No More Intrusive Thoughts: 4 Ways To Hack Your Brain For Better Sex
If you Google "how to have better sex," you'll get articles suggesting that you buy lingerie, make a sexy playlist, and eat chocolate-covered strawberries in bed (side note: clearly the author of that one has never actually eaten chocolate-covered strawberries, because they are a mess).
Let me just tell you now: None of that is going to solve your problem.
That's because your experience of sex—like your experience of the rest of the world—starts in your brain. If you have anxieties and insecurities around your body, your partner, or sex in general, you can't solve them from the outside in. Lingerie, music, and chocolate are all fun, but none of them is any match for the distracting soundtrack in your brain that is ruining your bedroom vibes.
The good news is that you can improve your sex life, dramatically, and pretty quickly too—and you don't have to spend a dime. Too many women just check out from sex because they don't know how to get their insecure brains under control—but everyone deserves great sex, and you can use your thoughts to get there.
Below, let's go through some of the most common orgasm-blocking thoughts and how to dissolve them with a new way of thinking.
Negative Thought Pattern #1: Worrying about how you look naked.
There are a lot of variations on this thought, but the essential thought is that there's something wrong or unattractive with how you look naked or in a certain position, and that your partner isn't going to like it. My clients often find that they secretly believe their partner is just "tolerating" their body "imperfections."
- For an existing relationship: "This person has seen me naked before and keeps coming back for more."
- For a first-time/new relationship: "Humans are experts at imagining other humans with their clothes off, and they wouldn't be here if they didn't expect to like what they were going to see."
As a curvy woman myself, I used to agonize about the first time I got naked with new partners because I was so convinced that I had somehow completely disguised my horrific body in clothing and that they would be shocked when they saw me naked. I remember the day I realized that as a woman dating in my 30s, the men I was dating all had access to internet porn and, if they were into curvy women, had surely been seeking out photos and videos of naked curvy women for years before I came along. If they were into me, they were into curves—and they wanted to see mine naked!
(Here are more small ways to stop hating your body, if that's where you're at.)
Negative Thought Pattern #2: Worrying about the other person's pleasure more than your own.
For many people, this one manifests less as the thought "their pleasure is more important than mine" (in fact, they would strongly disagree with that as an abstract premise!) and more as a habit of worrying about whether your partner is satisfied and often an intense discomfort with receiving pleasure while not also giving it. It's no wonder, because women are socialized to believe that their value is based on providing sexual pleasure to other people, particularly to men. For many women, this is most acute when receiving oral sex without reciprocating.
So if you find that you are uncomfortable with a session where you have an orgasm and your partner doesn't—but you feel fine when it's the other way around—then you've got some thoughts about this that are worth investigating!
A variation on this is the fear that you are taking too long to reach orgasm—which is similar in that it considers your orgasm as somehow separate from the rest of the sexual experience and your partner's orgasm.
- "The more I enjoy sex, the more my partner will enjoy it."
- "Giving me pleasure excites my partner."
- "Allowing my partner to give me pleasure is giving my partner an opportunity to feel sexy and powerful."
You'll notice that I suggested very baby step thoughts here. Sure, it would be great if thinking, "Pleasure is a human right, and I deserve it as much as everyone else," solved this problem. I totally believe that is true, and at this point in my journey, it works for me. But when I started, I was so programmed to believe that my partner's sexual pleasure was the most important thing that I had to start with thoughts that incorporated their pleasure rather than thoughts just about my own. And you know what? That's OK. It doesn't make you a bad feminist or ideologically impure. I'll take a baby-step thought that actually changes my feelings over a "pure" thought I don't believe any day.
Negative Thought Pattern #3: Feeling self-conscious asking for what you like or want.
So many people are uncomfortable talking about sex under any circumstances, much less asking for what they want when the moment arrives. That means so many people have less-than-satisfying sex because they feel too awkward, uncomfortable, or anxious to give direction to their partners.
There are a couple of different kinds of thoughts that can give rise to going radio silent, even when your partner asks you what you like (my least favorite response has always been "um, everything is good"). You might be thinking that it's embarrassing or awkward. You might be worrying that they will think what you like is weird or that they won't want to do it. You might have been raised to think that sex was shameful and not something to talk about, or that "good" people don't talk about sex or want it too much or, heaven forbid, want anything kinky. Or you may have been unconsciously warped by watching too many romantic comedies and thus have the completely erroneous belief that good sex should just "happen" if the connection is right. Whatever the thoughts producing your silent mime act in bed, they are worth working on!
- "I'm willing to feel awkward up front to have great sex afterward."
