Updated: Oct 6
Mindfulness is a proven way to a healthier, happier, and more compassionate life. You’re probably familiar with the substantial body of evidence showing the various health benefits of mindfulness meditation. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and help with alleviating physical pain and even strengthen the immune system, all factors that naturally impact our health and happiness. It’s also a wonderful way of developing your ability to focus and stay calm under pressure, hence its use by the military in various countries and increasingly by major corporations around the world.
Mindfulness is a multi-benefit discipline and it’s likely that its true potential has yet to be fully explored. One emerging area of research suggests that mindfulness can enhance your sex life. Indications are that it will increase desire and sexual satisfaction as well as boost confidence.
We all know how the mind wanders, constantly. It’s pretty hard to stay focused on the task at hand even when it is the final, orgasmic peak of great sex. Tuning out and thinking about something else is just a part of being human and it’s a tendency that is very difficult to turn off. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Sex is a tricky subject to talk about. Either there is too much information or not enough. It’s also a very subjective area that most people have an opinion about because sexual identity goes to the core of our being. Sexual energy is something we continually need to guide, guard, and respond to. It’s energy that sometimes we get to dance with and sometimes have to lock away.
Researchers at Brown University who studied the effects of mindfulness on sexual arousal found that all you need in a situation of physical attraction and arousal is to be mindfully aware. In one study of 44 women who took a three-month mindfulness meditation course (some of that time also spent looking at erotic images), researchers found that they reported they were much more quickly aroused and to a greater height than normal. Measured against a control group, this response was significant.
“What we’re bringing together is the mind and the body, the physical sexual response”, says Cheryl Fraser, a clinical psychologist and author of Buddha’s Bedroom. Bringing mindfulness into sex involves being able to observe with deep awareness what is happening inside the body and mind without judgement. When we do this, we turn off the mind’s autopilot and reclaim control over the direct unmediated experience. “Meditation is essentially the ability to focus our attention, our concentration, and our mind on whatever the chosen meditation object is, and great sex is all in your head,” says Cheryl Fraser.
Researchers have also shown that long-term mindfulness practice increases something called cortical gyrification (or folding) of the brain’s insula. Other related studies have shown that women with more gyrification of their insula experience more intense orgasms. Mindfulness then equals better orgasms.
What about the heart in all this talk about sex though? Surely this has a place too. Traditionally, mindfulness has been much more of a heart-focused activity than a brain-focused one. It’s a way of opening the heart to not only ourselves but also to others and in fact, the entire world. The Sanskrit word for mind (Citta) also means heart. Mindfulness then might just as well be called heartfulness.
Because of the nature of scientific research, with its logical interpretations, third-person observations, and objective distancing the qualities of the heart can easily get marginalised. It’s interesting to see that most of the research around mindfulness stems from the field of neuroscience (completely brain-based), so what happens in the rest of the body is given significantly less weight. The brain is king, it seems.
When it comes to sex, however, that’s when we most want our hearts to be present and have a direct experience of what is happening in the body. Mindfulness can help us let go of attachments, which are all head-based and helps us reacquaint ourselves with the body. The classic Body Scan mindfulness practice is the default practice for many when it comes to exploring the physical being. When we do this, we can connect with our feelings as direct experience within the body, rather than as a process of brain-orientated analysis. We can get a sense of the tone of our experience, leading us to feel more balanced and whole, compassionate and friendly, and critically during sex, more open to another. In letting go of our thoughts, we can feel the exquisite texture of our lives, allowing us to tap into the heart of things, giving life a juicy, vibrant, and bubbling quality.
Let’s talk about orgasms. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pursuing them as the end goal, pushing our focus into the near future so we forget to notice what is happening right now in this moment. In this situation, it’s almost impossible for the heart to be present. Too many other organs are driving this experience. Marsha Lucas, neuropsychologist and author of Rewire Your Brain for Love noted that “Orgasm is a good thing, but there’s more to it than genital friction. Orgasm can obscure everything else that is along the path. Mindfulness can help you see what else is there.”
For many people, mindfulness during sex happens quite naturally. But this process of the mind wandering is also natural. Anxiety or worry can eat into our direct experience. We might start to replay pornographic films, evaluate our own or our partner's sexual performance, worry about kids bursting into the room, or even getting stressed over how our butt looks. There’s lots of opportunity for distraction. Mindfulness training is a powerful antidote to this. Marsha Lucas again: “You’re more empowered when you know what’s happening in your body and mind. If you notice when you’re distracted, then you can keep coming back; you can tell the difference and be more present.”
So, how do we bring the skills of mindfulness into a sexual context? Sexual meditation (not a scientific term, I might add) can be many things. It can consist of a very general mindfulness practice, or a deliberately more mindful approach to sex while you’re in the moment. It can focus on partner exercises that have sexual or mindfulness elements. In the end the core element is the practice of some kind of mindfulness meditation and the long-term commitment to it. It’s not like Viagra. You can’t just do a 10-minute meditation before sex and expect breath-taking results in bed.
What you can expect for your efforts, however, are:
A reduction in stress, which can make the experience of sex more enjoyable. Sex can be stressful for a lot of people, especially if they have difficulties such as pain during sex or insecurities about their bodies. When stress kicks in, it can often be difficult to feel aroused. Mindfulness helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system leading to more balance in our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our stress response. The end result is that we enjoy the moment much more.
Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present, leading to better orgasms. If your mind wanders to the kid’s homework or the dirty dishes you didn’t do earlier, its tough to have a really fulfilling orgasm. Being fully present makes your senses blaze. Bringing deep and penetrative awareness to a kiss, a touch, a hand stroking your leg or a finger running along your neck, can really ignite your passions very powerfully. Your brain’s ability to engage in interoceptive awareness, which is its ability to detect sensations within the body, is dramatically improved.
Engaging in a regular mindfulness practice can dramatically increase your sex drive. If you are already applying mindfulness to your sex life, you are much more likely to initiate sex. The act of paying close and focused attention to the here and now, allows you to be more fully present and enjoy those experiences more. One builds on the other and so strengthens your sex drive for future encounters.
Mindfulness can increase a sense of closeness with your partner. Sex matters of course, but often sex is also about the connection through love between you and your partner. Being fully present means being more fully present with your partner and their experiences, allowing you to connect much more meaningfully.
Sex can feel like the very first time, every time. When you train your mind, it focuses on the novelty of the present moment which has never existed before. During sex, this creates excitement as we experience that moment of now for the very first time. We can end up experiencing intimacy in a way that maybe we haven’t experienced since our first sexual encounter. Everything is new and fresh and exciting.
There are no areas of our life that exclude the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about experiencing the moment as fresh and alive and flowing in a deeply focused way. If we can do this whilst washing dishes or eating a sandwich, why not apply it to our intimate encounters with others also?
Mindful sex will really blow your mind!