While completing my studies in clinical psychology, I spent three years researching mindfulness and how it relates to sexual pleasure and intimacy.
Mindfulness is the practice of present moment awareness, the skill of consciously bringing our attention to the here and now. It is a form of meditation with origins in many religions and contemplative cultures, although it can also be practiced (and often is in Western culture) with no religious or spiritual underpinnings.
Some other ways to describe mindfulness practice include:
- Tuning into the senses
- Being centred or grounded
- Making space for current experiences
- Being attentive and curious
When I began my doctoral research, the use of mindfulness for a variety of different health and lifestyle issues was a growing area of research. And amongst this research was a small number of papers dedicated to the benefits of mindfulness in our sex lives, and for female sexuality in particular.
My own research (an online mindfulness-based sex therapy program for women) also confirmed how mindfulness can be a powerful tool for enriching and enhancing one’s ability to become fully engaged, connected and immersed in sexual experiences.
Since then I have also seen the practice of mindfulness positively impact many face-to-face clients – both men and women struggling to create an enjoyable and sustainable sex life.
And exactly how does mindfulness help in our sex lives?
Here are a few of the key ways that mindfulness can help to enhance sexual experiences:
Awareness of unhelpful thoughts
Mindfulness can help us to notice the thoughts and mental distractions that get in the way of satisfying sexual experiences. Mindfulness helps us to come back to the sensory and relational experience of love-making, rather than getting caught up in the chatter of the mind. This is especially helpful when the mind’s chatter has a rather negative tinge.
Tuning into the five senses
By having more “mindful moments” and noticing the thoughts that distract us, we have the opportunity to bring our attention back to our bodies and our partner during sex. This means we can more fully engage in the five senses – the sensations of the body; the sight of skin, lips and eyes; the taste of a partner’s kiss; the scent of perfume, cologne, and sweat; and the sounds of intimate pleasure, sensual music or ruffling sheets.
It is commonly found in research on female sexual arousal that women are often not very good at rating how aroused their body is. In fact, they will often rate their arousal as low when their body is actually telling them the opposite, if only they would tune-in to it. Meanwhile, a common experience reported by men is that they are so caught up trying to perform, that they forget to notice their own pleasure.
Mindfulness offers a way to help us more readily tune-in to our bodies. By doing so, many people discover that there is a lot more going on in their bodies than they realised – arousal and pleasure are more easily perceived than when people are distracted by their minds.
Less self-judgement and spectatoring
One way that partners are commonly distracted during sex is by monitoring their own behaviour, known as “spectatoring”. Spectatoring can bring up lots of “shoulds” – I should be doing this or that, I should look more like this or that, I should be able to have multiple orgasms, I should be performing better – instead of enjoying what you are doing and what you are feeling.
Practicing mindfulness can prevent us from dipping deeply into these self-judgements, and instead help us to be more grounded during sex and more self-compassionate.
Increased connection with your partner
Being caught up in mental chatter, spectatoring, and perhaps also judging a partner’s performance, can all lead to a dissatisfying disconnection – sex without the soul. A nice side effect of all this mindfulness can be a deeper connection with your partner during sex, especially if they are interested in learning about mindfulness too.
In summary, practicing mindfulness and keeping a present moment focus can help to prevent or address many of the key issues that get in the way of positive sexual experiences.
Dr. Alice Hucker
Clinical Psychologist & Sex Therapist