive, or guilty. The “I” statement, on the other hand, would hopefully be the entry into constructive dialogue.
3. Communicate about communication.
Psychologists call this meta-communication. It’s especially useful when starting conversations you’re worried about having—such as a concern or request you have about your sex life. As an example, you might say something like, “I have something to talk to you about, but I’m afraid you might get hurt or angry with me.” Or, “There’s something I want to talk about, and I’m afraid you’re going to feel criticized and get defensive rather than realize that I’m bringing this up because I care about you and our relationship.”
Along with being great conversation starters, meta-communications can be used in the middle of conversations. For example, you might say, “I feel like I’m not getting my point across clearly. Let me try again.” Or, “I feel like we’re both getting defensive and I don’t want the conversation to be like this.” I often tell my clients that whenever they’re all up in their head in the middle of a conversation, it’s probably time to meta-communicate.
What’s the hardest-to-crack myth you’ve encountered in your work?
There are so many sex myths that are hard to crack—including the idea that simultaneous orgasms are the ideal; that vibrators are addictive or will “replace” a partner; and that sex is an innate skill that we shouldn’t have to learn.
But, the one I get the most resistance to is the idea that sex should be spontaneous. Let me bust this right now: Imagine getting dressed to go out for a date or to a party where you know a hot guy/woman you want to get with is going to be. You take a shower, put on your sexy underwear, maybe spray on perfume, and then you put your best flirt on all night long. You make eye contact, touch their arm, etc. And lo and behold, you end up having sex at the end of the night. If you think about it, this is actually well-orchestrated sex, not spur-of-the-moment sex. Once you realize this and let go of the unrealistic notion that sex should be spontaneous, it opens the door to helpful talks that occur before a sexual encounter. These talks are useful because, unlike in the movies, one partner may want to have sex and the other may want to study for an exam, complete a work project, or just go to sleep. Indeed, while the movies don’t portray it as romantic, talking about both if, and what you want to do, before doing it, is perfectly normal—despite the insidious spontaneous-sex myth.
“There are so many sex myths that are hard to crack…But, the one I get the most resistance to is the idea that sex should be spontaneous.”
I try, through my work, to unravel these and other myths with scientific evidence. Really, that’s my ultimate goal and life’s work—helping people live fuller, richer, and more sexually pleasurable lives through the art and science of psychology.
Dr. Laurie Mintz is a therapist, professor, and speaker whose latest book, the sex-positive Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It, focuses on female sexual pleasure. Mintz has authored more than fifty research articles in academic journals, as well as A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex, and writes a Psychology Today blog, Stress and Sex. She is a tenured professor at the University of Florida, where she teaches the Psychology of Human Sexuality, and has maintained a small private practice for more than twenty-five years.