- Mindful awareness can enhance a person's sexual desire.
- Sensate focusing can help a person be mindful and fully present during acts of physical intimacy.
- In-the-moment attention to sensations enables a person to experience the situation as is, allowing partners to let go of expectations.
The sometimes overly simplistic yet often well-intentioned advice to get out of our heads when it comes to increasing arousal and experiencing sexual satisfaction with our partners may miss the mark. Instead, what if we did the opposite? Mindfulness, or conscious awareness of the present moment, can enhance our sex lives by reducing stress and assisting us in focusing on in-the-moment sensations.
Stress can impact our ability to both have and enjoy sex. A 2018 BBC study of 2,066 adults in the UK reported that stress could affect sex drive (Thomas, 2018). Compared to factors such as physical health, children, work, and social media, stress was rated as a problem by more people. Stress can create barriers to initiating sex, as well as deriving pleasure from it. One reason is that we may bring the issues we are struggling with into the bedroom, thus taking us out of the moment.
Researchers Laurel Paterson, Ariel Handy, and Lori Brotto (2017) conducted a study with 26 women with low sexual desire and arousal to examine any benefits conferred by an eight-session program aligned with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression and anxiety. The researchers found that most women completed at-home mindfulness exercises, such as those focused on breathing and mindful eating, and reported improvements in sexual desire, sexual function, and sex-related distress.
While this pilot program was highly structured and included psychoeducational components, anyone can easily do some at-home exercises. By learning how to stay present, you are able to tune out the outside noise (or, in this case, stress) and enjoy your current experience.
One way to be present is to use sensate focusing, which shares many similarities to mindful awareness exercises. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, pioneers in researching and understanding sexual behavior, are credited for developing the sensate focus technique. This technique focuses on touching and being touched, taking information in through your senses while avoiding judgmental thinking. The goal is to be present and to experience. For example, noticing physical sensations such as how your partner feels or smells as you massage their body.
The goal is to touch while focusing on your sensations, without having a specific goal (such as engaging in sex or experiencing sexual pleasure) in mind. You are touching to touch and to feel. This activity, of course, is to take place with two consenting partners, and the outcome is to allow them to connect and explore without any preconceived agenda.
This present in-the-moment attention to sensations enables a person to experience the situation as is, allowing partners to let go of expectations or any notions of what sex should or could be, and instead enjoy what sex at the moment with your significant other is.
Perhaps being in your head, as it relates to processing incoming sensations and experiences, will allow you to unlock your erotic selves and better enjoy the physical intimacy you share with your partner.
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Paterson, L. Q., Handy, A. B., & Brotto, L. A. (2017). A pilot study of eight-session mindfulness-based cognitive therapy adapted for women’s sexual interest/arousal disorder. The Journal of Sex Research, 54(7), 850-861.
Thomas, H. (2018, November 20). Stress damages many people’s sex life-survey. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-46199678