Have you ever found yourself running on autopilot? Waking up and going through the motions, each day without really thinking about the task at hand. If this sounds like you, don’t be alarmed, almost half of the population is “mentally checked out”. We all have the potential to be more present in the moment, the hard part is remembering to do it.
Maybe you have heard of mindfulness but never understood exactly what it meant or how to even be mindful, and that’s okay. Mindfulness has been in practice for centuries and was originally a Buddhist concept brought to the Western mainstream by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In his book, Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important, Kabat-Zinn states that we can no longer ignore the new possibilities that emerge out of our yearnings when we are true to ourselves. This cultivation of mindfulness can contribute to our lives in so many ways including our health and sexual wellbeing. Researcher Lori Brotto defines mindfulness as “present moment nonjudgmental awareness”, and participating in the moment versus being a spectator judging your performance.
Judgment of your body can contribute to sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction. By incorporating a daily mindfulness practice into your routine you can begin to calm the chatter in your mind. According to theJournal of Sex & Marital Therapy, being mindful may contribute to sexual wellness by allowing for intentional behavior, emtoional regulation, reduction in anxiety, and an increase in self esteem. Performance anxiety can affect people of all genders throughout their lifespan. When being intimate with yourself or a partner(s), thinking about your body in a negative way can be a real mood killer. For penis-having individuals the inability to be present can cause erectile dysfunction. By being a spectator in erotic situations you can diminish your ability to maintain an erection. Spectatoring refers to shifting your focus from the present moment, and evaluating yourself and sexual activity in a third person perspective. Focusing your attention on sexual performance instead of the present sensory experience can interfere with your sexual functioning and lead to erectile dysfunction.
When you instead focus your thoughts on the here and now, your primary attention is on your body and physical sensations and pleasure. The muscles that surround the penis need to relax in order for dilation of the arteries to occur, which promotes an erection. By being mindful during sex you can alleviate “cognitive interference,” which is associated with a decrease in anxiety related to sex. Attending to physical sensations can enhance your sexual and romantic relationship.
For individuals with vulvas, mindfulness has been shown to decrease genital pain and sexual distress and bridge the mind-body disconnect. When the central nervous system is dysregulated by stress, central sensitization, and hormonal changes in the neuroendocrine system, this can cause the vulvar skin to change increasing sensitivity to pain. According to Brotto, interest and motivation for sex can all be impacted by negative body image, sense of self, comfort in partnership, and violation to your sense of safety. By practicing mindfulness, participants in Brotto’s study reported an increase in “sexual function, including desire, arousal, orgasm,” and overall psychological well being. Through increasing attention to the here and now, it may be possible to redirect any negative thoughts or judgments that may arise when in an intimate situation.
Regardless of your gender identity or relationship status, mindfulness can benefit your sexual wellbeing. We encourage you to experiment with different modalities of mindfulness. One of our favorite partnered mindfulness practices is sensate focus. This activity encourages you to actively focus on and communicate with your partner(s) about the sensation you are experiencing. By being fully present with your partner free from judgment, you can dive deeper into a state of erotic pleasure. Mindfulness is also something that you can practice on your own, by simply paying attention to your breath and any thoughts that may arise. There are a variety of apps available that can help guide you through this process. We are linking our favorites below:
- Headspace – Great for the whole family with hundreds of meditations to choose from
- Calm – Focus in on what you want to meditate on with guided sessions between 3-25 minutes
- Insight Timer – Chart your progress and earn badges on your mindfulness journey
- Aura – Personalized meditations based on your mood
- Sattva – Drawing its meditations from ancient Vedic principles, this app is perfect for anyone looking to get more in touch with the origin of mediation
- Buddhify – Perfect for those on the go (meditations for travel, dining, and more)
- Simple Habit – Traditional guided meditation mixed with coaching
Breathing techniques are something you can do anywhere and at any time. By mindfully slowing the breath we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals to our body it is time to calm down. Next time you are getting intimate with yourself or your partner(s) try taking a few minutes to intentionally slow your breath and practice mindfulness.