6 Tips for More Mindful Sex
By Emma McGowan
Does anything illustrate the sheer power of the human mind more clearly than how easy it is to get distracted during sex? Here you are, doing the thing that is literally essential for the continuation of the human species, and you’re thinking about that offhand comment your supervisor made at work. Or the weird noise your cat made earlier today. Or the fact that you still need to go grocery shopping. Your body is engaged, doing all the turned-on things that bodies do, but your mind may as well be on a different planet.
That disconnect between what’s going on in your genitals and what’s going on in your brain is called “sexual arousal discordance." And while it can happen in people of all genders, it seems to be especially common in people with vaginas.
One 2015 study, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, tried to figure out if teaching mindfulness practices to women with self-diagnosed low sexual desire would decrease their sexual arousal discordance. And, spoiler, alert: It did! But how?
Here are six tips, some from that study and some from mindfulness practices more generally to help you have more mindful sex.
1. Focus on the process, not the outcome
The mindfulness-based sex therapists who guided the group sessions in the University of BC study gave participants a few recommendations—the first was to “let be” about the whole process. They encouraged the participants to stop focusing on the outcome and start focusing on the process of getting there. In other words: Be mindful.
This tip also applies to in the moment when you’re having sex, either with yourself or with a partner. Focusing on the outcome — aka your orgasm — can take you out of the present moment and disconnect your brain from your body. So, instead, focus on what’s happening to and in your body right now. The sexual process includes so much more than just cumming, and being mindful during sex means tuning in to all of that.
2. Practice in non-sexual settings
The therapists in the study had the women practice mindfulness in non-sexual settings for four weeks. An entire month! And it had nothing to do with sex at all! Instead, they wanted them to really focus on being present in their bodies and in their lives in every aspect of life. Washing dishes. Eating a snack. Driving the car.
While you don’t necessarily have to dedicate a full month to developing a mindfulness practice, it would definitely help. And while doing in-person meditations with a guru would be awesome, there are also so many apps out there today that are much easier to integrate into your daily life. Check out Headspace, for example, for some really excellent intros to meditation and mindfulness. (Bonus: They only take up a couple minutes per day.)
3. Masturbate mindfully
Once you’ve figured out how to be mindful in your day-to-day, try it out when you’re masturbating! This was the second piece of “homework” the sex therapists in the study gave to the participants. You just apply the practices you’ve been using in other areas of your life to getting off. And, yeah, that probably means setting aside the porn or erotica, at least for now.
It might feel weird at first, but this step is crucial. So many of us tune out from sex not only because we’re distracted but also because we’re taught that sex is “bad” or “dirty.” Our sex negative, puritanical culture drills that message into us from a young age and it can be really, really hard to move past it. But integrating mindfulness practices into masturbation can help you push past that social conditioning and will make it easier to be mindful during partnered sex.
4. Practice with a partner
Next, bring your mindfulness practice to sex with a partner. If you’ve been working on your day-to-day mindfulness and pairing it with your masturbation routine, it should be fairly natural to slip it into bed (or the car or the couch or the shower; we don’t judge) with another person. This was the final bit of “homework” the therapists assigned.
This tip is a more general one, but focusing on your breath is a very standard, Mindfulness 101 practice. It not only relaxes your body (including your pelvic floor, if you’re taking big, diaphragmatic breaths), but it also brings your mind back into the present moment when it starts to drift.
In the case of mindful sex, paying attention to your breathing might also give you clues about how aroused your body is, even if your brain isn’t quite there yet. When we get turned on, we tend to breathe faster and heavier. Are you finding it difficult to control your breath? That’s a great sign that you’re getting even more turned on.
6. Tune in to other senses
And, finally, tune in to your other senses, one at a time. Focus on touch. Then focus specifically on how touch feels on your belly. Your clitoris. Your knees! Switch over to smell or taste or sight. You might be surprised how and when arousal shows up.
The mind is our biggest sex organ — but it’s not always so easy to get it to play nicely. Working mindfulness into your sex practice will help keep you turned on, engaged, and keep your mind from running through that grocery list. Again.