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Too stressed for sex?

Steph Auteri

Last night, we ordered in crab Rangoon, beef fried rice, and steamed vegetables because I was too darn busy to cook dinner. My fortune cookie told me: "A romantic evening awaits you tonight." I snorted. The only thing I was taking to bed with me was my laptop because I had about seven hours' worth of content to edit.

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Later, at around 10 p.m., my husband joined me in the bedroom. "Ready for sexy time?" he asked me, striking a pose. I thought about the posts I still had to edit. The two articles I had to write. My yoga therapy appointment. That play date. Eleventy billion other things that all had to happen in the next three days. I nearly cried. Libido? What libido? I carried my laptop back downstairs and continued editing until 1 a.m. When I finally slipped beneath the covers, my husband was asleep. My only cuddling companions were my three cats. Not that I even had the energy to proposition my husband for sex. There are so many things that can affect our sexual desire. For me, the biggest libido killers of all are the many internal and external distractions that leap out at me every time my husband tries to touch my boobs. My daughter coughing in the other room. The cat trying to push its way into the closet. My never-ending to-do list. The way my thighs look in the glow of the bedside lamp when they are released from their purple, flannel pajama pants. And this struggle of mine is not uncommon.

Which is why so many psychotherapists, especially those working in the area of sexuality, are integrating mindfulness techniques into the other therapeutic approaches they use with their patients. Dan Pollets, M.D., for example, a psychotherapist based in Massachusetts, speaks of the reactivity we experience in response to anxiety, internal and external pressures, distractions, and more. "That can all be helped by noticing what you pay attention to," says Pollets, "and then adding some choice as to what you focus your attention on." So which mindfulness techniques do sex therapists suggest for those struggling with desire and mindful presence? Lori Brotto, Ph.D., a psychologist who has conducted a wide body of research on mindfulness and sexual health, uses meditation in the group sessions she conducts, beginning with traditional breath and body practices. As women become more experienced with these practices, they move on to using sounds and thoughts as a point of focus. After women establish a regular mindfulness practice, Brotto encourages them to pair a body scan meditation with a brief sexual arousal enhancement exercise. "So they might watch a brief erotic film, or use a vibrator to elicit sexual arousal," says Brotto. "Then, we ask them to stop and engage in a body scan exercise." This exercise requires group members to ask themselves questions such as "Do you notice an increase in your heart rate?" and "Does your skin feel different?" and "Do you notice genital excitement?" As women become more aware of the things that bring them pleasure, they become better able to communicate that information to their partners. And their partners, in turn, become better able to woo them. Which is crucial. Contrary to popular opinion, women often don’t feel desire until after they have been aroused. Alex Iantaffi, Ph.D., M.Sc., LMFT, a therapist at People's Movement Center, uses a number of mindfulness techniques with his patients. One of these techniques requires patients to develop the skill of slowing down, giving people the time to ask themselves if they are truly doing what they want to be doing. This is a good skill to have if your husband starts dry humping you when what you really need to rev yourself up is some light touching along your inner thighs.

Another exercise requires practicing mindful presence in order to encourage the awareness of body sensations. Iantaffi points out that there are many ways to do this, including eating mindfully, walking mindfully, washing the dishes mindfully, and even showering mindfully. "People tend to think about sex as a goal-oriented activity leading to orgasm," says Iantaffi. "But slowing down and savoring every aspect of what's happening during a sexual encounter can really broaden people's experiences around sex." This means enjoying every smooch, suck, and caress instead of considering intercourse the only worthwhile part of foreplay. If you can become skilled at noticing various sensations as you brush your teeth mindfully and drink your morning coffee(s) mindfully, it will be that much easier to focus on that thing he’s doing to your ear or to your lower back--and enjoying it--instead of thinking will I be able to orgasm? Will I be able to orgasm?? Is it gonna happen??? Pollets agrees that meditation is not the only means of cultivating mindfulness. He recommends exploring a variety of mindful awareness activities, including yoga and tai chi. "Anything to focus your attention," he says. He also speaks of the yogic idea of nonattachment. "People who have orgasmic disorders or premature ejaculation experience a lot of anxiety," says Pollets. "This anticipation of what might happen during sex can sabotage or hijack their body's arousal. Instead of paying attention mindfully to sensations of pleasure, they end up paying attention to fearful thoughts." Pollets tries to teach his patients how to not get attached to these thoughts about what might happen. Instead, he teaches them to stay focused on the relaxing and pleasurable sensations…not the results. In the end, it all comes down to one thing: staying aware of what's happening in the moment, versus dwelling upon something that happened in the past, or worrying about all of the things that might happen in the future. Only then can you and your partner truly be in tune with each other and, hopefully, blow each other's minds.

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Contrary to popular opinion, women often don’t feel desire until after they have been aroused.

Steph Auteri

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