Mindfulness—non-judgmental, present-moment awareness—has been shown to help people manage stress, pain, depression, and more.
Mindfulness practice shows a lot of promise in recent medical research on women’s sexual functioning. Developed by eastern traditions, it is a practice we can learn to use to help dissolve stress, clear the air, and really be present with ourselves and our partners.
Many problems with our sexuality begin in our minds. Our ideas about sex, our sense of worthiness or attractiveness as sexual partners, our concern about sexual skill and performance—these are high mental hurdles.
Add to them the nearly constant mental noise that makes up a modern day: The emails and phone calls, to-do lists and bills, meals, appointments, laundry and dishes, broken appliances and technology, and all of society’s expectations for us to juggle and manage all of this with a smile.
To feel like having sex, and to feel sexy, while wading through all of this mental sludge? Maybe we could do it when our hormones were powering us on, but without the propulsion of estrogen and testosterone, we need to find a different way to cut through the mental clutter, free our minds for sex.
Psychologist Dr. Lori Brotto, a researcher at the University of British Columbia Center for Sexual Medicine, brings the teachings of Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh and University of Massachusetts Medical School professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, among others, to her practice in helping women with unsatisfying sexual experiences.
Brotto uses these techniques in her work, beginning with exercises that teach close-focusing, paying attention to a single object, like a raisin or a penny, to show us that we are all capable of “focusing our dispersed minds.” Then she recommends focusing closely during an activity in our daily lives.
The goal of this practice is to avoid simultaneously thinking into the future or living in the past, but keeping our attention entirely in the present while eating a meal, say, or having a conversation with our partner. Her awareness exercises move from there to body-awareness exercises, and eventually to awareness exercises during sex. These may include synchronized breathing, gazing into one-another’s eyes, quiet, focused touching and massage. The success of these techniques with her patients has been very encouraging.
Keeping our sexuality active in our minds, building a closer emotional context for sex in our relationships, and quieting the distractions when we are ready to have sex—this is good sexual medicine.
Learning about and practicing mindfulness in your everyday life is the first step. We recommend the classic, “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nat Hahn, and any of the many works by John Kabat-Zinn, particularly the CD, “Mindfulness for Beginners,” which you can listen to alone or with your partner. As more resources for sexual mindfulness become available, we’ll be sure to report on them.