The Unexpected Key to Better Sex

When it comes to 'sex tips,' research increasingly finds that less is more.

Posted Nov 01, 2017

Viacheslav Boiko/Shutterstock
Source: Viacheslav Boiko/Shutterstock

We live in a world filled with sex advice: Try this new acrobatic position to have a stronger orgasm! Do these three things to drive him wild in the bedroom! The ONE thing to say to get her in the mood!

If we want to have better sex, we are advised to buy lacy lingerie, try new positions, engage in role-play, use vibrators, eat aphrodisiacs, experiment with flavored lubricants, watch sexy videos, and to make sex a priority, but not to focus on it too obsessively. The list goes on and on, and it’s enough to make your head spin.

While experimentation and novelty can be fun and have their place, what if the most helpful thing you could do for your sex life is, well, nothing?

Being Mentally Present

Over the course of my research, I interviewed women who self-identified as having higher levels of sexual desire. And while these interviews almost never focused on surprising, unusual, or erotic adventures, most of these women indicated that simply being “mentally present” during sex was one of the most important components of their ability to experience higher levels of passion and desire. For example:

     “If we decide we want to have sex, it’s just like, forget about everything else right now. I’ll just concentrate on pleasing my partner, and he’ll concentrate on pleasing me. Like being in the moment.”

As this quote suggests, being mentally present is the ability to keep our mind on the activity at hand—in this case, to focus on having sex, on your partner’s touch, on the physical sensations, and not to worry about what you’re doing, how your body looks while you're doing it, what your partner is thinking, or what list of things you have to do tomorrow. It's all about simply being there, taking it all in, and not judging or evaluating.

The finding that mental presence is important to sexual satisfaction has been replicated in other studies as well. Peggy Kleinplatz, a researcher at the University of Ottawa, wanted to understand what people who reported having the most passionate and enjoyable sex were doing "right," so that others could learn from them. Her team interviewed 44 people who self-identified as having great sex, as well as 20 sex therapists.

The researchers developed a list of eight things that nearly all people in the study described doing to have "great sex," which she refers to as "optimal sexuality." Spoiler alert: There weren't any specific acrobatic positions or high sexual frequencies documented. Instead, one prominent theme was “being present.”

It’s an interesting thought: People having the best sex are simply present for the sex they are having. Just "being there" and not getting caught up in how we look or what position to try next might be enough to make sex better.

But as simple as being "in the moment" during sex sounds, it’s not so easy to do in practice: How do we turn down the noise of all of those things that tempt our mind to wander — how we look, whether there is enough money to take a vacation this year, the disagreement we had with a colleague at work, and so on?

Mindfulness may hold some answers.


Mindfulness has become a more prominent concept in the Western world through the rise of yoga, meditation practice, and the slow-sex movement. Mindfulness is essentially the process of focusing on our breath and observing our thoughts come and go, without judging them.

Interestingly, more research is discovering that by being mindful during sex, men and women, but particularly women, are experiencing increasingly high levels of sexual desire.

Lori Brotto, with her team at the University of British Columbia, is a leader in this research. In study after study, she has found that women who practice mindfulness report higher desire. She has also implemented mindfulness as a treatment strategy for women who struggle with problematic low desire and low desire related to gynecologic cancer. Through her research, she has found that the benefits of a mindfulness course (i.e., three 90-minute sessions) were found to produce positive impacts on desire, arousal, and satisfaction even six months after the treatment ended.

So, if we notice our mind wandering while we're having sex, from thoughts about whether we could lose five pounds to making a mental grocery list, the best thing to do is to let the thought pass and bring our focus back to our partner and our sensations. In other words, instead of worrying, planning, latching onto, and evaluating distracting thoughts, we just invite ourselves to be in the moment.

The takeaway: Experiment all you like with sexual positions, outfits, toys, and fantasies. Those things can be fun and exciting. But if you're feeling overwhelmed with too much advice, your sex life might just benefit from slowing things down, breathing, focusing on the moment, and doing a whole lot of "nothing."