“Your most powerful sex organ doesn’t lie between your legs,” the famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is reported to have said. “It lies between your ears.” (Or, of course, as Dumbledore said to Harry Potter, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?") This has some interesting implications for sex—and for everything else in life. Your brain is your personal Grand Central Station with gazillions of nerve impulses arriving and departing, docking, disconnecting, and releasing armies of little chemical messengers, like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, into your system. In fact, these neurochemicals are what makes sex—or drugs or food—so irresistible. Yet, you are more than your neurochemical impulses. You make choices; you can direct the course of your thoughts and actions. And therein lies the potential for harnessing that big brain power to improve not only the quality of sex you have, but also the quality of your life.
Begin with thoughts. “As you think, so you shall become,” goes the adage, so begin training your mind to think positively. Happy thoughts, sexy thoughts, visualizing yourself as a powerful, confident, attractive woman, actually recreate the circuitry in your brain. You can become happier and more powerful and confident, simply by rewiring your brain with a different kind of thinking. On the other hand, “when you’re immersed in swarms of negative inner dialogue about yourself and how you think and feel about sex, you’re grinding your sensory responses down to nubs,” writes Natalie Geld in her blog. So the first mental exercise—and it isn’t easy—is to harness the power of your thoughts.
Practice mindfulness. We’ve written about this a lot because it’s so important. We all experience the nonstop nattering of our chatty left brain; we’re all familiar with the distractions of tomorrow’s deadline or yesterday’s meeting that intrude on sex, sleep, and quiet evenings at home. Distraction is built into our fast-paced, multi-tasking, fragmented culture. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the mental practice of being fully present in the present moment, of installing an off switch in your left brain. It’s a discipline rooted in Eastern spirituality that immerses you in the present without distraction or judgment. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, but what better place to begin than when you’re making love? For one thing, nothing is sexier than someone who is completely focused on you; for another, it encourages your partner to respond in kind. In one study conducted by researchers Lori Brotto and Julie Heiman with the Kinsey Institute, women who had been treated for gynecological cancer were given a “phychoeducational intervention” to help them reestablish sexual desire and arousal. One component of the intervention included mindfulness training. “In particular, the women reported the mindfulness component to be most helpful,” write the researchers in their report. Paying attention to the present moment engages all the senses: the smell of your partner’s breath, the flecks of color in his eyes, how his skin feels against yours. Relaxed attention allows to you to release stress, which in itself can make sex more pleasurable. “Distracting thoughts, stress and worry are enemies of orgasm,” writes Debby Herbenick, a researcher with the Kinsey Institute. Some ways to develop a more attentive, mindful approach to life:
- Do yoga. Besides developing strength and balance, yoga is all about clearing the mind of distractions.
- Practice meditation. Whether a religious exercise or simply a way to relax and relieve stress, the purpose of meditation is to develop the ability to focus on the moment.
- Pay attention to everyday activities. Next time you walk, wash dishes, eat a meal or perform any simple, repetitive task, don’t turn on the iPod or television. Don’t multi-task. Simply pay attention. Focus on the taste, sights, and sounds around you.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.