Monk, peace activist and author Thich Naht Hahn has long written that mindfulness can make for a more peaceful and contented existence. But did you know that it can make for better, more pleasurable, sex?
Mindfulness refers to the practice of focusing on the present moment. Some Eastern philosophers encourage applying mindfulness to walking meditation - specifically that, as people walk slowly around a room in their house or along a street in their neighborhood, they pay attention to how their feet feels in their shoes or on the floor and how the air feels on their arms, how the room or outside air smells and any sounds (a dripping faucet? a chirping bird?) that may grace one's environment. Practicing mindfulness can help to minimize distracting thoughts, to bask in quiet and to get away from thinking about the past or the future.
Applying mindfulness to sex is another journey indeed.
As I wrote in my book Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, women and men often find it helpful to first try mindfulness out of bed before trying it as part of sex. One exercise that therapists and educators commonly suggest to women and men who are interesting in reclaiming their desire and joy for sex (or for sex with a particular partner) is to ask them to take a raisin or a slice of orange in their mouth, to hold it in their mouth, to move their tongue around it and to feel how it feels on their lips, tongue and cheeks. If you try this exercise, try holding the raisin or orange slice in your mouth for at least a full minute before biting into it and, yes, noticing how it tastes and feels during the biting and swallowing process, too.
You can also try mindfulness exercises sitting in a chair and noticing how it feels to sit or to have your feet on the ground, as I describe in Because It Feels Good. When you are ready to try applying mindfulness practice to sex, try to notice things such as:
When we are with a new partner, it is easy to notice these little things because they are all new. And unfortunately, it is also all too easy to think that it will always be this way and that two people will always feel so excited about each other.
When we are together longer, sometimes it takes a renewed commitment to want to try to see the magic in each other. Mindfulness can help to draw your attention to your bodily sensations as well as to your emotional response. It can help you to let go of yesterday's dramas or traumas and welcome in the present moment of touch, pleasure and connection.
Sometimes life surprises us and, with tools such as mindfulness, reconnecting with a partner is not as much effort as originally thought. Maybe he or she looks at you in a way that you haven't noticed in a long time. Or maybe you reach for a hand or accept an embrace or a kiss in a way that you've been reluctant to for some time.
Mindfulness can also help to make orgasm easier for some women to experience. Distracting thoughts, stress and worry are enemies of orgasm. Being able to relax and be in the present moment, thanks to mindfulness, can help to make it easier to experience one (or several) yummy orgasms. Too, mindfulness may even help men to relax and have an easier orgasmic response - whether that means delaying orgasm (for men who struggle with premature ejaculation) or having a quicker orgasm (for men who struggle with delayed ejaculation).
A wonderful thing about mindfulness, I've found, is that you can practice it in little bits - even for just 5 seconds of a sexual event together or alone - or for longer stretches of time. In research, mindfulness exercises have been found to be helpful in enhancing sexual pleasure and enjoyment among women and couples and I hope that it can help you too.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a Research Scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com. Follow her on Twitter @mysexprofessor