February 10, 2014

Great Sexpectations: The Power Of Mindful Sex

Mindfulness practices can relieve stress in everyday life, as well as enhancing sexual pleasure and intimacy.

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Kama Sutra

Um, yeah, next.

What is mindfulness?

Do you make plans to have sex with your partner in advance, or do you prefer to let things happen spontaneously? Do you savor each moment with your partner as it happens, or is your mind frequently distracted during sex? With Valentine’s Day approaching many people may be looking forward to “special” sex that goes above and beyond the usual routine. Whether special sex means renting a hotel room, trying a new sex toy or a new sex act, or something else, the primary difference between “special” sex and everyday sex might be described as mindfulness.

The word “mindfulness” may conjure images of spiritual meditation and yoga, but anyone can practice mindfulness in every aspect of their daily life. Mindfulness is being intentional: planning ahead, and deliberately choosing your actions. Mindfulness is being attentive, by staying aware in the present moment. Mindfulness is releasing judgments, and accepting the present moment as it truly is. Mindfulness has been show to be effective for treating depression, eating disorders, and anxiety. Recent studies have also shown that women who experience difficulty attaining sexual arousal can significantly benefit from mindfulness-based education, though any type of person may find sex to be more intimate and enjoyable when applying these principles.

Sensate Focus: An early model of mindful sexuality

Sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson developed an early model of mindful sex called Sensate Focus, which is still used by sex therapists today. People of all genders may struggle with issues of arousal occasionally, or on an ongoing basis. Performance anxiety may result when a partner has difficulty achieving or sustaining arousal, or has trouble reaching orgasm. Sensate Focus is a set of exercises geared towards couples where the focus of sex is shifted from pursuing orgasmic outcome, to a slower appreciation of physical intimacy and sensations. Removing the pressure to achieve orgasm allows the partners to connect more deeply within the present moment.

Mindfulness and arousal

Daily stress may present a barrier to engaging in or enjoying sex. When one or both partners is distracted, they are less likely to derive satisfaction from sex. Mindfulness training can help alleviate distraction by reducing stress outside of the bedroom, as well as promoting intimate connection during sex. The Kinsey Institute’s Dr. Julia Heiman was one of several researchers who studied the impact of mindfulness training on women who experienced sexual difficulties after  gynecologic cancer. They administered three sessions of mindfulness training to this group with the intention of improving overall quality of life, as well as promoting sexual enjoyment. This successful intervention demonstrates the power of mindfulness to overcome obstacles to sexual pleasure in many different types of health circumstances.

Ways to Explore Mindful Sexuality

Eating One Raisin” is a classic mindfulness exercise therapists often use with their clients. This exercise involves holding, seeing, touching, smelling, placing, tasting, and finally swallowing a single raisin (or other small morsel of food) over a course of many minutes. It’s a good exercise to try if you are new to mindfulness. Once you are familiar with the concepts of mindfulness, you can try the same exercise while kissing your partner’s neck, or caressing their skin. Immerse yourself in the multitude of sensations that arise when you slow down and truly pay attention to the present moment.

One way that couples can incorporate mindful intention into their sex lives is planning a special sex date in advance. Communicate with your partner about things you’d like to try. Rent a hotel room where you will not be disturbed, or find a way to make your own bedroom as relaxing and welcoming as possible, and set aside a few hours to reconnect with each other.  If the pressure to perform seems too stressful, try some Sensate Focus exercises to relieve any sense of pressure.

Committing to having sex everyday for a month may be a fun experiment for some couples to intentionally prioritize sexual connection in their daily lives. In addition to creating an exciting sense of anticipation, this experiment offers a daily opportunity to practice mindfulness during sex.

It is also important to remember that you don’t need to be in a relationship to enjoy mindful sexuality. Single people can practice mindful masturbation, and even people in relationships can benefit from mindful solo exploration.

Reading books about mindfulness and mindful sexuality with your partner can also help you begin this journey. Here are a few recommendations:

Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Creating Deeper Connections by Henry Grayson

Red Hot Touch by Jaiya and Jon Hanauer

Urban Tantra by Barbara Carrellas

Sexual Awareness: Your Guide to Healthy Couple Sexuality by Barry and Emily McCarthy

Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson

And don’t forget to check out the new Valentine’s Day survey on the Kinsey Reporter app!