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Meditation and sex

By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts

Cellphones, flexible work hours, social media, streaming services, online shopping — all make it easy for us to multitask. That might seem efficient, except when it happens during sex.

Meditation and sex may not sound like natural partners. One is usually practiced alone, sitting still and in silence, while the other is hopefully more active, probably a little noisier, and often (but not always) enjoyed with a partner. But if the goal of meditation is to train the mind to be present and connect the mind and body, then it might not be so different from sex.

To enjoy a physical connection, we need to be able to get out of our heads. Mindfulness can help us enjoy better sex and be less distracted. The less distracted we are, the more in the moment we are, and the more we’re able to tune in to the sensations of sex and our desires — and those of our partner. Practicing mindfulness and meditation on a regular basis means we’re making space for us to connect on a deeper level with our partner. In other words, we need to switch off to turn on. Wink.

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Why am I distracted during sex?

Ever been right in the middle of it, enjoying the heat of the moment, and BAM! Nope, not the finish line. Tomorrow’s to-do list?

For many of us, it can be hard to transition from worker, parent, caregiver, or any other role we play during the day to a lover in the bedroom. Being distracted during sex is common and, in some ways, normal, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of an amazing sex life. Our mind is more used to multitasking, getting interrupted, and feeling distracted than focusing on one thing, even if it’s intimacy with our partner. So during sex, our mind does what minds do — it starts to wander. It doesn’t mean we’re bored, having bad sex, or aren’t attracted to our partner. We’re on autopilot, doing what feels comfortable to the mind.

The misconception about not being able to focus during sex is that we tend to think it has something to do with us, our partner, or our relationship. Because of this, distraction becomes something we’re scared or ashamed about. But we aren’t alone. We just don’t talk about sex enough. What if we’re talking about a massage or a facial? We laid down on the table, and the sensations feel great. Then all of a sudden, our 60 minutes are over, and we realized we were lost in thought the whole time. Does that mean we had a bad spa experience? Of course not!

Sometimes the busier we are, or the more stressed, the harder it is to stay focused in bed. Our insecurities around sex might kick in, whether it’s about our body image or what’s happening in our mind. We might even think more about the sex we’re having than experiencing it. This phenomenon is called spectatoring. It’s the opposite of being in the present moment because we’re focused on our thoughts.

Over time, distraction can interfere with our overall associations with sex and lower our desire for sexual intimacy. While sex can be messy and complicated, adding mindfulness to our sex life is simple. Mindfulness can help us manage daily stress, limit mind wandering, sharpen focus, build confidence, quiet our inner critic, practice self-compassion, and more — allowing us to enjoy better sex. With meditation, we develop the ability to get out of autopilot and bring our attention back to the breath. Later in the bedroom, we become much more practiced at coming back into the body.

How does meditation benefit sex?

Stress has been shown to negatively impact both mind and body during sex. Too much stress means too much cortisol, the stress hormone known to reduce our libido. It’s released as a part of our body’s fight or flight response. The mind might experience an increase in distractions while the body deals with the cortisol spike. But a well-known benefit of meditation is the ability to relieve stress, which can positively affect our libido. And now, research shows why two long-standing practices (mindfulness and sex) make such a good couple.

Sexual and relationship therapist Kate Moyle joins Headspace to talk about sexual well-being. She says, “We can’t separate the psychological and the physical elements of sex. When we see that people are struggling in their sex life and relationships, it impacts their mental health” — and vice versa. Particularly for women, we go through life stages and phases where sex changes. So it’s important that we check in with ourselves as we go.

In one study, a group of women underwent sexual function tests and then participated in three mindfulness-meditation sessions, spaced two weeks apart. They also meditated alone at home. When they later retook their sexual function test, their sexual desire increased while their sexual distress decreased. This research also found that meditation can help with a range of sexual problems, including low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Another published study 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. The study's author goes so far as to say: “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.”

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How can I practice meditation for sex?

Having great sex is all about being present to give and receive pleasure. For some, taking a few deep breaths helps us settle into an intimate moment. But we don’t need to add more stress to our bedroom routine by feeling pressured to meditate before sex. Like meditating for stress, a daily routine helps us become more resilient when our thoughts start to race. Meditation is most effective when we use it before we begin to spiral. Think: study prep. Is it better to cram all of the information on the day of the test or do shorter study sessions leading up to test day?

The truth is, meditation isn’t about fixing our sex life, or our thoughts, or even our mind. We can’t control distractions, but we can use meditation to help us let them go and return to the present moment. Learning to become more aware of what’s happening in our mind and body is really the key to receiving pleasure. When we notice something feels good, we can lean into it, keep an open mind about what we desire, and listen to our partner without taboos.

