One of the best ways to help your girlfriend to feel more relaxed about sex may be to stop having it for a while.
Q. My girlfriend is self-conscious during sex. She seems unable to fully let go and really enjoy herself.
She’s in her early 30s and has had a few partners, so it’s not lack of experience.
How can I help her to feel more comfortable so that we can enjoy a good love life?
A. Although your girlfriend has had a few previous partners, they either didn’t notice, or weren’t willing to challenge this issue, so she is lucky to have found a partner who cares enough to try to help her let go.
There are a million and one reasons why your girlfriend might be finding it difficult to relax during sex.
Some women are worried about not being able to orgasm, others just can’t switch off their inner critic.
However, if she is very sensitive, there is a risk that she will interpret what you are saying as a criticism, so a conversation about it needs to be broached with great sensitivity.
You need to let her know gently that you can feel her discomfort and reassure her that your sole motivation is to help, not to humiliate.
Whatever the cause, one of the best ways to help your girlfriend to feel more relaxed about sex may be to stop having it for a while.
That might sound counterintuitive, but sex therapists commonly use a system called “sensate focus” to help couples with sexual difficulties to go back to basics and build trust and intimacy — essential for truly great sex.
Sensate focus is not useful for couples who are having relationship problems, or who are dealing with sexual dysfunction, but it can be a very enriching exercise for couples who want to become more sexually connected.
The idea is to create an environment where you and your girlfriend can learn how to receive and give pleasure to each other.
Sensate focus is intended to be an experience in itself, so it is not a prelude to “sex” or a form of foreplay.
The central tenet is non-sexual touching and, in the initial phase, all other contact is restricted.
Instead, you focus on creating and experiencing sensation by taking turns exploring each other bodies.
Because this is non-sexual, it is non-threatening and your girlfriend should be able to respond by telling you what tickles, what scratches and what feels really, really good.
It is important to separate this experience from sex because the more relaxed she feels with touching and being touched in this phase, the more likely she is to remain relaxed when you escalate to genital touching in phase two.
Although the entire exercise is focused on helping her to relax, phase two offers you the opportunity to explore sexual responses.
When you progress to genital touching, you will be able to see how, with stimulation, her body changes as she becomes aroused.
The skin on her chest and torso will become flushed — stimulating her nipples will magnify these sensations.
Keep it slow and gentle at first, and ask her to tell you what she likes and what she doesn’t like.
Every woman has a different sensory threshold.
When it is her turn, make sure to give her positive feedback to build her confidence.
When your girlfriend is comfortable with phase two, you can move on to penetrative sex, but let her dictate the pace and always include non-genital and genital touching beforehand.
This slows everything down and ensures that she is fully aroused before intercourse.
Even at this stage, the only ‘goal’ is intimacy and connection, but orgasm is permitted.
Although sensate focus can sound like a rather prescriptive remedy, it will give your girlfriend the opportunity to unravel negative sexual associations so that she can begin to associate sex with fun, not fear.
That’s the greatest gift you could possibly give her.
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