We’ve all seen the hundreds of articles that promise “mind-blowing” sex. And maybe you’ve even bookmarked a few to refer back to later, only to find out that the quick tips and methods have failed you, yet again.
Enjoying sexual intimacy—no matter how hard you try to relax—can be a real struggle for the millions of people who deal with low sexual desire. This inability to “get in the mood,” has prompted many sex experts and researchers to consider how incorporating mindfulness may help with the complex issues that can affect our sexual desire.
Studies done by Lori Brotto, Ph.D., RPsych, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the University of British Columbia, have shown that mindfulness-based therapy significantly improved sexual desire, sexual arousal, lubrication, sexual satisfaction, and overall sexual function. And she’s not alone in her findings. Other studies have shown that women who practiced mindfulness meditation improved their ability to detect their own physiological responses to sexual stimuli, which has led researchers to highlight the potential for mindfulness training as a treatment for female sexual dysfunction. “The most common predictors and causes of sexual dysfunction in women are: stress, multi-tasking, poor body image, depression, anxiety, relationship concerns, and fatigue,” says Brotto. While conducting research and reviewing the literature, she found that mindfulness, as it relates to sexual inhibitions/dysfunctions, helps reduce distractions, improves interoceptive awareness (allows us to notice our internal sensations), reduces stress, improves mood, reduces anxiety, and reduces our self-judgment (helps with poor body image and negative thoughts about oneself).
Like Brotto, psychotherapists who specialize in sexual-related issues have found success incorporating mindfulness with clients who struggle with low desire and other sexual dysfunctions. Laurie Watson, M.A., LMFT, LPC, certified sex therapist and director of Awakenings, says three common preoccupations create the bulk of sexual inhibition: my body isn't perfect (too big, not big enough, not taut enough, too small, etc.), not finishing all the things that need to get done (i.e., “the list”), and performance anxiety (anorgasmia and premature ejaculation). “Our minds are inextricably connected to our bodies and our sexual functioning,” she says. “Being present rather than preoccupied is the best way to truly experience pleasure.” Michael Aaron, Ph.D. in clinical sexology from the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists and certified sex therapist by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), has found that individuals with inhibitions or anxieties find it very difficult to stay present with sensations. “They are caught up in the thoughts in their mind, and their experiences become disembodied as a result,” he says. “Mindfulness practice provides direct practice in turning their attention away from their thoughts and onto their physical experience instead ... Lack of pleasure usually indicates some sort of physical or mental block.”
Aaron encourages people to turn the practice of mindfulness into a daily habit and to try to set aside at least 10 minutes a day to meditate, but he also reminds his clients they can practice mindfulness throughout their daily activities. In his experience, practicing mindfulness allows people to experience a global improvement in self-awareness, including thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Aaron encourages his clients to practice mindfulness even when they are not anxious because it can be easier to use when they are faced with anxiety (such as the struggles people face in sexual relationships). Amanda Pasciucco, licensed marriage and family therapist, AASECT-certified sex therapist and author of “Playtime: A Guide to Sexual Conquests for Women,” says she practices mindfulness regularly in sessions with clients who struggle with sexual inhibitions and says it helps people get into their bodies. Pasciucco believes mindfulness can quiet the clutter in our brains and calm us internally. “From this place of calmness and connection, we can heighten pleasure in various parts of our body,” says Pasciucco. “People with sexual dysfunction might not want a sexual partner to touch their genitals, but mindfulness gives us the ability to a have full-body connection and possibly full-body orgasms,” she adds. Pasciucco sees sexual inhibitions in clients due to body image issues (being self-conscious puts a huge damper on the intimate coupling between partners), shame and guilt about sexuality, and the inability to forget the list of “to-do’s” during sexy moments. [Editor’s Note: the dishes can for sure wait. Try a meditation on Patience, or maybe Acceptance.]
Focusing a little hard on enjoying the moment? Listen to this.
For individuals and couples dealing with a lack of desire, Pasciucco sees mindfulness as key in helping reconnect with sexuality. “I believe that psychoeducation about desire and the technique of mindfulness can be helpful,” and she encourages partners to practice mindfulness together. “I have them sit with one another and look into each other’s eyes while letting the thoughts flow in and out of their minds,” says Pasciucco. “I use mindfulness to have them touch one another’s hands and see what happens to their feelings towards their partner when we take out the genital concept of sex and promote touch and connection in a mindful setting.”
Psychotherapists have found success incorporating mindfulness with clients who struggle with low desire and other sexual dysfunctions.