We can also train our mind to let go of distractions when we’re not meditating by trying this mindfulness tip: throughout the day, we can focus on our breath — while we stand in line, after we send an email, or while we wait at the gas pump. By paying attention to the flow of air through our nose and mouth and feeling our chest rise and fall, we’re subtly training the mind to come back to the present moment whenever it gets distracted. We can do this during sex, too. Or we can adapt this skill by choosing a kinkier physical sensation to snap us back to the present. That way, we’re in tune with the sensations of sex, not the distractions in our mind.

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How can I have more mindful sex?

  • Slow down.

It’s hard for our brains to track which moments and places in our day are dedicated to certain things. If we’re multitasking during the day, we’ll try to multitask at night and during sex. Slowing down to focus on one activity at a time can help us stay present. Next time we feel lost in thought or distracted, take a deep breath and settle back into what we’re doing. Practicing breathing exercises regularly can help reduce stress that can interfere with intercourse.

Got five or 10 minutes? Start meditating. Even a short meditation teaches us to slow down and stay present. Regular practice helps us calm an easily distracted mind and deal with thoughts that could ruin the moment.

Also, let’s try not to beat ourselves up about being stressed or getting distracted. Research shows how we speak to ourselves has a powerful impact on our mental and physical health, including managing stress. Be gentle and use kind words.

  • Focus on sensations, not the finale.

Sensuality is the key to sexuality. When we’re struggling with distractions, low libido, sexual arousal, or orgasm, we become preoccupied with what’s inside our head and not focusing on how it feels. We need to learn how to get back into our bodies. Next time we notice ourselves having spectator sex, run through the five senses. How does your partner taste? What do they smell like? Where are they touching you? How does it feel to look into their eyes? This will help our mind come back to the here and now.

  • Get comfortable talking about sex.

Understanding ourselves and our partners sexually starts with communication. But again, we often don’t talk about sex enough because of taboo narratives we’ve been taught. Read, watch, and listen to new perspectives about sex to help get more comfortable approaching the conversation in our own lives. Talk about sex from a positive lens. For example, we can say, “I love what we’re doing together, but it might be interesting to try something different.” If this feels uncomfortable, it doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it. By sitting with those feelings, we can start to understand where the fear is coming from and create a space of acceptance for talking about this topic.

  • Investigate pleasure.

Historically, female pleasure hasn’t been a part of sex education. So, learning how to receive, feel, and give pleasure are important aspects of building a mindful sex practice. A really basic way to start is to keep a pleasure journal. Make a note of a couple of things a day that gives you pleasure. Whether that’s the first cup of coffee in the morning, getting into clean bed sheets, or taking a hot shower. Identifying pleasure in and out of the bedroom can go a long way in understanding what’s happening in the mind and body.

  • Feel body brilliant.

Some people spectate during sex because they’re worried about how they look. Feeling insecure during sex can get in the way of letting our guard down and truly enjoying our experience. As part of our mindful sex practice, we can meditate for a healthy body image. This would be done outside of engaging in sex, but in time, it can help us feel more empowered and confident in the bedroom.

A body scan is a meditation technique where we mentally scan our body from our toes up to our head at a steady, even pace — like how a copy machine scans a piece of paper. As we scan, we take long, deep breaths and focus on how each part feels. It’s a way to boost our awareness and appreciation of our body as it is in the moment.

Give it a try right now. Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. As we move our awareness up our body, notice if any part feels relaxed or tense, comfortable or uncomfortable, energetic or tired. If we sense tension, don’t struggle. Instead, breathe into that part of the body again and notice if anything changes. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. We can move on without judgment.

  • Don’t force following a sexual script.

There are a lot of gendered messages when it comes to sex and how genders should behave when we have sex. This leads many of us to follow a sexual script, so to speak, rather than follow our intuition about what we want to do and what feels good for us. Improving our sexual wellness is about shedding light on those narratives and figuring out what works for us. Next time we enter a physical activity with our partner, we can give ourselves permission to explore without judgment. Give tantric sex a try.

Some of us may be familiar with tantric sex. Recently, we’ve heard more buzz around this meditative experience, when intercourse is slow and emphasizes a prolonged connection with our partner rather than orgasm. Of course, when we talk about mindful sex, we’re not automatically talking about tantric sex, but if we’re curious, trying something new is part of empowering our sex life.

Meditate for mindful sex with Headspace

The Headspace app has hundreds of guided exercises to help you build your practice. Start by searching these three meditations to help improve our sexual well-being. A happier, healthier you is a few breaths away.

Learn tips for cultivating the four pillars of sexual wellness with sex and relationship therapist Kate Moyle

Learn techniques to cultivate a greater mind-body connection and build a more intimate relationship with yourself and your partner.

Use the body scan technique to check in with every part of you, and notice where you hold discomfort, tension, or other sensations.

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Key takeaways:

  • Finding it hard to focus? Mindful sex allows us to stay present with our partners and get less distracted

  • Being distracted during sex is common and, in some ways, normal, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of an amazing sex life

  • Try meditations for mindful sex with Headspace

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