It’s surprisingly common for women to experience times when they have difficulty in getting sexually aroused. It’s often the case that a husband or partner is very caring and attentive, but she gets anxious the more he tries to turn her on and the problem gets worse. This can result in hurt feelings and impact physical intimacy, so we asked registered sex therapist Emma Waring for her advice for couples.
What to ask yourselves first of all
Firstly, however awkward it may feel you need to talk to your husband or partner about this. This is not anyone’s ‘fault’ but rather a challenge that you need to face as a team. Try and think about a time when you were able to get aroused and then think about anything that might have changed since then. Illness, a baby arriving, new job, financial stress, relationship tension the list goes on.
Are things improved if you go on holiday? It may be that you are feeling overwhelmed with other life issues (Covid pandemic!) and that you are preoccupied. In order to enjoy sex and get aroused we need to be in the moment and not distracted.
What can happen for her and for him…
When we are distracted, we can experience ‘performance anxiety’. This is a pressure to perform. For men this can result in loss of an erection and for women a pressure to get aroused. The more pressure the more anxiety and so the cycle repeats.
One of the other challenges is if you are not aroused then sex will be more likely to be uncomfortable or painful and this can set up an unhelpful association that further puts you off wanting to be intimate.
Difficulty with female arousal can also be a difficult cycle for a partner who may be trying all kinds of different things to arouse his partner, and the unspoken pressure of this compounds the problem.
An effective way of breaking out of a negative cycle
Using a vibrator can be a very effective way of breaking this cycle. Vibrators are electrical devices that produce pulses of variable amplitude and frequency to enhance sexual arousal in men and women by stimulating the genitals. In women this is usually the clitoris.
Vibrators can help because they enable women to become aroused much quicker than when using manual stimulation and work even if the woman is initially distracted or preoccupied. Vibrators are regularly recommended by psychosexual therapists as part of self-growth and couple programmes.
What if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of using a sex aid…
Sometimes I work with couples who for religious or cultural reasons feel inhibited about the thought of using a sex aid. I think a helpful way to think about it is that just as some people need glasses to enhance their sight, hearing aids to enhance hearing, many women find using a vibrator significantly increases arousal, which increases sexual desire and often leads to them having orgasms.
Here’s some facts from research studies
A study conducted by researcher Debbie Herbenick1 at Indiana University and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2009, interviewed 2,056 women aged 18 – 60. The study found that more than half of the women (52.5 percent) had used a vibrator with nearly one in four having done so in the past month. Vibrator use was positively related to several aspects of sexual function (desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain and overall function) with recent vibrator users scoring themselves higher on most sexual function domains, suggesting more positive sexual function. Most women (71.5 percent) reported having never experienced any side effects associated with vibrator use. Those side effects that were reported were typically rare and of a short duration.
It is worth remembering that only about 25 percent of women experience orgasm through penetrative stimulation, Orgasm through clitoral stimulation is much more common. A vibrator can be used for both clitoral and vaginal stimulation and there are many different models that cater for this.
Practical tips for using a vibrator
The key to introducing a vibrator (or other sex aid) into couple intimacy is to involve your husband or partner so he doesn’t feel you are looking for something to ‘replace’ him. I would suggest that you begin by holding the vibrator yourself and positioning this for heightened clitoral stimulation while your husband lies next to you perhaps kissing you or touching other sensual areas of your body such as your breasts or thighs. When you are familiar with how to use the vibrator your husband might like to hold this and move it as you guide him.
There are many models available. I have a range of vibrators that I show couples and they are often surprised by how discreet and attractive these are. Below are two reputable online stores that I would recommend. Look at the different models and choose one together. It is also important to ensure that you use adequate vaginal lubrication particularly if arousal is difficult and you are attempting vaginal penetration. These online stores also sell a wide range of lubricants. If you are using a vibrator you may want to choose a water-based lubricant something like ‘Yes’ — water based as this will be compatible with any vibrator.
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1. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., Ghassemi, A., & Fortenberry, J.D. (2009). Prevalence and characteristics of vibrator use by women in the United States: Results from a nationally representative study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 1857 – 1866.