6 Ways to Relax for Much Better Sex

By Ryn Pfeuffer
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
September 29, 2023

Most of us want to satisfy and be satisfied sexually. But getting in the right headspace for sex isn’t always easy—especially as we age. A study of more than 2,000 women ranging from ages 30 to 70 published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that more than 50 percent of menopausal women report a decrease in sexual desire.

The reasons for low libido often vary. These include: pain during sex, which is more common as we age; normal hormonal fluctuations; endometriosis; or, pelvic floor dysfunction. Stress can also play a significant role. Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on libido and, unfortunately, the medications used to treat such conditions may decrease libido even more. Those in frustrating partnerships may also suffer low libido. Feelings of guilt, fear, or shame around changing bodies may also interfere with sexual pleasure. Whatever the reason, for many women, reevaluating and prioritizing pleasure is an important step to take in midlife.

“There is no such thing as a ‘sexpiration date’ and, in fact, I find that women actually really grow into their sexuality and can begin to more deeply enjoy sex and intimacy as they hit their 40s and beyond,” says Laura Berman, Ph.D., a radio host, television presenter, and author of many books about sex and love. “We tend to be more aware of our sexual response and to more fully trust and love our bodies, all of which can make sexual pleasure even more orgasmic and meaningful.”

If that seems like a tall order, because you simply can’t relax and enjoy the moment, here are six tips that might help get you in the mood.

Breathe to Relax the Pelvic Floor

It’s so simple, but so effective. Laura Bogush, a 62-year-old certified Bodysex facilitator and orgasm coach in Cleveland, says breathing is her number one tip for relaxing during sex. “When I'm on the edge of an orgasm, but feel like I can't quite get there, I'm usually tensing my pelvic floor muscles," she says.

"When I focus my attention on breathing deeply through my nose, I can relax tense pelvic floor muscles to experience a more satisfying orgasm. Anytime I'm tense or distracted during sex, breathing helps me relax and connect to pleasure in my body."

Speak Up

Remember, our partners have no way of knowing how we feel on the inside if we don’t tell them. If you're experiencing sexual performance anxiety, the best thing you can do is speak up. Susan Cole, 52, of Bethesda, Maryland, says she used to push away the anxious feelings she had about sex. She would go on autopilot while having sex with her husband and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

After talking with a therapist, Susan realized this wasn't a healthy response to sex and that she deserved to enjoy it. "I was so afraid of disappointing my husband, that I was unable to relax and enjoy sex," she says. "When I finally found the courage to tell my husband about the feelings that sometimes came up when we were intimate, he was really understanding."

Now, if anxiety makes an appearance, Susan addresses it before things get hot and heavy.

Meet Yourself Where You Are

Katie Carter, 42, of Seattle, says she had a sexual awakening at the age of 26. It took the mom of three a lot of exploration, vulnerability, and thinking outside the box to figure out how to be satisfied. "I had to teach myself to be patient with my body and to align my mind to what I was feeling," says Katie. She learned to give herself permission to experience pleasure and not just shut down and let her partner get his, as had previously been her norm.

"Once I allowed my mind and body to connect—which takes intention and a growth mindset (believing that success is earned rather than innate)—I became aware that I could experience feelings with my whole body that were next-level and beyond." Now, she practices relaxing and letting go, following her partner's rhythm and syncing her own, so she can build up to achieve her full orgasm.

"I don't reach it every time. It’s easier to fall short and settle for a plateau, but it’s worth the work to see if I can reach the summit.”

Explore Your Senses

At the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Carson City, Nevada, sex educator Hannah Foxx sees couples and individuals for various intimacy needs. From clients with disabilities and neurological disorders to those who’ve lost a spouse or are looking to have sex for the first time, Foxx takes a holistic approach to sexuality.

For women having a hard time staying focused, Foxx suggests exploring what sense speaks most to them. “Women tend to be turned on by what they hear,” says Foxx. “It could be sounds, music, or audio books.” If sound is what gets you hot and bothered, use it as a psychological launchpad. Get to a place where you’re turned on, then start touching, says Foxx.

Forget the Clock

If you have a tough time relaxing, Emma Fox, 48, of San Francisco, says she reminds herself that pleasure is a marathon, not a sprint. The married mom of two and self-proclaimed “pleasure enthusiast” likes to incorporate slow, sensual touching in the bedroom. She enjoys a lot of eye contact and caressing.

Making time for foreplay can also be key to addressing some of the common challenges women have as they age, Berman says. “One primary issue is dryness, which is caused by changing hormones, along with the thinning of the vaginal walls as our estrogen levels slowly decrease. This can make sex uncomfortable or make it more difficult to reach orgasm. That is why lubrication is so important as we age, as is plenty of foreplay.”

All that foreplay takes time. And the anatomy you have can make a big difference in how long it takes to climax. Having a penis usually means that reaching climax is faster— in the five- to seven-minute range, according to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. For people with vulvae, it can take up to twice as long (or, 13 minutes and 41 seconds, on average, according to a study of 645 women in monogamous heterosexual relationships published in the April 2020 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine).

Ways to improve time to orgasm include practicing with masturbation, using sex toys, and having a skilled partner. Studies suggest that women in lesbian partnerships do, on average, experience more orgasms, perhaps because of a mutual understanding of each other’s anatomy.

“The more time I can spend exploring my partner’s body, the more they get aroused, which, in turn, gets me aroused,” says Emma. By the time we finally decide to have sex, it’s been such a slow, sexy tease, that we’re both ready to explode.”

Let Go of Goals

Orgasms are nice but focusing too much on that end goal can distract you from all the good feelings that occur before climax. “I find that if I focus on a specific sensation in my body, it keeps me present,” says Ellie Levine, 52, of Columbia, Missouri.

Letting go of the expectation that she must have an orgasm every single time makes it easier for Ellie to relax and enjoy the moment—and each sensation along the way. “Sometimes, my body or a partner’s body doesn’t want to cooperate,” Ellie says. “Occasionally, libidos don’t align. It happens to the best of us, and that’s okay.”

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