What is Mindfulness?

To put it simply, mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment–including thoughts, emotions, and senses–and noticing them without judgment.

The two key components of mindfulness are awareness and acceptance. Awareness is simply becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting carried away by them. You do not need to clear your mind–the goal is simply to notice what you’re experiencing.

Acceptance is noticing your thoughts, feelings, and senses without judging them or trying to change them. For example, you can notice, “I feel jealous” without judging yourself for that feeling or trying to change it.

There are several ways to practice mindfulness. One of the best ways to increase mindfulness is through meditation. Other ways to practice mindfulness are through yoga, body scans, walking meditations, and even showering.

Benefits of Mindfulness

There are tons of reasons to practice mindfulness. Research has shown that it can help with a variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, memory, attention, stress, and emotion regulation. Mindfulness can also positively impact physical health, including sleep, high blood pressure, immune system, and chronic pain. In sum, mindfulness can improve your overall wellbeing, and this includes your sex life. to communicate in a less stressful environment, and continue to increasing our connection to one another. Most importantly, date nights are all about what you and your partner enjoy and want to spend time experiencing with one another.

How Mindfulness Improves Sex

So what does mindfulness have to do with sex? In short, practicing mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to improve your sex life. It is one of the first-line treatments for various sexual dysfunctions, including low desire, erectile dysfunction, genitopelvic pain, and orgasm problems.

In the above paragraph, I mentioned several physical and mental health issues that mindfulness can help improve. Many of these issues, such as attention, depression, and stress, can have catastrophic impacts on our sexual function. Research has shown that depression is a major risk factor for low sexual desire. Further, Lori Brotto, a sex researcher, writes “brain-imaging studies show that distraction and inattention impair our ability to attend to and process sexual cues.” Research has also found that there is a strong link between chronic stress and sexual dysfunction.

Therfore the mechanisms through which mindfulness can improve sex is twofold. Mindfulness helps counteract the issues that are already negatively affecting our sex lives. However, mindfulness also helps us to better tune into our bodies and focus on pleasure, thus leading to more satisfying sex. If our minds are worrying about to-do lists during sex, or whether or not our partner is enjoying themselves, we’re not able to focus on the sensations in our body and experience pleasure. In her book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness, Brotto writes, “after all, the brain truly is the most powerful sex organ, and a powerful physical sexual response cannot compensate for a disengaged brain when it comes to enjoying sex.” If we want to have better sex, we need to learn to be present in the moment.

How to Use Mindfulness to Improve Sex

Here are just some of the ways you can begin to practice mindfulness in order to improve your sex life:

  • Practice mindful breathing. Start by setting a timer for two minutes. During this time, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Simply notice where you feel your breath most, whether it’s your nostrils, your chest, or your belly. Pay attention to how your body feels when you inhale and exhale. Do this until the timer runs out. Once you get comfortable with this exercise, slowly increase the length of time.
  • Meditate. Again, meditation is one of the most effective ways to practice and improve mindfulness in your life. For beginners, I recommend starting with guided meditations, because they can be a bit easier to get into. There are tons of Youtube videos and apps, but my personal favorite is Down Dog Meditation. This app allows you to choose your ideal settings, such as length of time, voice, music, etc., and it generates a meditation based on your selections.
  • Practice mindful eating. In her book, Brotto describes an exercise she uses with her clients in order to increase sexual desire. She gives each participant a raisin and instructs them to observe it–notice the shape, size, color, etc. Notice how it smells, how it sounds as you move it between your fingers. Press the raisin to your lips, then finally put it in your mouth. Feel the raisin on your tongue. What textures can you notice? Finally, chew and swallow. During each stage, notice how your body is reacting to these sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Does your mouth start to water, or does your stomach give a grumble of hunger? Simply immerse yourself in the experience. How is this different from how you normally eat? How might this relate to sex?

This exercise may sound silly, but Brotto and her research team have found that when participants practice mindfulness (including mindful eating), they experience significant improvement in nearly all areas of sexuality, and their sexual satisfaction increases by an average of 60%.

You do not have to do this with a raisin. You can practice mindful eating with any meal. Instead of looking at your phone or the TV while you eat, immerse yourself in the experience of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of your food. Truly savor the meal.

  • Body scans. Body scans can help you notice sensations in your body that you may not typically notice. This is especially useful during sex, because it helps you to notice pleasure! Here is a link to a sensual body scan that includes both audio and text instructions. Once you understand the concept, you can start to incorporate body scans on your own throughout the day.
  • Sensate focus. This exercise is best completed under the instruction and guidance of a sex therapist (like those at Emma Schmidt & Associates!). Sensate focus is a series of touching exercises done over time in order to decrease anxiety and increase intimacy, communication, and pleasure. It’s traditionally done with a partner, but sex therapists can help individuals make adjustments to adapt it into a solo exercise. The goal is to allow the couple (or individual) to relax and experience sensual touching in a non-goal-oriented way (i.e., you’re not trying to orgasm). The first session begins with non-genital touching, and it slowly progresses over time to intercourse.
Things to Know for Beginners
  • Mindfulness is not some transcendent state that can only be accessed by the most fiercely disciplined. If you’re paying attention to your experience without judging or trying to change it, you’re practicing mindfulness. It’s much simpler than many people imagine it to be. You’re likely doing this in your daily life without realizing it.
  • Mindfulness doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it does take practice. You can do this during your day-to-day life. While you’re showering, take a few extra seconds to notice how your body feels as the water falls on your head. Pay attention to how it feels to glide soap across your body. Or while you’re folding laundry, take a moment to run your hand over the clothes and feel the different textures. Notice how they feel on your fingers, your cheek, etc. Just be aware.
  • Your mind will probably wander, and that’s okay. The goal is not to stop your mind from wandering–it’s to simply notice that it has wandered, then gently redirect your attention back to the thing you were focusing on.