Do you rush to reach orgasm as fast as you can? Slow down, jaguar—there’s some pretty compelling evidence that taking your time can lead to measurable health benefits (and feel pretty good in the process). Here, Well+Good Council member and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti (AKA “the hormone whisperer”) outlines the process of female arousal and explains how you can biohack everything from menstruation to fertility with regular masturbation.
So much of what we expect from sexuality is gleaned from pornography, which is not a great representation of the female process. You’re expected to go from zero to climax in no time at all. But that’s just not how it happens! Most women don’t know anything about their arousal process—and it is a process. Once you know the mechanics of it, you can enjoy your sexuality more and actually use orgasms to biohack everything from your periods to your immune system.
For women, arousal has four distinct phases.
Now, let’s get into those mechanics. For women, arousal has four distinct phases: tumescence, the orgasmic plateau, climax, and the refractory period. Tumescence is the process of engorgement, similar to the process of a man getting an erection. Then that builds into the orgasmic plateau, which is the most hormonally beneficial part—but the one we rush over. (More on this in a moment!) The next piece is climax, or orgasm, which happens when the clitoris’ 8,000 nerve endings have had enough and need a break. Finally, there’s the refractory period, a resting period that gives those nerve endings time to calm down.
Now, here’s the mind-blowing part. Lots of us rush through the orgasmic plateau, especially if we use vibrators. But what if I told you that spending more time in the plateau stage can have a positive impact on your overall health? It’s true. In my book, WomanCode, I explore this concept in depth, but here’s a partial list of what women can improve: their periods, the experience of their cycles, their fertility, the regularity of their ovulation, their immune systems. The list goes on, but there are clear benefits of spending more time in that plateau.
For hormonal health benefits, I recommend women ditch their vibrator at least twice a week to focus on manual stimulation—and do it solo. All you need is 20 minutes and some natural lube (I recommend Aloe Cadabra, but you can also use coconut oil as long as you don’t plan to use condoms afterward).
Start by focusing on the experience of tumescence: How do you get your tissues erect as a woman? (Have you ever really thought of that question?) Is it slow stroking of your inner thighs before touching your clitoris? Is it reading a short piece of erotic fiction online? What is going to help you with that initial arousal process in which blood flows to clitoris and labia? There’s no right or wrong answer to those questions, but in my experience, this is where lubricant is useful.
What is going to help you with that initial arousal process?
Then you go to work, so to speak. Self-stimulate; stay focused on the clitoris and explore the 360 degrees of it. Think of this orgasmic plateau as something on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being climax and zero being you’re not into it at all. Try to stay somewhere between a 5 and an 8 for as much of the 20 minutes as possible.
Doing that will maximally build nitric oxide and oxytocin in the body; those are the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland that allow you to have all of these wonderful biohacking benefits. In the short term, nitric oxide reduces inflammation, boosts circulation, and protects cardiovascular health. In the long term, if you were to do just two sessions a week for a month, your next menstrual cycle should be very different. If you’re trying to conceive, working on irregular cycles, or struggling with PMS, all of those things will be affected.
Again, I recommend that women do this practice 20 minutes at a time, at least two times a week. If you have a really good partner who can focus on you for 20 minutes, you can add them to the mix—but you’ll have to be very vocal in communicating where you are on that scale from 5 to 8. That can be fun, too, but it can be powerful for a woman to do this herself. There’s so much pleasure to be had that isn’t related to climax, and to expand that awareness of the body is a powerful thing.
Alisa Vitti, HHC, is an integrative nutritionist and a member of Well+Good’s Wellness Council, a handpicked holistic health squad that gives the best advice this side of your own personal guru. She is also the best-selling author of WomanCode, and the founder of FLOLiving.com, a virtual health center that supports women’s hormonal and reproductive health—and she has a web series on Lifetime, serves on the Yahoo Health advisory board, and is an advisor to several health and health tech startups. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Originally published on January 3, 2018; updated on August 29, 2018.
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