Move over, clitoris. Hold your horses, phallus. Before you try the No. 112 Kamasutra position, consider this: The most important organ for great sex is your brain. Yep, that organ up there, and not down there.
"My cellulite is hanging out."
"I wish my partner would try this, but I am afraid to tell him."
"What if I can't climax?"
"Am I doing this right?"
That inner voice can significantly interfere your—and your partner's—enjoyment during intimacy.
Sex is an important component of your relationship. And the benefits of sex go well beyond how close you feel to your mate. In fact, the benefits of sex are well-documented in the research (although, some may wonder why you would need research for that). Specifically, positive sexual experiences can boost your mood, reduce stress, improve your sleep, decrease your pain, and enhance your immune system.
Here are seven tips to optimize your brain so you can optimize your bliss:
1. Stop comparing.
For some, you may be comparing your body to others—the model in the magazine or the size of a "member" that you've seen in the movies. Repeat after me—media is not real. Whether it's the performances in porn movies or the way the cellulite-free legs glisten the magazines, those are not real bodies. Chances are those models have cellulite, too—a few clicks with Photoshop makes them appear perfect, but in reality they're not.
Research shows that a lot of anxiety comes from comparing yourself. One survey found that 59 percent of women who consider themselves overweight try to cover up some part of their body during sex. It's tough to really enjoy your intimacy with your partner when you're concerned about looking perfect or performing with perfection. Instead of comparing yourself to others, embrace how you look and who you are. You don't have to be perfect because you're better than perfect—you are real.
2. Focus on pleasure (not performance).
The goal is not to "go all night." In fact, the ideal amount of time for lovemaking appears to be between 7 and 13 minutes. You also don't need to try sexual positions that require the flexibility of a gymnast. If you are focused on doing it "right" with your inner critic telling you that you are not succeeding, it's tough to enjoy the experience. The goal is for you and your partner to enjoy each other.
3. Be mindful.
When your mind is focused on work, kids, items on your to-do list, all the things you should be accomplishing now, how you messed up the presentation earlier today…it is tough to get in the mood. Instead, focus your mind on the "task" at hand. Be present without being judgmental toward yourself or thinking about the past or the future. Focus on all of your sensations, really paying attention to how the experience feels to you.
4. Know what feels good.
Each body is different, and what is arousing to one person may not be to the other. It is important for you to know what feels good to you and then communicate that to your partner. Thoughts such as "he should know what I want" or "she should do X" only prevent you from having an optimal experience. Instead, communicate. Let your partner overtly know what you want in an assertive and playful way.
5. Set the mood.
The environment has a huge impact on how you feel and what you say to yourself. Getting into the mood for you may include listening to certain music and allowing yourself to dance around, creating a romantic atmosphere, wearing clothing that feels comfortable or sexy, candles... Even smells can have a huge impact on your experience. Cucumber, for example, and baby powder have been shown to have a physiological impact, increasing vaginal blood flow by 13 percent.
6. Work up a sweat.
Here I'm not talking about a workout during your intimate time but rather before. Working out can have a positive impact on your sex life. Why? Exercise affects your levels of dopamine, which helps you reduce stress and feel happier. So go for a walk at lunch; your after-dinner activity will be even more enjoyable.
7. Focus on the positive in your partner.
I often ask clients if they would rather be "happy" or "right" in a relationship. The majority say happy, but their actions say otherwise. As a result, they tend to focus on what their partner did wrong (in and out of the bedroom). Resentment and disappointment can significantly reduce your libido. Instead, focus on the positive in your partner. Forgive your partner and don't hold grudges. What's more, offer positive praise. Research demonstrates that positive praise during intimacy can boost enjoyment.
The goal is not to have perfect sex but what I would call better than perfect sex—enjoying the experience instead of letting that inner critic take over.
Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD is a licensed practicing psychologist with a master's in physical therapy from Duke University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Drexel University. Based in the Greater Chicago Area, she combines research findings, real life stories and humor to provide actionable tips you can benefit from immediately.
Considered Shaquille O’Neal’s “Head coach for Happiness,” Lombardo is on a mission to free people from the stress of perfectionism caused by their own inner critic. Her ability to help men and women unlock their own, unique personal happiness code has made her America’s most interviewed celebrity psychologist, with hundreds of radio and TV appearances on shows like Dr. Oz, The TODAY Show, Steve Harvey, CNN, Fox Business News and many more. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Women’s Health and more.