Having an orgasm is inherently physical in nature, but the mind also plays a profound role in the event. In fact, there’s an entire facet of the experience that happens within a region of the brain called the genital sensory cortex (aka brain crotch), which you can activate with focused mindfulness. Way before you reach orgasm, though, your mental state plays a critical role in the lead-up to sex that involves getting turned on. To zero in on that arousal-boosting mindset, you might consider tapping the psychological concept of framing.
“Framing is all about context or how something is portrayed or presented,” says neuroscientist and sex therapist Nan Wise, PhD, author of Why Good Sex Matters. Typically, this concept is applied to gambling and the frames of mind that make us more or less likely to be risk-averse or risk-cautious. The probability and even the outcome of a situation could be the same in multiple frames, but depending on the way your brain perceives the situation at its onset—that is, the particular frame that's used—you could act differently.
- Nan Wise, PhD, licensed psychotherapist, cognitive neuroscientist, and certified sex therapist
When applied to a sexual scenario, framing can set you up for arousal by shifting your mind toward a positive outcome to follow. To practice it, though, you'll need to first address your current frame of mind (whether that’s stressed-out, anxious, or perfectly calm), as well as how you frame sexuality on the whole.
“We’re all conditioned to view our sexuality in different ways based on the set of sexual experiences we’ve had, as well as the cultural, religious, and media messaging around sex,” says Dr. Wise. “So, your first step is to recognize how exactly you’ve internalized all of that in terms of your sexual approach.” Next, shift your mindset into a conducive-for-sex zone, with the help Dr. Wise’s top brain-focused tips, outlined below.
4 ways to use positive sexual framing for arousal, according to a neuroscientist:
1. Visualize sex as an embodied experience.
Think about sex as utterly sensational—in the most literal sense, as satisfying and enjoyable sensations within your body. “We’re so relational in the world, thinking about how we appear to others and how we can take care of other people,” says Dr. Wise. “But in terms of sex, it’s helpful to view it from the outside in.”
To do that, tune into your body before you dive into any kind of sexual act, and do a quick scan. Ask yourself: What’s happening in my body right now? What feels good and what doesn’t? This type of check-in can allow you to be more physically present in the space—and in turn, help you tune into the physicality of a sexual partner, too (if you’re participating in partnered play, that is).
2. Listen to audio erotica.
While visual porn can certainly move you into a sexual mindset, audio erotica is likewise able to facilitate this, but without shifting you out of your own physical space. Essentially, without viewing other people performing sex acts in distant settings, you may be better able to stay focused on your own body and presence. But at the same time, the sex-based language of audio erotica can create an arousing, sex-positive springboard from which your mind can naturally jump to sexual fantasies of your own.
3. Practice body-focused affirmations.
The words we say to ourselves are powerful when it comes to sexual framing, and centering those words on the bodily experience of sex—as opposed to results, outcomes, or the potential perceptions of others—can help return your mind to the physical sensations at hand.
For example, if you’re engaging in foreplay, recognize and identify what you’re feeling and what you enjoy, making a mental (or, heck, verbal) statement of it. Some examples include: “I love how I feel strong or flexible,” or “I like how this part of my body feels,” or “I love what my body can do for me.”
4. Use language that mirrors your—or your partner’s—‘erotic footprint.’
There are tons of different ways to get turned on, and some will resonate more for you than others. If you consider the general pattern or trend of actions that turn you on—what Dr. Wise calls your "erotic footprint"—you can more easily access language that’ll be effective for sexual framing. And this applies to a partner, as well, if you’re aiming to gently shift their frame of mind toward sex, too.
“Speaking a partner’s language can help you both get aroused,” says Dr. Wise. “For example, if they appreciate sentimentality and soulfulness, you could say, ‘I love to gaze into your eyes,’ or if they’re excited by adventure, maybe it’s something like, ‘What are your fantasies? I want to explore those with you.’” What's more, these statements can help you feel more intimately connected to a partner from the jump—which is a sexual frame of mind, in and of itself.
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