Getting in sexual sync

By Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT

You're in bed with your partner and everything seems great. But suddenly, you're seeing fireworks and she's fizzled out. So what happened? Simply put, you may have assumed that, when it comes to being turned on, women and men are a lot alike.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in the heat of the moment, many guys make a "sexually fatal" mistake: they assume that their partner is as excited as they are, so they speed things up when they should be slowing down or doing more to get in sync. And you can't just assume that a woman's level of natural lubrication corresponds exactly to the level of excitement that she is experiencing. As we discuss in the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms, lubrication is a big part of the arousal process, but is by no means an unequivocal indicator that she's been amply stimulated. She may be lubricated, but not necessarily aroused. Conversely, a woman may be highly aroused, yet not necessarily well lubricated. Men often take this as an insult, thinking that they're doing something wrong.

Actually, younger women tend to lubricate easily in the early stages of a relationship or when they're intensely excited by something new. But, the brain being what it is, women get used to a certain set of stimuli, even if those stimuli are still really exciting. As a result, it can take most women longer to lubricate. "It's like her brain is saying, 'Yeah, I like this, but I already know what's coming,'" says psychiatrist and sex therapist Madeleine Castellanos. "It's not uncommon for women to need some stimulation for five, ten, even 15 minutes or more before they can experience this lubrication. That doesn't mean that a woman isn't physically or emotionally excited."

You're not the only one who might be confused. In fact, according to University of British Columbia psychiatrist Rosemary Basson, many women are unaware of their physical arousal (increased blood flow to the genitals) and don't necessarily experience sexual desire before they experience a significant amount of direct physical stimulation or have sex. For these women, Basson says, desire isn't the cause of sexual activity but the result. Guys, on the other hand, tend to be more easily aroused, and a man's arousal is more directly linked to his desire.

So how can you make sure your partner is really raring to go? Generally, if a guy focuses on foreplay and keeps the stimulation going, the lubrication will flow. If not, a little extra assistance can help: Some women prefer to use artificial water-based lube until their own wetness kicks in, while others find that they can only get properly lubricated if they feel themselves already wet, either with saliva or artificial lube, explains Castellanos.

Beyond a woman's level of lubrication, guys should pay more attention to the visible signs of arousal. And just what are those signs? Throughout the ages, wise men have reflected upon this question and, in The Tao of Love and Sex, author Jolan Chang offers us the "indications of female arousal," as laid out by Taoist Master Wu Hsien: "Her hands are hot and her abdomen warm, and at the same time her language becomes almost unintelligible. Her expression looks as though she is bewitched, her body is soft as jelly and her limbs are droopy. The saliva under her tongue has been sucked dry."

Well, OK: Though today's man might not notice if "the saliva under her tongue has been sucked dry," he is apt to observe:

So stop assuming that women are just like men, and start using your senses to determine when a woman is really excited. Your partner will thank you!

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