Most people use the terms desire and arousal interchangeably—usually to indicate the process of getting turned on: i.e., your libido. Your sex drive. Revving the engine. Feeling horny baby, yeah!
The truth is that desire and arousal are both part of this process, but as we discussed in a previous article, they describe different things: Desire describes an emotional state of being in a sexual mood, while arousal is the state or response that occurs when turned on. Typically, this response is physiological, but it can also be cognitive.
So what are the signs of female arousal?
Here are the most common physical signs of arousal in women:
- Increased lubrication in the vagina
- Sensitive or erect nipples
- Dilated pupils
- Heavy breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
And here are some cognitive or mental signs of arousal (also known as subjective arousal):
- Increased levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
- Greater sense of alertness and awareness
- Present-moment awareness during sexual activities
Now that we’ve covered the basics of arousal, let’s move on to the sexy stuff: how you can get more turned on.
1. Boost your self-esteem through self-care
Like many things in life, a strong sex drive and the ability to become aroused start from within. Easier said than done, right? We hear you.
As women, many of us grow up with mixed messages about our sexuality and how to express it. We’re pressured to look and act a certain way, primarily for the benefit of the male gaze.
This can lead to a distorted self-image and negative body perception, which leads to low self-esteem. These inhibitions make it harder to become aroused, both alone and with a partner.
Further, in the chaos of our busy lives, many of us neglect our bodies or don’t give them the appreciation they deserve. So, how to regain that confidence and start loving yourself again? It starts with self-care and self-talk.
- Self-care: Set aside a little time each day to care for your body and mind: moisturize your skin, relax with a book, eat something that’s good for you.
- Self-talk: Many of us mentally berate ourselves far too often. Try to catch yourself in the act of doing this, and reframe your self-talk from negative to positive—or at the very least, realistic.
2. Relax and de-stress
After a long day of work, running errands, doing chores, or cleaning up after your kids, the last thing you may want to do is engage in sexual activity. All of that stress weighs heavily on your brain and body—not exactly the best setup for some sexy activity.
This stress creates what sex researchers call inhibitions, or barriers from being able to become in the mood and aroused.
To de-stress, make time for those activities that you enjoy. These can include physical activities like dancing, or relaxing activities like taking a bath, playing music, thinking calming thoughts. Regular exercise is also key in decreasing stress and improving mood. It also has the added benefit of increasing blood flow to your vaginal area, which improves arousal. Woot!
3. Practice mindfulness meditation
Not only does engaging in mindfulness-based meditation help you relax and de-stress, it also leads to greater in-the-moment awareness—key for becoming and staying aroused during sexual activity. Sex is way more fun when we’re able to focus on kissing and fondling our partner instead of getting lost in thoughts about what we’re having for dinner that night or worrying about the presentation we’re giving tomorrow.
The benefits don’t stop there, though: emerging research in sex therapy suggests numerous additional benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving orgasms, and increased vaginal lubrication.
4. Discover what you find sexy
Arousal isn’t just sexual—it starts with the little things in our everyday lives that heighten our senses and stimulate our minds.
Take a few minutes to think about what you find enjoyable in life, and make a list. Think about what you find satisfying, and what brings you those little tingles of pleasure. Perhaps it’s the crunch of that first bite of apple. The stillness in the first snowfall of the season. The sound of rain pattering on the rooftop. Or maybe you enjoy less common things, like untangling a knotted-up necklace, or picking lint off your clothing. You can even include tactile sensations, which we’ll discuss more below.
Finding pleasure in the smaller things helps us recognize and tune into our sexual pleasures more adeptly.
5. Read a saucy novel or other erotica
There’s a reason 50 Shades of Gray was an international bestseller--it helped women all over the world tune into their sexual desires and fantasies and increase their libidos.
Erotica is different from pornography in that it’s considered more of an art form with a strong narrative, instead of a series of images or movie clips that (often) lack in art or storytelling. Erotica spurs our imagination; it allows us to place ourselves in the character’s situation and explore our deepest sexual fantasies and desires. All of this leads to us becoming more adventurous and aroused in our own sex lives.
And it’s not limited to print--just like other books, erotica comes in digital and audio form as well. Download Emjoy and check out our Stories section for a variety of titillating tales ranging from spicy hot to whole-body-on-fire heat.
6. Listen to sexy music
With his deep, sensual crooning baritone, Marvin Gaye has been helping us get it on for years. But it’s not just soulful R&B that can put you in the mood—any music that induces a pleasurable sense of euphoria will do the trick.
And the science is beginning to prove this. A 2016 study out of Montreal showed that music creates pleasure levels in the brain similar to the use of opioids.
Not sure which music gives you that buzz? Check out this list of scientifically proven songs to get you in the mood.
7. Eat sensuous foods
Though there’s no definitive proof that any type of food contains aphrodisiacal qualities, it still can play a role in stimulating desire.
As we explain in this article [link needed], certain foods are considered “sexy” from a cultural standpoint and therefore can activate the pleasure centers in our brains. Some common examples include strawberries, chocolate, and whipped cream. And of course, anything sweet, sticky, or glazed often makes the list.
But don't limit yourself to these common examples—any food that spices things up will work.
8. Engage in fantasies or role-play
Great for couples stuck in a sexual rut, acting out fantasies via role-play scenarios can help bring back some of that initial spark and excitement to your relationship. Activating your imaginations through playacting boosts creativity and increases arousal. It also helps improve your communication with your partner.
Speaking of communication, make sure both you and your partner check in with each other regularly to make sure you’re comfortable with the scenario as it evolves. Role-play is all about trust and consent.
The ideas for fantasy role-play are endless. Here are some common ones to get you started:
- Strangers meeting for a hookup
- Career characters: doctor/nurse, teacher/student, cop/criminal
- Period characters: knight/princess, aristocrat/peasant, lord/lady
- Supernatural seductions—vampires, werewolves, witches claim a victim
9. Explore tactile sensations
Of course, touch is very important in directly stimulating physical arousal in the body--whether that be the genitals or elsewhere. Spend some time exploring your own body and discovering where you enjoy being touched and where you’re the most sensitive. Check out the Discover Your Body section in the Emjoy app for more information on erogenous zones and the power of touch.
And don’t underestimate the power of nonsexual touch, whether that be a tactile sensation you enjoy—such as a fuzzy blanket—or a soothing massage.
10. Evoke the power of smell
Though the science is mixed on the influence of smell on sexual arousal, evidence suggests that it plays a role. After all, we all can recall that cologne or perfume that made us go wild with desire for someone. And humanity has been using scents like jasmine and vanilla as aphrodisiacs since ancient times.
So spritz on that perfume, and let your senses take you away.
We hope this information has given you a better understanding of the basics of female arousal, along with some tips to improve its intensity and frequency. Start exploring some of the ideas in this list and you’ll be feeling friskier in no time!