Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply from your belly through your nose. Hold. Breathe out a soothing exhale through your mouth. Now do that a couple more times, just focusing on your breath. If thoughts come flooding in, that’s okay, just let them pass by and return your thoughts and focus back on your breath.
Congratulations! You just practiced a moment of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an exercise of flexing the muscles of your brain to work on staying in the present moment. It does not mean that you need to empty your mind and have no thoughts or that you have to reach a certain “nirvana.” It is simply allowing you to tune into the present moment - neither focusing on past events or worries of the future.
As a general rule of thumb, we could all use a daily mindfulness practice - whether it’s five minutes or thirty minutes. The level of productivity into which we feel pressured by society; the amount of pings, rings, and notifications; the jobs, people, school… all of these things are putting a high demand on our attention and create high levels of stress and anxiety.
Why does this matter when it comes to sex? Because for those with responsive desire, carrying the weight of all of these pressures means it’s really difficult to stay in the present moment and enjoy sex for what it is. Stress and anxiety can impact desire, arousal, pleasure, orgasm, performance, etc. At any point in an erotic experience, an anxious thought about things we should be getting done or a worried concern about a mistake we made in the past can creep in and totally throw us off our game.
To help cope with distracting thoughts that pull us away from enjoying pleasure, you can use mindfulness to work on being in the present moment and enjoying time with your partner(s). During any part of an erotic experience (i.e. foreplay, the act(s) itself, after care, etc.) if you notice your mind starting to wander, turn your focus to the temperature, texture, and pressure that you are both giving and receiving. Notice if your partner’s touch feels warm, if part of their skin feels cool; tune into the softness of their skin, the roughness of their body hair; notice the different responses you get when you touch them lightly versus pressing hard into them. These will all allow you to come back to present as your touchstone for the here and now. If at first the thoughts keep flooding in, that’s normal. You’re new to this mindfulness thing - it’s going to take time to get the hang of it! Keep practicing both with your partner and on your own. Practicing by yourself can be enjoying a self-pleasure experience where you focus on temperature, texture, and pressure - exploring your own body and noticing it’s response to various forms of touch. You could also simply practice mindfulness exercises (there are tons of apps, books, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc. for this) at least once a day. Think of it as you would an exercise routine - you have to continue to build up strength by continuing to practice. You won’t be perfect at this overnight, and that’s okay! I also recommend the book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire by Lori Brotto… even if you identify as male, the exercises in the book are applicable and easily adaptable to male anatomy, so anyone can benefit from the mindfulness exercises she offers in the book.
As a disclaimer, if you have a history of trauma or have PTSD, working on mindfulness during sex can be especially difficult as you may find yourself getting triggered/dissociating. Whether you find yourself in that space or you are simply still having a hard time after practicing mindfulness during sex for a few weeks, I recommend working with a sex therapist to explore additional barriers that could be getting in the way of being present during an erotic experience.
As you go through this mindfulness journey to improve presence during sex, just remember to be patient with yourself and continue to work on coming back to the present moment, allowing other thoughts to float by as if they were leaves on a river. There is no time like the present!
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