If your sex life leaves you wanting, you’re in good company. A 2015 study found that over half of all women described their sex life as unfulfilling, and Americans — specifically young Americans — are having less sex than previous generations. I talk with women everyday, both clients and friends, who describe low libido and trouble with orgasm like it is a fact of life.
Why are Americans, and particularly women, experiencing such dissatisfaction in their sex lives? The reasons are many, from relational problems to the demands and stresses of modern life (which have only increased during the pandemic), and the solutions are just as wide-ranging. Sometimes it requires working on our relationships; sometimes it requires looking at our work-life balance. Often it requires both.
But a big contributing factor for women in their reproductive years is lack of knowledge about the infradian rhythm, or the 28-day hormone cycle we experience each month. The infradian rhythm modulates sexual desire and response across the menstrual cycle. The more you know about the infradian rhythm, the better sex you can have. Women also experience four distinct stages of arousal, and the more you know about each stage, the better orgasms you can have. For a deeper dive, check out chapter 8 of In the FLO.
There are two steps to biohacking your orgasm:
Step 1 - Learn how to get and stay in orgasmic plateau for as long as possible
Step 2 - Identify which phase of the cycle you're in so you can provide yourself with the hacks you need to achieve orgasmic plateau in each phase successfully.
Here’s what you need to know:
Understanding the Stages of Arousal
The first step in having a more fulfilling sex life is understanding the mechanics of the arousal process. When you understand the four distinct phases of arousal, you’re better able to biohack your sexual response and experience better, more consistent pleasure.
The first stage of arousal: Tumescence
The first stage of arousal is called tumescence. It’s when you experience the tingly sensation of wanting to have sex. Here’s what’s happening inside your body during tumescence: your heart races and blood rushes to your clitoris. You also experience vaginal lubrication and increased blood flow to the breasts and nipples. During certain phases of your cycle, including this one, it can take longer for this initial arousal process to kick in (which we will talk more about in a minute), and you can take extra steps to help your body along during those phases.
The Second Stage of Arousal: Orgasmic Plateau
Levels of dopamine and epinephrine increase and the pleasure centers in your brain light up like a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, activity goes down in the brain regions associated with anxiety. Your clitoris becomes more sensitive and your brain sends signals to your muscles telling them to contract. Climax is where your body is headed, and your body is getting ready for that. But don’t rush the process. Extending the orgasmic plateau helps your body release stress hormones and triggers other health benefits, like improved immune function. Spending more time in the plateau stage can also lead to a more powerful orgasm. I recommend trying to spend close to 20 minutes in this stage once or twice a week.
The Third Stage of Arousal: Climax
This stage is brief but powerful! It’s when your brain produces a rush of feel-good neurochemicals that make your whole body tingle. If you are having sex with a partner, those same chemicals will increase your feelings of connectedness with that person. Your muscles contract and relax This lasts a short time, but it electrifies the nerve endings in your clitoris and feels fantastic.
The Fourth Stage of Arousal: Refractory Period
This stage is when your body starts to come back to baseline. Your physiological systems slow back down and most people feel relaxed and connected.
How to Sync Your Orgasm with Your Infradian Rhythm
The next step in biohacking your way to more pleasure is to understand how your hormones change over the course of your infradian rhythm, or the 28-day hormone cycle your body moves through every month. As your hormones shift and change each month, it affects your cognitive function, energy, mood, and libido, as well as how you experience the four stages of arousal.
Many women think that, if it is taking them longer than usual to climax or to get in the mood, there is something wrong with them. That’s not the case! How long it takes for your body to feel ready for sex depends on which phase of your cycle you’re in. The more you know about the phases of your cycle, the more you can work with your body to experience more pleasure.
Here is what you need to know about the 4 phases of your cycle:
- Duration: 7–10 Days
- Cyclical Focus: Novelty
- Hormonal happenings: Low hormone levels during this phase, but your estrogen is rising.
- Body: Dry phase. Vaginal dryness is normal.
- Desire focus: You need to engage the biggest sexual organ in the body — your brain — to get in the mood.
- Practical: Use lubricant during this phase and take your time getting to the orgasmic plateau.
- Duration: 3–4 Days
- Cyclical Focus: Receiving
- Hormonal happenings: You get your biggest surge of estrogen during this phase, and testosterone comes on the scene.
- Body: Wet phase. Lots of cervical fluid during this phase provides natural lubrication.
- Desire focus: Ovulation stimulates your desire to procreate, so you will be more in the mood physically during this phase.
- Practical: You likely won’t need lube during this phase and you can achieve orgasmic plateau more easily with clitoral stimulation.
- Duration: 10–14 Days
- Cyclical Focus: Clarity
- Hormonal happenings: Estrogen and progesterone arrive on the scene, and testosterone is still present in the first half of this phase.
- Body: Wet phase. Self-lubricating.
- Desire: In the first half of this phase, testosterone will increase libido. During the second half of this phase, you might be less interested in sex than normal as your hormone levels start to w ane.
- Practical: Focus on lots of foreplay during this time — and take your time. Don’t rush toward the orgasmic plateau.
- Duration: 3–7 Days Cyclical
- Focus: Recharge
- Hormonal happenings: Your hormones are at their lowest levels during this phase.
Body: Dry phase (menstrual blood is not lubricating).
- Desire focus: It can be normal not to feel desire at all during this phase, but the increased volume of the uterus can add pleasurable pressure to your g-spot, reminding you that sex might feel good right now.
- Practical: Use lube and focus on the clitoris.
If your sex life has become lackluster, or if you’ve always suspected that you could be experiencing more sexual pleasure, use this cyclical knowledge to biohack your orgasm. Orgasm is good for your health: it helps balance hormones and flush the stress hormone cortisol. It is also good for your quality of life. And if you want to learn even more about sex and your cycle, check out my latest book In the Flo.
Always remember that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!