CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: You have to feel desire to get aroused.
BOLD NEW THINKING: You don’t need to be in the mood to get excited.
For eons, women have been told how complicated their bodies are, especially sexually. And while it’s true that chicks don’t have a point-and-shoot anatomy, new research shows that we have just as much pleasure potential as men do.
“Unfortunately, women subconsciously place limits on what they think their bodies are capable of,” says Laura Berman, PhD, assistant clinical professor of ob-gyne at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “They underestimate how easily they can be stimulated.”
And Cosmo would never stand for your underestimating yourself. So, we got our hands on some recent groundbreaking studies that debunk the long-standing conventional wisdom about female desire and response. Then, we took the research one step further by explaining how to use it to tap into a new dimension of bedroom bliss.
Maybe this rings a bell: Your guy wants some action and you’re stuck in deadma mode. Hey, it happens. But before you blow him off because you’re not into it, consider this: New research proves that your body can be turned on even during those moments when your mind is turned off.
That’s because desire and arousal are two separate animals. Desire occurs in the mind (i.e., sexual thoughts), while arousal unfolds in the body (i.e., feeling hot and lubricating). True, desire usually leads to arousal, but our bodies don’t need desire to get to that warm, tingly place. In fact, researchers at the University of Amsterdam have discovered that a woman’s central motor system lights up instantly with physical stimulation, before her mind begins to process it (or spoil the fun).
Problem is, many women think sex will be a drag if they’re not registering any interest in their brains. What to do when he’s feeling hot and you aren’t: Have him zone in on your physical hot buttons, says Sari Locker, PhD, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Amazing Sex. “Focus on your body, and give in to the feel of his lips against your neck or the way his hand is brushing up against your back.”
And feel free to sharpen your body’s sexual antenna—it’s searching for stimuli 24/7. Take time to really taste the way that ice cream melts on your tongue or smell how your guy’s cologne lingers after he’s left your place in the AM. The more you indulge your physical senses, the more you’ll be primed for sex later on—regardless of what kind of mental mood you’re in.
“Even if your brain is checked out, your body has a memory of feel-good sensations,” says Berman. Another testament that you don’t necessarily need desire to relish doing the deed? One recent study found that many women experience heightened arousal when anxious or stressed. When a woman wants to reach arousal fast, she has to nix distractions, like the sound of the TV.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Women take forever to get turned on.
BOLD NEW THINKING: We don’t necessarily need a long preamble to get going.
Somewhere along the way, it became commonly accepted knowledge that women required hours of foreplay to get primed for sex. Now, we’re all for tons of kissing and oral, but it’s not always necessary. A new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine claims that both men and women begin showing signs of arousal within 30 seconds.
What’s more, there was little difference in how long it took women and men to reach peak sexual arousal (meaning maximum genital temperature for both sexes). Researchers at McGill University in Canada had young men and women watch porn. Meanwhile, in a hidden area, scientists controlled thermal imaging sensors to measure heat changes in their genitals.
According to Tuuli Kukkonen, one of the study’s authors, men reached peak arousal in 11 minutes, while women clocked in at 12 minutes. Of course, this flies in the face of old arguments that claim women reach the brink in about 20 minutes.
So what gives? As it turns out, participants in this study watched images through special goggles to minimize their field of vision so they were less likely to be interrupted by what was happening on the sidelines of the room. The lesson here: When you want to get revved up ASAP, you have to nix all the distractions.
“Women are more likely to multitask, and they tend to get rattled by a ringing phone or by overthinking what they have to do the next morning,” says Berman. The problem? “It takes them out of the moment because they want to attend to all that’s going on.” So whatever you do, power down the TV, and carve out time strictly for you and him to get it on.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Dry down there? You’re not feelin’ it.
BOLD NEW THINKING: Lubrication isn’t the only indicator of desire and arousal.
Let’s play a little word association: We say male arousal and you say erection. Unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast equivalent for women. Vaginal lubrication often has been viewed as the biggest cue...until now.
“Research has found that there’s no direct correlation between arousal and the amount of blood flow and lubrication to the vagina,” says Beverly Whipple, PhD, co-author of The Science of Orgasm. “You may be aroused and not have lubrication at all.” Often, this is hormonal: Women are naturally wetter around ovulation and drier when their periods are about to arrive.
Also, antihistamines found in cold medications, for example, can sap nasal passages and vaginal secretions. So what are the physical cues worth clueing into? Scientists at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction asked women exactly how they knew they were turned on. Although lubrication was reported as one sign, many women also reported genital warmth and swelling and nipple hardness as well as subtle signals like butterflies in the stomach, increased heart rate, and muscle tightness in the stomach and legs.
The more you tap into these sensations, “the more likely you’ll get to the next stage and have a more powerful orgasm,” says Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD, author of Touch Me There! Being lubed up eases penetration, but you can get slick “through oral sex or an over-the-counter lubricant,” explains sex therapist Ian Kerner, PhD, author of She Comes First.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Women have lower libidos than men do.
BOLD NEW THINKING: Women have a broader range of sex drives than men do.
All guys are horn dogs, and it’s our job to throw them a bone once in a while, right? Hardly. While men’s libidos may go into overdrive, ours aren’t lagging. Just as some women are taller than men are, “there are lots of men with low sex drives and lots of women with high ones,” says Erick Janssen, PhD, a Kinsey Institute researcher who collected data from more than 25,000 men and women about their libidos.
So, don’t assume you want sex less. “You and your man will fluctuate in terms of who’s horniest,” says Fulbright. And when you do feel low, try to draw on all sorts of erotic material: Fantasize about hot strangers on the street or steamy sex in public places. The more open-minded you are, the hotter you feel. In fact, another study by Richard Lippa, PhD, psychology professor at California State University, found that about 20 percent of females have higher sex drives than the average man does.
The higher a woman’s sex drive, the more attraction she reported feeling for both sexes. “Many women enjoy looking at other women in soft porn,” says Fulbright. That means they’re not necessarily attracted to women, but they respond to more sexual stimuli.
Take advantage of this receptiveness by being more hands-on. “Women spend less time masturbating than men do,” says Berman. “But the better you know your body and the more you embrace sensations, the more you’ll crave sex.”
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Women aren’t particularly visual creatures.
BOLD NEW THINKING: Females respond to all kinds of erotic images.
Guys love having sex with the lights on... and now there’s proof that you should try it for your sake, too. A researcher from Emory University tracked men and women as they viewed photos of couples having sex. Women spent as much time gazing at the images and they focused longer on the couple’s genitals than guys did, says a study by author Heather Rupp, PhD, now a fellow at the Kinsey Institute.
Max out your pleasure by undressing him for a change. Or, place a mirror at your bedside to view angles you wouldn’t normally see. If Sunday is movie night, order up an erotic film. And remember this: The most surprising thing about the Emory study was that men spent more time watching female’s faces than their bodies. “They’re not looking at your imperfections; they’re looking at your face to gauge enjoyment,” says Rupp.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: You have to feel desire to get aroused.