For those of us who make New Year’s resolutions, we too often focus on doing less—eating less sugar, drinking less booze, spending less time in pajamas binge-watching The Crown. And while those goals may be worthy (though, really, The Crown is pretty great), this year, we’d also like to encourage women to do more—when it comes to pleasure.
As research consistently shows, the “orgasm gap” between men and women is real. A study published this year in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that, while 95 percent of heterosexual men said they usually-to-always orgasm when sexually intimate, only 65 percent of heterosexual women said the same. Meanwhile, along with simply feeling good, orgasms bring an impressive list of health benefits, from decreased stress to better sleep. “There’s freedom in pleasure,” Kait Scalisi, MPH, a sex educator and counselor and instructor at the Institute for Sexual Enlightenment in New York City, tells Health.
Convinced yet? We culled sexual health research and called on Scalisi’s expertise to bring you nine tips for getting the pleasure you deserve in 2018.
Carve out time for solo pleasure
If masturbation feels self-indulgent, that’s because it is—in the best way possible. Still, in a recent national survey out of Indiana University, one in five women said they had never masturbated in their lifetime—and only 40.8% said they had masturbated in the past month. In the year ahead, consider devoting more time exclusively to solo sexual satisfaction.
“The more you learn about your body and what feels good—and what doesn’t feel good—the more you can bring that into partner sex,” says Scalisi. And if you aren’t having sex with a partner, well, “the more you are able to bring yourself oodles of pleasure.”
Try a vibrator
Thanks to lingering stigmas around sex and pleasure, many women still feel too shy to purchase a vibrator. But research shows this is changing: In the same Indiana University survey, about half of women said they had used a sex toy. And that’s a good thing!
“Vibrators give us one more way to explore what feels good and what doesn’t,” says Scalisi. And the more methods we experiment with, “the more flexible we’ll be in terms of our ability to experience pleasure.” If you haven’t given one a whirl, why not start now?
Focus on foreplay
For the majority of women, research has shown that intercourse alone isn’t enough to orgasm—but a little bit of foreplay can go a long way. “One of the most common things I hear from clients is that [sex moves] too fast, from kiss kiss to grab grab,” says Scalisi. “Most women need time to transition from their day to sexy time. And that’s really what foreplay allows.”
Foreplay can start hours before the act. “When you say good-bye in the morning, have a longer, lingering hug,” she says. Send flirty texts during the day, or read or listen to erotic novels on your commute. As for in-the-moment foreplay, make time for kissing, touching, and massaging. “That allows the body to really experience a higher level of pleasure, and then satisfaction.”
Resolve to never fake an orgasm
If you’ve faked it during sex, you’re not alone. But chances are, if you’re feigning an orgasm, whether to avoid hurting a partner’s feelings or to hurry sex along, you’re missing out on having a real one. And if you want to be having a real one, that’s a situation worth remedying. “If [your partner isn’t] stimulating you in the way you enjoy, have that conversation,” says Scalisi. Maybe not in the heat of the moment, but at a later time when you’re feeling connected.
Don’t apologize for body parts you don’t like
When we’re self-conscious about our bodies during sex, we’re distracted from the act itself—and when we’re distracted, research shows, the quality of sex can suffer.
“So much of what impacts sex has nothing to do with the mechanics of sex,” says Scalisi. A very worthy goal for sex in 2018 is to “learn to be with your body as it is. You don’t necessarily have to be totally in love with it, but just be with it as it is. That allows you to be present, and to process sensation in a more pleasurable way.”
Try a new move or position
Changing up your sexual routine can feel daunting if you’re not especially sexually adventurous, but a tiny bit of risk can bring big rewards. Just the act of trying something new together can help you feel more connected to your partner, “no matter how it turns out!,” says Scalisi. “It can be a tweak to a position that you already know and love or an entirely new position. It can be as big or as small, as adventurous or as mundane, as you and your partner are comfortable with.”
Discover a new erogenous zone
Women’s bodies are filled with erogenous zones—some of which you may only stumble upon if you go looking! (Did you know the forearm ranks among women’s most sensitive parts?) “Have a sexy date night in,” says Scalisi. “Strip down and take the time to explore your partner’s body from head to toe. … The goal here is not orgasm. The goal is to answer the question: What else feels good? What else turns me on?”
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Watch woman-directed porn
When women call the shots in porn—literally and figuratively—the final product tends to be “a bit more realistic and a bit more body- and sex-positive” than male-directed porn, says Scalisi, “and that means you can see a bit more of yourself of it.” Not only is women-directed porn excellent for stoking desire and arousal, but it can also inspire new ideas for your IRL sex life.
Speak up if you’d like your partner to touch you differently
It doesn’t have to be awkward! And even if it is, it’s worth it in the long run. “If you’re in the moment, rather than focus on the negative stuff, focus on what would feel good,” says Scalisi. “So rather than say, ‘I don’t like that you’re doing this,’ say ‘It would feel so good if you stroked me softly.’” Then, later, consider having a conversation about your likes and dislikes.