Running Along the Cliff: The Plateau Phase

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life, in some detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

This is about finding a silver lining in a cloud.

Actually, it’s about finding a big, fat vein of silver in a cloud.

In recent years, as I’ve gotten older and my body has changed, I’ve been having a harder time coming. I sometimes get stuck in the pre-orgasmic “plateau” phase of sexual arousal, and it’s harder than it used to be to push out of that and push my body over the cliff and into freefall. It always happens eventually — with the help of my trusty vibrator if nothing else — but it often takes longer than it used to, and it’s rather less reliable. I never know when it’s going to come easily, and when it’s going to kick up a fuss.

This has been, as you might expect, a source of some irritation. For many years, coming was easy as pie for me. Given a reasonably attentive partner, I could generally come within a few minutes of feeling it on the horizon. And when I was my own partner, “a few minutes” was more like “a few seconds.” If I wanted to draw a sexual experience out (alone or accompanied) and delay my orgasm to make it more intense, I had to make a conscious effort. So over the years, I got very used to being able to come more or less on demand. And when orgasms started becoming more elusive, it was a little frustrating: partly because I liked thinking of myself as easy to please, and partly for the obvious reasons.

I’ve come up with a number of strategies for dealing with this. Among other things, I’ve been exploring different kinds of sensation, re-discovering what my changing body does and doesn’t like. But there’s one strategy in particular that I’m finding especially compelling. And since I know I’m not the only person — especially the only woman — who’s dealing with this situation, I thought I’d share it with the rest of the class.

It’s the strategy of not worrying about it.

If I’m having a hard time coming, I’ll sometimes just let go of that particular goal for a while. I’ll let myself enjoy the pre-orgasmic “plateau” phase. Savor it. If I feel like I’m stuck on the edge of the cliff, I’ll let myself run alongside it for a while, and experience it for what it is.

There’s sometimes a very annoying paradox with orgasms: the harder you strain to have them, the more elusive they can become. So if I’m stuck in that loop, where trying to bring on the orgasm is just chasing it away and the effort is becoming more frustrating than pleasant, I’m learning to cut the Gordian knot. I stop tensing up and striving, and just relax; I take long, deep breaths instead of short panting ones; I stop moaning and squirming, and stay more quiet and still. I quit trying to come, and just let myself savor that “intensely turned on but not yet coming” plateau thing.

And in doing so, I’ve been finding a whole new realm of sexual pleasure.

The plateau phase is awesome. If I really sink into it, if I really let it be and lose myself in it, staying in plateau for a long time is almost like a whole other kind of climax. Like a climax in a parallel universe. It’s overwhelming in a different way: less like being hit by a wave, and more like sinking into a hot bath. Or getting a first-rate massage. Or lingering over a long, lavish, exquisitely- prepared meal. It’s a state of heightened awareness that is at once intensely focused and thoroughly relaxed.

Outstretched hand
Letting myself stay in the plateau phase also dovetails nicely into this thing I’ve been working on lately: a quasi-Zen practice of being more present in the world, being in the moment and letting things be what they are, noticing the world and loving it and letting it flow through me, instead of tuning it all out and living in the bubble of my plans and anxieties and fantasies and memories. Lingering in the plateau phase is very much a part of all this. It can create an intense and unique sense of connection, both with my partner and with myself. Instead of struggling to get from Point A to Point B, we’re letting each moment rise and fall, and thoroughly experiencing it… and then letting it go, to make room for the next one.

And the thing about the plateau phase? It can last for freaking ever. I don’t know how long — it’s not like I have a stopwatch in my bedside table — but it sure is longer than an orgasm. And because it can last so long, I can explore the emotions and sensations of it much more patiently, and much more thoroughly, than I can with an orgasm. Which contributes both to the “be here now” quasi-Zen thing and to the “overwhelming in a different way” thing. The drawn-out quality lets me be patient and present with what I’m experiencing… and it gives me time to sink into the experience, richly and deeply and all-consumingly.

And the funny thing? Doing this is actually a pretty good technique for bringing on an orgasm. The reverse of the Annoying Orgasm Paradox is also true: yes, trying to force an orgasm will often chase it away, but if you relax and stop trying to make yourself come, it’s more likely to sneak up on you. And if I’ve lingered in the plateau phase for a really long time, the orgasms I eventually have are usually way more intense.

But I can’t make that the point. Making that the point would defeat the purpose, and would catapult me straight back into the Annoying Orgasm Paradox. And anyway, I don’t want to make that the point. I want to let the plateau be its own point. The point is that the cliff is beautiful, and I want to spend some time exploring that beauty, instead of just looking for ways to hurl myself off of it.

Running Along the Cliff: The Plateau Phase
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7 thoughts on “Running Along the Cliff: The Plateau Phase

  1. 1

    That’s really reassuring for me. I’m the “minute girl”. I’m a bit frustrated with myself for rushing to orgasm, for not savoring, for grinding my teeth and straining my thighs to get there as fast as possible. So there is hope for me – maybe when I get older, I’ll also become more patient.

  2. Jay

    I know exactly how you feel. Of course, I”m a guy, but besides that, I have the exact same problem and has discovered the exact same joy it just being in the moment of slowly building pleasure. I’m so glad you wrote this! Its nice to know that there are others out there experiencing the same thing.

  3. 6

    I understand where your coming from (no pun intended)in regard to the changes that our bodies go through with age. I am 46, and for me, it is more of a desire thing. I can still climax fairly easily; I just have less interest in doing so. So, I just accept where I am in and enjoy the moment. Desire, like orgasm, can’t be forced.

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