Emily Jamea, Ph.D., is a sex therapist, author and podcast host. You can find her here each month to share her latest thoughts about sex.
Stop and think if any variation of the following thoughts has ever taken hold of you during sex.
“My cellulite must look terrible in this position.”
“Did I remember to text my sister back?”
“I better come quickly or he’s going to lose interest. I swear, it’s like I’m numb down there.”
If you relate to the experience of having pesky, intrusive thoughts like these during sex, you’re not alone. Distraction thoughts, emotions and body sensations can make it impossible to concentrate, let alone enjoy, sex. And if you can’t enjoy sex, chances are you’re not going to want to do it.
So what’s a woman to do? The answer lies in mindfulness.
Mindfulness has become such a buzz word over the past decade that entire magazines and blogs are dedicated to it. Mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful meditation … but what is it exactly, and can it really help improve your sex life?
While mindfulness may seem like a new concept, it’s actually quite old. It has its roots in ancient Hinduism dating back thousands of years. The concept of mindfulness weaved its way through other religions, such as Buddhism, before making its way into more commonly known practices such as yoga. Eventually, mindfulness made the leap from spirituality to science, which helped it gain popularity in the West. Backed by an ever-growing body of research, mindfulness is now used to treat everything from depression to pain management, and newer studies find that mindfulness is one of the best ways to improve your sex life.
In short, mindfulness is the practice of creating spacious presence. It helps us maintain an awareness of our thoughts and feelings without getting overly emotionally attached to them or judging ourselves for having them. When we do that, we’re finally freed up to take pleasure in life … and sex.
Let’s practice with one of the thoughts I opened with. “My cellulite must look terrible in this position.” Say that to yourself a few times. Notice how your body feels when you repeat that thought. Now say to yourself, “I am having the thought that my cellulite looks terrible in this position.” Take a breath. Now add to that, “I notice that I am having the thought that my cellulite looks terrible in this position.” Now bring your attention back to your breath and imagine how much easier it would be to refocus on the pleasurable aspects of making love.
With mindfulness, we identify the thought (“There’s a negative body image thought.”). Then, we cut ourselves some slack for having the thought (“Lots of women have thoughts like this.”), and then refocus on something that feels good (“I love how my partner’s hands feel on the backs of my thighs.”).
Mindfulness can improve many aspects of sex. First and foremost, it helps improve focus. Thanks in part to near-constant multitasking, lots of people find it hard to focus during sex. Lack of focus can make it difficult to build arousal and reach orgasm, let alone feel connected and in sync with your partner. The next time you notice a distracting thought, see if a mindfulness intervention helps you refocus on your partner and to the pleasurable sensations in your body.
As illustrated in the example above, mindfulness can do wonders to help people overcome body image concerns that get in the way of fulfilling sex. Actively and intentionally replacing a body image concern with an affirmation or expression of gratitude can take it a step further. “It’s incredible that my body is still capable of getting into this position despite my aging knees.”
Mindfulness can significantly improve arousal, too, which leads to greater feelings of sexual satisfaction. In one study, survivors of gynecological cancer were assigned to either three 90-minute mindfulness sessions or placed in a control group. The researchers found that those who practiced mindfulness experienced much greater levels of arousal and improved mood even at six months following the intervention.
Perhaps most importantly, mindfulness practices move us away from outcome- or performance-driven sex and help us remember why we’re having sex to begin with — for connection, pleasure, fun or for an opportunity to explore oneself or be creative. All too often, people become so hung up on things like having an orgasm or maintaining an erection that they lose sight of the moment-by-glorious-moment pleasures of intimacy.
Mindfulness is not something you do once. For it to be effective, it’s something that should be practiced on a regular basis, both in and out of the bedroom. It may be an ancient practice, but it’s withstood the test of time for good reason. Be mindful of your body, your pleasure and your partner — and you just mind find your one deep breath away from the best sex of your life.