“Oh you, who linger in the garden, A lover is listening: Let me hear your voice.” Song of Songs 8:13
Judaism has always viewed sex and sexuality as both a blessing and a mitzvah. Each month Halachkinky will offer sex positive and medically accurate answers — written by a Certified Sex Therapist (and former seminary student) — to your questions about all things sexual, social and sacred. You can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit them anonymously here.
How do you deal with issues reaching climax?
This is one of the most common questions that Sex Therapists receive, so I want to start by letting you know you’re not alone. We are raised not to talk about sex. It’s a taboo subject, and yet one that we are completely immersed in! Being surrounded by movies and other media where everyone seems to orgasm not only easily, but loudly, vigorously, simultaneously and frequently, can leave us feeling somehow broken. After all, everyone else can do it, so why can’t we?
In reality, roughly half of women aged 18-35 report having trouble reaching orgasm and only 64% of women surveyed said that they had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter. So regardless of what we see on TV, you’re in good company.
So what’s the solution? Unfortunately, there is no one single magic bullet. My first recommendation is always to talk to your OB/GYN to rule out any physiological reasons why you might be struggling to climax. Certain medications, such as birth control or anti-depressants, can impact your libido; making it a bit more difficult to want- and enjoy- sex. If your doctor tells you that there are no physiological barriers to climax, the next step is to focus on your mindset during sex.
Our brains are fabulously complex, woefully stupid, organs. They can respond within microseconds to the smallest of stimuli … but they can’t tell the difference between OMG- I’m-not-sure-if-I’m-going-to-orgasm anxiety and OMG-There’s-a-tiger-chasing-me primal fear. Because of this, the brain responds the same way to both situations: it goes into fight/flight/freeze mode and re-directs blood flow away from the extremities, towards the core. What does the body need to maintain sexual arousal? Blood flow to the genitals! So, when we start to get in our own heads and worry about whether or not we’re going to be able to climax, the brain responds to that worry by … making it physically more difficult to climax. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you start to notice that you’re getting caught up in worrying about your orgasm during sex, instead of focusing on being present and engaged, try to redirect your attention. Tell yourself that orgasms are not a finite resource: if you miss one, that doesn’t mean that climax is off the table. It just means you need to keep enjoying the sensations you’re experiencing and wait for the next wave to, well, come. Then, pick one sensation that you’re noticing (the feel of your partners hand on your skin, for example; or the scent of the air around you in the moment) and focus on that. Bring to mind a hot memory that you have of your partner or try switching positions/actions.
Changing things up and redirecting your focus lets your brain know that it doesn’t need to protect you, that you are in control of the situation and that there is no danger to be found in your momentary anxiety. Remind yourself that sex is an ocean whose waves you ride, not a bathtub full of a small amount of rapidly-cooling water. Trust in the abundance of sexual pleasure and you’re more likely to experience it for yourself.
How often is normal to have sex with your spouse? I would like to have sex more, but with work and kids and life we are often too tired to make time.
25% of married people had sex once per week
19% had sex 2-3 times per month
17% had sex once per month
16% had sex 2-3 times per week
10% hadn’t had sex at all in the past year
7% had sex 1-2 times per year
5% had sex 5 or more times per week
These numbers reflect a decrease in overall sexual frequency over the last 30 years. And yet, half of married folks report being happy with their sex lives. So what does all of this mean for you?
It means that, in general, the “normal” amount of sex to be having is the amount that feels right for you and your partner. This number can and will vary from couple to couple. I have clients with high libidos who have sex (both with their partners and alone) several times a day. I also work with clients who are asexual, but still happily married and very much in love. What seems normal, as Dr. Robert Anthony puts it, is far less important than what feels natural.
It sounds like, for you and your spouse though, the daily grind of life and parenting has gotten you into a rut, and you’re missing what used to come more naturally. My recommendation is to put sex on your schedule and to treat it as you would any other commitment.
“But Stefani,” I hear you saying, “that sounds super boring!”
Hear this! Scheduled sex can be super hot when implemented correctly: Putting it on your schedule shows yourself and your partner that this matters to you. That you are choosing to prioritize your relationship and your connection to one another as humans and as partners, outside of the realm of parenting and household management. But putting it on your schedule isn’t the end. Once you both have it on your calendars, use the space between sexytimes* as an erotic tension-builder, flirtation fodder, and ongoing tease.
“I can’t stop thinking about Friday.”
“You have no idea how badly I want you.”
“You know what’s coming tomorrow, right?”
“Only 24 hours til you’re all mine.”
Scheduled sex isn’t a “set it and forget it” practice; it’s the start of a conversation that should last all week.
And Judaism has just the model for this! In fact, the Rabbis actually prescribed a specific sexual frequency for married couples based on the husband’s job. According to Mishna Ketubot (5.1),
The times for conjugal duty prescribed in the Torah are: for men of independence, every day; for laborers, twice a week; for ass-drivers, once a week; for camel-drivers, once in thirty days; for sailors, once in six months. These are the rulings of R. Eliezer.
Additionally, sex is one of the ways we’re encouraged to beautify Shabbat. A double-mitzvah! Sex — and the connection between partners that it symbolizes — is a sacred gift. When we honor it and carve out time for intimacy in our lives the same way that we make space for soccer games and Shabbat dinner, we are not only strengthening our relationships and our mental health, we’re being good Jews. So be good Jews — even if you need to use your (personal) calendar — by being good lovers.
*Preferably without Borat impersonations or, for that matter, references to ass-drivers.
Stefani Goerlich is a Certified Sex Therapist and Master Clinical Social Worker licensed in Michigan and Ohio. The founder and Clinical Director of Bound Together Counseling, PLLC, Stefani specializes in working with gender, sexuality, and relationship differences. She is the author of The Leather Couch: Clinical Practice with Kinky Clients and it’s forthcoming sequel, Kink-Affirming Practice: Culturally Competent Therapy from The Leather Chair.