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Meditation and sex

Meditation and sex may not sound like natural bedfellows. One is usually practiced alone, sitting still and in silence, while the other is hopefully more active, probably a little noisier, and ideally enjoyed with a partner. But in fact, these two practices have a lot in common.

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The goal of meditation is to train the mind to be present, fully attentive in the moment, at ease, and without distraction, and so it’s obvious how those qualities can help all of us during sex.

Naturally, most of us would like to think that our attention, and that of our partner, is 100% in the moment during the heat of passion, but the mind is the mind and prone to distraction or wandering, even during the best of times.

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There’s a risk in long-term partnerships, if there is no awareness around a shared sex life, that the act itself drifts into some kind of auto-pilot mode, lacking the attentiveness, effort, and desire that first sparked the chemistry and/or relationship. Mindful sex is not habitual sex.

Our enjoyment of sex — and the intimacy we share, build, and maintain — relies on how mindful we are when we physically connect. Sex involves a huge mental element, whether we are in the moment together, being considerate of each other’s needs, or even visualizing together.

It is no surprise that studies have shown that mindfulness can help us enjoy better sex and even resolve sexual problems. By learning to embrace ourselves, our desires, and the sensations of sex, we are making space for us to connect on a deeper level with our partner.

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The rise of mindful sex

Sex, of course, has been around since the beginning of time. But mindful sex is a relatively new term, based on ancient practices and ideas.

In recent years, we have been hearing more about meditative, tantric sex, when intercourse is slow, with an emphasis on a prolonged deep connection with our partner rather than orgasm. But even this practice is nothing new, and has its roots in ancient Hinduism.

And although they used the term “sensate focus” and not “mindfulness," renowned sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose story was turned into the hit TV show ‘Masters of Sex,’ advised patients on the link between mindfulness and sex in the 1960s.

Their advice for those experiencing intimacy issues was similar to the goals people seek in a meditation practice — encouraging participants to pay attention to the sensations of the experience, rather than getting lost in their own heads.

As awareness of the benefits of mindfulness has become more mainstream in recent years, we have also seen a rise in sexual meditation, which is specifically targeted to improve our sexual well-being. Research has started to examine why these two long-standing practices make such a good pair.

In one study, led by Lori Brotto at the Center for Sexual Medicine, University of British Columbia, a group of women underwent sexual function tests and then took part in three group mindfulness-meditation sessions spaced two weeks apart, and also meditated alone at home. When they later retook their sexual function test, their desire, arousal and sexual satisfaction had increased.

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Meditation and sex

Brotto’s research has also found meditation can help treat a range of sexual problems, including low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Another study, published in the ‘Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy,’ examined the effects of sex mindfulness in particular, and found those who were more aware of the present moment during sex had higher levels of sexual satisfaction.

Chelom E. Leavitt, the author of that research and assistant professor at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, says: "The average person can improve their sexual relationship with a little instruction and practice.

"It doesn’t require new positions or special skill. Better sex may be as simple as slowing down, being less judgmental about yourself and your partner, and paying attention to touch, arousal, and the connection felt during sex.”

Meditation and sex

By practicing meditation and then bringing the skills we learn into our everyday lives (including the bedroom), we can learn to be more present in the moment and enjoy a more meaningful and enjoyable connection with our partner.

When we meditate, we use an object of focus to anchor our attention to the present moment (often it is the breath, but it can also be a physical sensation). If we practice this during meditation before sex, it will be easier to bring our focus back to the body if our mind wanders when physically connecting with our partner.

This skill can be honed in the form of specific guided sexual meditation, to help us to let go of distractions and become more aware of our own body and our partner’s. With that in mind, and should your mind wander during sex, a good mindfulness tip is to notice a physical sensation and use that as your object of focus to bring you back into the moment.

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Stress, of course, can be a big passion killer. We’ve all been there — parenting has become too much, or we’ve got a lot on our plate at work; the last thing we feel is sexy. And when stress becomes too much, our cortisol levels spike, which can lower our libido.

The good news is that meditation has been scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels as well as shrink the amygdala, our emotional thermostat that regulates our reaction to stress, helping us to keep calm and focused … and more likely “in the mood.”

A 2018 study of 88 medical students found that the participants who used Headspace for just 10 days had a 12% decrease in stress. And a separate study found that people who used Headspace for 30 days reduced stress by a third.

Self-esteem is another crucial element of our sexual well-being, and meditation helps us become less judgmental of ourselves and let go of negative storylines — which may be getting in the way of being present with our partner — while opening ourselves up to the vulnerability and uncertainty that comes with any relationship.

The 30-day Relationships course (available only to Headspace subscribers) also helps us to achieve greater harmony with ourselves and others. Because if we have supportive, nourishing relationships, those benefits will be felt in our sex lives.

Meditation is no overnight fix. But if we integrate a regular practice into our life, we’ll better understand how our mind works; and the more we develop some perspective on the passage of thought, the more we are connecting with ourselves, which, in turn, allows us to better connect with our partners. That is when true intimacy can be achieved.

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