As many enterprising people with clitorises know, there are various things you can try to have a better orgasm—and twice as many that will get in the way of it happening at all. Even if you’re a pro at the O, experts say you might be hampering your climaxes without realizing it. To determine whether you fall into that camp, mentally transport yourself to those moments when you realize, oh yes, you’re about to orgasm, there’s absolutely no going back. Now, focus on what your breathing is usually like when you’re right on the brink. Are you taking deep, full breaths? Or are you holding your breath instead? If it’s the latter, you could be undermining your orgasms.
Holding your breath as you get closer to orgasm is a pretty common instinct. “[It happens] for a variety of reasons: nerves, excitement, fear of letting go, an attempt to muffle your sounds so as not to disturb the kids,” Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D., sexologist and founder of The Sexual Pro Series webinars, tells SELF, adding that you might even hold it simply because “the heavy breathing that precedes and accompanies orgasm feels unnatural.” But since breathing is a subconscious reflex, the way you alter it while exerting yourself can be, too—think of how often group workout instructors have to remind their classes not to hold their breath. “You can be so focused on the task, you forget to breathe,” O’Reilly says.
No matter why you’re doing it, holding your breath during sex can limit the amount of new oxygen flowing into your system, which may be counterproductive to the entire point. Maximizing your breathing helps to boost your circulation, which is “essential to the sexual response cycle,” O’Reilly explains. “Blood flow to the genital region is a natural part of the process of building to orgasm.” Depending on the reason you’re holding your breath, like because you’re too focused on the sounds you’re making, it might also make it tough for you to get out of your head and into what’s happening in real life. “Training yourself to breathe deeply and naturally can enhance your sexual experience,” says O’Reilly, who has had clients report that “deep, slow breaths make the orgasmic contractions more intense and numerous.”
At the same time, you don’t want to concentrate so hard on how you’re breathing that you disrupt your own flow. “If people are having orgasms, I’m loath to tell them to do something different,” sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of She Comes First, tells SELF, noting that thinking too much about how you orgasm can make it harder to do so. “Regardless of how you’re breathing, if you’re having orgasms, more power to you,” Kerner says. But he does recognize that breathing differently may help boost some people’s sexual experiences—the trick is to focus on it before you orgasm, not during.
One easy way to get more used to this is to try deep breathing during masturbation. That way, you can get accustomed to what you’re doing so it becomes secondhand during sex. “Try to draw your breaths out a bit longer to see how it changes the sensations,” O’Reilly says. There’s no targeted amount of time to aim for—it’s just about breathing deeply through your diaphragm instead of taking shallow inhales and exhales through your chest. Although it’s common to try this by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, a different variation on that may feel better to you. Some clients tell O’Reilly that as they breathe, they visualize sending the oxygen out through their pelvic regions, which can intensify the experience.
If after all of this, you find a way to supercharge your orgasm, great! And if you realize you prefer holding your breath, or finding some sweet spot between the two ends on the spectrum, that’s also more than fine. “Each of our experiences is unique,” O’Reilly says. “I’ve had clients who find that holding their breath for a short period of time triggers orgasm, so experiment with different breathing patterns to see what works for you.”