My new boyfriend has a cat. I often look up during sex and see it sitting, staring at me. It makes me instantly lose any focus. He thinks it’s funny and that I’m overreacting. We can’t lock it out of the room because then it scratches and meows and that’s even worse. How can I tune out?
Your boyfriend may be happy to have sex in front of his feline friend, but you don’t have the same emotional connection to his cat, so it is not surprising that you find her presence distracting. The solution is to find a way to keep her occupied in the room that is farthest away from the bedroom. A catnip toy should keep her busy.
You need to relax too. Female sexual response is acutely sensitive to stress or distraction and whether you are worrying about cats, kids or cracks in the ceiling, it doesn’t take much to switch from arousal to anxiety. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans of women being brought to a clitoral orgasm by their regular partner (scans made in 2012 by Janniko Georgiadis at the Department of Neuroscience at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands) found that before and during orgasm, blood flow and activity decrease in the parts of the brain that deal with self-awareness and moral thinking. In contrast, when women attempted, but failed to reach orgasm, these areas showed an increase in activity. Basically, the more you try to have an orgasm, the less likely you are to have one.
In one study, researchers found that more than 90% of men usually experience orgasm during intercourse, compared with just 50% of women. They investigated the factors that affect the likelihood of female orgasms and found that one of the key indicators was a woman’s capacity to focus on the moment. Orgasmic women reported being far more mindful of sensation, better at communicating with their partner and were not embarrassed to ask them to provide specific types of stimulation. In contrast, women who were unable to achieve orgasm found it hard to talk about sex, and were unable to switch off mental distractions.
In the 1970s the famous sexual researchers Masters and Johnson identified that women with arousal problems are more likely to become distracted by non-sexual cues and that this makes them disengage from physical sensations. They called this “spectatoring” because the women were focused on mentally monitoring their own and their partner’s responses. This meant that they were unable to relax, and therefore failed to have an orgasm.
If you find it difficult to switch off, you might benefit from learning mindfulness meditation. There are lots of free apps that teach you how to do it and it can really help you to become “present” to sensations. I once did a mindfulness course and although I don’t practise meditation daily, I am definitely more aware of my thoughts as a result.
I also recommend exercise. Research on the impact of exercise in arousal in women taking antidepressants, carried out in 2012 at the University of Texas, found that exercise before sexual stimuli increased arousal, partly because it distracted the women and stopped them becoming too focused on what was or wasn’t happening in their genitals.
An easy way to force yourself to focus on sensation is to try wearing a blindfold. Not being able to see where, or how, your boyfriend is going to touch you next ensures that you concentrate on what you are feeling, rather than what else is going on in the room.
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