What is mindful sex? Plus, 5 ways to stay in the moment
All you need to know about mindful sex from a certified sex therapist
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Mindful sex is all about being in the present moment and enjoying intimacy with your partner. It might sound like the natural state to some but you're not alone if you ever find it difficult to block out distractions in the bedroom. Many people experience anxious thoughts during sex, body image worries, and concerns over whether they're going to be able to orgasm, to name a few of those distractions.
Mindfulness has become one of the biggest buzzwords over the last couple of years. Rather than being a flash-in-the-pan wellness trend like so many others though, this one's stuck around for good reason. Outside of the bedroom, research from Duke University (opens in new tab) shows that regularly refocusing our minds and bodies can improve our overall life satisfaction, our vitality, and help us respond to challenging situations better.
Now so many people have switched onto this way of thinking, it's perhaps no surprise that we've started to look at incorporating the practice into our sex lives. Mindfulness in sex is everywhere this year, with sex toy brand Lovehoney even naming it as one of its top sex trends for 2023. So, what's mindful sex all about? We spoke to a couples' counselor and certified sex therapist to discover what you need to know, plus how you can stay more present during sex in the future.
What is mindful sex?
Mindful sex is the act of bringing yourself into the present moment when you're with your partner, explains Lyndsey Murray (opens in new tab), a couples' counselor and AASECT certified sex therapist. "This means there is little to no sexual anxiety or performance anxiety, you are not thinking of the to-do list and house chores, not thinking about work, and so on. The focus is completely on pleasure and sensations and nothing can take you out of that moment."
It's entirely possible to practice sexual mindfulness on your own if you struggle to get in the zone while masturbating but many people find the techniques most beneficial during partnered sex, as this tends to be where we find it harder to switch off - or on, as the case may be. There's limited research on the subject but a survey from sexual wellness app Ferly (opens in new tab) revealed that up to 92% of app users found themselves at least occasionally distracted during sex, with further studies by scientist Marita McCabe (opens in new tab) suggesting that up to 16% of women commonly experience performance anxiety in the bedroom. There's also evidence to show it's a problem that affects other genders too, with the same study suggesting that 25% of men experience the problem.
"There can be several reasons for this," explains Murray. "Usually I find it's due to anxiety of some sort. They might feel pressure to perform, worry about sexual dysfunction, worry about outside stressors, think they don't have time for sex right now so are trying to rush it, or even insecurity about their body that makes it hard for them to stay present."
Sexual mindfulness won't be the ticket out of distraction for everyone, and it's certainly not one of the easy ways to practice mindfulness, but opting for a more mindful approach to sex could drastically improve our love lives - both inside and outside the bedroom. So, how do you do it? Lyndsey Murray explains...
How to be more present during sex
1. Make sex a priority
"I know a lot of people scoff at the idea of 'scheduled sex' but I view it more as a scheduled time to connect, with no pressure for any intended outcome. This is a time where you agree to say 'no' to outside factors and tell your partner, 'this is important to me'," says Murray.
Provided you're both on the same page about sex being a priority in the first place, check in with your partner about how exactly they'd like to prioritize sex. This could be literally pre-scheduling a day to have sex every week or every few weeks, so you both are prepared for it to happen. Or, it could be making a concerted effort to discuss your sexual desires with each other more openly, with the view to changing your sex life.
2. Build positive anticipation
"Make sex something to look forward to," suggests Murray. "This isn't something you have to do, it's something you want to do with pleasure being something you enjoy and deserve."
That could mean starting your evening with a date night - going to have dinner or doing a favorite activity together before heading home. Not only will this help you physically relax, as you'll be away from any stressors like work or family life, you'll both be in a neutral space outside the home. This will make it easier to totally focus on your partner and they'll be able to focus exclusively on you.
3. Learn new coping skills
If you find that nervous feelings are getting the better of you each time you try and be intimate, Murray suggests talking these through with your partner so you can develop other coping skills.
"Learn new coping skills to reduce anxiety prior to having sex and discuss with your partner how you want sex to be initiated, so you have time to wind down and totally relax before entering into a sexual space," she says. It could also help you learn how to be intimate without sex, as you'll be opening up the conversation with your partner about what makes you feel this way. You never know, they could be feeling the same.
4. Focus on your senses
Mindful sex can sometimes be described as a feeling of switching on all five senses at once, and this is what you need to focus on if you find yourself getting distracted in the heat of the moment. "Bring the focus back to sensations such as pressure, texture, and temperature when mental distractions pop up during sex," says Murray. "If you practice mindfulness skills in a sexual setting, it'll get easier to stay in the moment."
5. Redefine the meaning of sex
To be able to practice mindful sex on a longer-term basis, you'll need to redefine the meaning of sex for you and your partner. "Is this something to get out of the way? Or is this solely so you can have bodily pleasure and feel intimately connected with your partner? Sex is a lot more than a number of frequencies and it's also a lot more than making sure we perform the 'right' way. If what you're doing feels good, that's motivation enough," she says.
That may be changing your mindset about sex and what it means in your relationship. As noted, to do this you'll need to open up to your partner about how you're feeling. For example, if you do feel that you're just having sex to get it 'out of the way', you may find that having less frequent sex - but better timed for when you're not feeling tired or overwhelmed in any way - works better for you.
It could be a challenging conversation if you've not addressed the topic before, but ultimately, it should help you build trust in your relationship as you'll be able to be more honest about difficult topics in the future.
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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