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The Experience of Pleasure and Masturbation

The Experience of Pleasure and Masturbation

A 2008 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women reach orgasm at a far faster rate when they masturbate than when they are having sex with a partner, generally. Women reported having an orgasm in anywhere from 12 - 17 minutes with a partner, whereas when they masturbated, 8 was the average, even for women who had a harder time with a partner. 

On some level, this appears counterintuitive. While masturbation is certainly pleasurable, partnered sex offers the opportunity to connect with someone we care for, or enjoy the beauty, smells and tastes of another person’s body. Yet, somehow climax is harder to reach even given these added positive elements. Why might that be?

To understand this phenomenon, we need to take a deeper look at what makes up the experience of pleasure. Betty Martin, author of The Art of Giving and Receiving, explains that erotic touch has three elements: tactile sensation, erotic context, and attention.

Tactile stimulus is the experience of being touched. We receive touch in the body and the impulses travel up to our brain to be registered. How we are touched has many factors: hard versus soft, rough versus gentle, and the location, angle and speed or rhythm of the touch are just a few of the variations in sensation we can experience. 

The second factor, erotic context, is about the narrative and significance surrounding the touch. Being touched on the arm, for instance, might feel vastly different at home with your lover than it does on the subway with a stranger, even if the tactile stimulus is exactly the same, as Betty Martin puts it. During sex, the erotic context is everything in the environment, and the emotional relationship to that environment, as well as any stories or fantasies, whether acted out or thought privately. Roleplay and kink shift and play with erotic context intentionally, in order to create just the right flavor. This element has to do with mental and emotional stimulation, and the way we are stimulated affects our actual experience of the physical sensation. Depending on the context, our reaction to the same tactile stimulation can be one of disgust or one or delicious intoxication. Finding the right erotic context can be challenging if you haven’t explored much or don’t know what you are in the mood for, but experimentation and play are always great places to begin.

The third factor is attention. Attention is like an amplifier. Activation of neurological attentional networks in the brain causes increased firing of neurons in sensory centers. In layman’s terms, when we pay attention to something, we actually experience it more. What’s more, attention is like a muscle. The more we exercise our capacity to pay attention, the stronger it becomes. Importantly, attention has a bidirectional relationship with both tactile sensation and erotic context. When the tactile stimulation is working for us, it’s easy to pay attention to it. We want to zone in on what feels good. When we kiss someone we love kissing, the world around us seems to disappear. We get lost in the sensation of the kiss and our attention is so absorbed by it that all our focus is drawn away from other elements and onto those positive sensations. Attention can be hard to harness in a world of increasing technological distraction, but when we do find the ability to zone in, it is a powerful tool.

Erotic context and attention function together in similar ways. When something is emotionally and mentally alluring to us, it captures our thinking mind easily. We become engaged mentally and emotionally in the story, and easily let go of distracting thoughts and emotions. This can then amplify our ability to feel the sensations we’re experiencing. Our attention is naturally drawn in.

These three factors either come together to create a positive feedback loop, increasing pleasure and intensity, or they spiral into a negative feedback loop. When erotic context is just right, attention is engaged, stimulation feels more intense and positively valanced. When stimulation is right, it’s easy to pay attention to it, and erotic fantasy is easy to create. And when we pay attention, it’s easier to create the right kinds of stimulation and erotic context.

Alternately, when one of these factors isn’t working, it’s easy for the others to stop working as well. If we’re being touched in a way we don’t like, or within a context that’s unpleasant for us, it’s easy to check out and start thinking about other things, or focus away from the sensation. But the more we check out, the less we feel, and the less we can create what we truly want. This spiral of negative or positive feedback happens both over the course of one sexual encounter, and in each moment of the sexual encounter, as well as over the entire course of a relationship with another person. Correcting a downward trend when it happens between two people takes communication, creativity, and the ability to identify what isn’t working as well as to know what would work. It depends on both people giving and receiving verbal and nonverbal feedback and communication clearly. 

On the other hand, when we are masturbating, these three elements are much easier to control, and when things go wrong, much easier to correct. Because there’s no communication with another person involved, the only communication needed is with ourselves. The feedback is immediate, and we can easily tweak any of the three factors in order to improve or optimize it. We know how we like to be touched and can provide ourselves that kind of tactile stimulation. We know what kind of fantasies turn us on and can either fantasize, read erotica, or watch porn that we like. 

When women are alone masturbating, they’re able to harness tactile stimulation, erotic context, and attention to create the optimal conditions for high pleasure and orgasm to occur! 

The Zumio can help with calibrating the precise location and the right level of intensity, to get just the right tactile stimulation. Once a woman masters this on her own, she can use that information (and the Zumio) to teach her partner exactly what she likes. 

To learn more about tactile sensation and how to map out your pleasure zones, check out an  article we’ve published here. And, keep your eyes peeled for parts 2 and 3 of this series, where we will explain erotic context and attention in more detail. 



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