- "If I tell my partner what I want, they may feel brave enough to tell me what they want."
- "Knowing how to turn me on will make sex better for both of us; my partner wants me to be turned on too."
Here's the real talk: I'm not going to tell you to wait until you feel perfectly comfortable before you share what you like in bed. Because that day may never come. A whole host of social and family programming makes most people feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and even ashamed when they try to articulate what they like or think they might like in bed. Plus if you're socialized as a woman, you're socialized to think you shouldn't enjoy sex that much—and if you're heterosexual, you're socialized to be very careful not to wound a male partner's pride.
So there are a lot of thoughts in your brain making it uncomfortable to ask for what you want. But you should do it anyway. Just acknowledge to yourself that it will probably feel scary, and you'll fumble it the first few times. That's OK. If you're not getting what you like in bed, you're not having great sex. Are you willing to feel awkward a few times so you can have amazing sex on the other side? I'll take that deal any day of the week.
Negative Thought Pattern #4: Lack of desire to have sex, which leads either to having sex out of obligation or never having sex at all.
Most of us think about a lack of desire for sex as being either (1) a problem caused by our bodies not wanting to have sex (because of hormones or fatigue or some other biological problem) or (2) a problem caused by someone else not making us want to have sex with them.
But here's the secret: Most of your desire for sex or desire to not have sex comes from your brain. It comes from how you are thinking about sex in general and how you are thinking about your partner in specific.
If you think of sex as an inconvenience or something that you're too tired to do, you're never going to be in the mood. Similarly, if you think about sex as an obligation or have thoughts that your partner will be upset or not love you if you don't have sex, you are also never going to feel very sexy about it. Society teaches women especially that their job is to have sex with men to keep them happy—so there can be a lot of anxiety around saying no.
On the other hand, some of us tend to blame our partner for not "making us feel sexy." But someone else's behavior isn't what makes you feel sexy or not. It's how you're thinking about it. If you think, "I know I should have sex, but I'm just so tired" or "I don't want to have sex, but my partner will be mad if I don't," there's nothing they can do to "make" you feel different. The change has to start inside your brain.
- If you want to feel OK declining: "It's OK to not want sex sometimes, and it's OK for my partner to feel disappointed about not having sex. Disappointment isn't fatal."
- If you want to motivate yourself: "This will feel great once we get going. It's just like going to the gym—I might not feel like going at first, but I'm always glad I did."
- If you want to have more desire for your partner: The specific thought will depend on you and your partner, but practice looking for things you find sexy about them. Think about how you used to feel when you did have active sexual desire for them, and bring up those memories or thoughts and relive them on purpose.
- If you want to create sexy feelings for yourself: Think about a time you felt really sexy—what was going on? What were you thinking about yourself? There's always a thought even if you weren't aware of it at the time. Wearing something that makes you feel sexy or putting on a slow jams playlist can help, but fundamentally it's thinking about yourself as a sexy and sexual person that will really light the fire within.
Putting it all together.
A few notes about making these changes to your thought patterns:
- Socialization is deep stuff. You may read one of these negative thought and think, "Oh, I'm not the kind of woman who believes that." But I encourage you to pause and really think about it. Often our thoughts about sex are completely subconscious. You may not believe something to be true at an intellectual level and nevertheless be subconsciously thinking it and emotionally believing it.
- There are biological elements of sex not covered by these thoughts. I'm not saying changing your thoughts will undo a history of trauma overnight or will make your partner's pheromones irrelevant. But if you keep an open mind, you'll be shocked by what a difference they can make!
- In order for a new thought to help, you have to practice it. That literally means just thinking it to yourself in your brain—or even saying it out loud!—over and over. You'll want to practice before the lights dim—don't just wait until you're mid-romp and then try to remember your new thought. The more you practice the thought, the stronger you will believe it and the more naturally it will come to mind.
Ultimately while there are a lot of factors that influence your experience in the bedroom (or the kitchen, or the great outdoors—to each their own!), you'll be surprised by how much fun, pleasure, and freedom you can create for yourself if you use your mind and think the thoughts you need on purpose to create the desire and experiences you want to have. Because while we all tend to focus on what's in our pants, it turns out what is between your ears matters even more.
Kara Loewentheil, J.D. is a former women's rights lawyer and the current CEO and podcast host of "UnF*ck Your Brain," a platform to help women overcome social conditioning and self-critical thoughts. She received a B.A. in English Language & Literature from Yale University and a Doctor of Law from Harvard Law School. She is a master certified life coach by The Life Coach School. Loewentheil is based in New York City but coaches women internationally through her online coaching community, The Clutch™.