Did you know that mindful sex is a great way to nurture intimate relationships?
As our lives have increasingly become more busy and distracted (thanks social media!), interest in mindfulness has soared to the point where it’s been used to help with everything from diets to depression…and even sex! Recent studies have shown that mindful sex therapy can be used to improve sexual functioning in women with sexual desire and arousal difficulties. Even for female meditation practitioners who did not have sexual concerns, mindfulness practice was associated with greater sexual response and higher levels of satisfaction.
Read more: How To Address Mismatched Sex Drives
So what is mindful sex, and how does it differ from conventional sex?
It’s really about slowing down and paying attention to the present moment. It’s sex with awareness, which means the practice of observing (not judging) our thoughts and feelings, and then gaining the ability to consciously pull our minds back into the moment.
Mindful sex isn’t actually new. Its principles have been used by pioneer sexologists Masters & Johnson since the 1950s who called them “sensate focus” exercises, and they have also been used in the ancient teachings of Tantra, which is thousands of years old.
Couples therapist Diana Richardson, in her TEDx talk “The Power of Mindful Sex”, says: mindful sex is “more like you being sex, rather than having sex.” This involves reframing sex away from being a conventionally hot and fiery (but ultimately short-lived) experience, and treating it more as a journey into the “cooler zones”, where one nurtures the sexual connection ember by ember.
Mindful sex is beneficial because overthinking is extremely common during sex due to stress, to-do lists, anxiety around bodies, and a pressure to perform. These factors can greatly reduce our enjoyment of sex and cause us to disconnect with our partners. Too many of us also perceive sex as an exclusively goal-oriented activity, with orgasm as the ultimate destination. And we start worrying that there is something seriously wrong when we aren’t able to follow this set path and get across the finish line.
So how does one go about having mindful sex?
A good place to start is by having mindful masturbation. On the Better in Bed podcast, I talk about being “evangelical about masturbation” as it offers us many physical and mental benefits, from reducing stress to improving body image. I believe it’s a healthy self-care practice that is one of the cornerstones to both sexual and overall wellbeing.
However, many of you who have been masturbating for a while may have developed an extremely efficient way of reaching orgasm and, often with the help of porn and toys, we can do it on autopilot. With mindful masturbation, I want you to slow down and take the time to be much more intentional and present with the sensations in your body, instead of racing towards the goal of climax.
Inspired by the popular practice of using a body scan for meditation, apply the same principle and do an aroused body scan while you are masturbating mindfully. Notice all the parts of your body including the pelvic area and arms, legs, chest, fingers etc. How do you experience the sensations of arousal? Is it tingling? Tightness? Throbbing? Shortness of breath?
Do that for a good five to 10 minutes and breathe deeply, taking the time to really savour deeply the sensations in your body. Now stimulate yourself to orgasm and take a few minutes to lie there in stillness (a bit like a shavasana in yoga) and do yet another body scan. What sensations do you notice after an orgasm that are different? Notice how you feel after the experience. Calm? Energised? Optimistic?
If you are interested in cultivating a mindful sex practice with a partner to nurture intimacy and connection, I would suggest trying some erotic breathwork. One of the simplest ways I coach couples to do this is to sit across from your partner with your knees lightly touching, or you can get even more intimate if you’re doing this naked in the Lotus or Tantric Yab Yum position.
Now make eye contact with your partner, keeping your minds open and gazes soft. Once you’re both completely relaxed, place your right hand on your partner’s heart and then your left hand over your partner’s hand. Match your breath with your partners, feeling their chest rise up and down with each inhale and exhale, while you breathe in sync. See if you can feel your partner’s heartbeat with your fingertips, and hold your partner’s gaze (aim to do this for 10 to 15 minutes). Then reflect with your partner on how this made you both feel.
You can take this breathing exercise up a notch by combining it with an erotic massage or even intercourse. One partner stimulates the other’s genitals by matching the sensation of the touch to the breath of the recipient. For example, you could try moving your hands up your partner’s genitals while they inhale, and then down their genitals during an exhale. Or if you’re with a heterosexual partner, you could try a penetration stroke during an inhale, and then withdrawal during an exhale. Feel free to improvise and play around with this, but keep the focus on the breath and on how you and your partner feel in the present moment, not on reaching orgasm. Although if it happens, that’s great too!
As with all forms of mindfulness practice, the benefits and results will be cumulative if you do it regularly for five to 15 minutes every time you are in a sexual situation. If you use general mindfulness practices in daily life, you’ll also find it easier to apply these to your sex life. So try to spend some time every day learning how to immerse yourself in the sensation of whatever you’re doing, whether that’s eating, exercising or even riding the tram to work.
By being more immersed in your body and in the present moment, you’ll be able to reduce anxiety, focus on pleasure, understand your sexual response and connect with your partner better. And hopefully, you’ll conclude that mindful sex is actually mind-blowing sex!