Can the practice of mindfulness improve your sex life? In this article, we explore the link between mindfulness and sexual health, and discuss how incorporating mindfulness practices into your routine may lead to better sex. From finding pleasure in daily activities to strengthening the mind-body connection, the practice can serve as a tool to enhance what goes on between the sheets.
Despite common depictions, mindfulness isn’t reserved for picturesque mountaintops, though that’s wonderful, too. In fact, the ancient practice proves to have a bounty of benefits, particularly for those looking to enhance their sexual health and experiences. No matter if you’re hoping to spice up an already rich sex life or looking to address challenges, mindfulness has been proven to help remedy sexual dysfunction, strengthen the mind-body connection, and foster closeness in partnered sex through deepening awareness with yourself.
“Mindfulness strengthens areas of the brain that give us cues about how we feel in our bodies,” says Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D., MFT, CSAT-S, CST-S, and Staff Clinical Director at Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, C.A.
It’s this awareness that’s fundamental to mindfulness. And it serves as a building block for using the practice to help your sexual life. Below, learn from experts about how mindfulness can positively influence sexual health and experiences, how to build a mindfulness practice, and learn a couple beginner-friendly exercises to get started.
What is Mindfulness?
According to the American Psychological Association, “Mindfulness is awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings. Mindfulness can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them.”
By cuing into thoughts and physical sensations with acceptance, you can avoid getting swept in their undercurrent. Though mindfulness has early ties to Hinduism and Buddhism — and continues to — it’s been applied, non-secularly, to a wide population of practitioners.
What Factors Influence Sexual Health?
Sexual health is just as influenced by what’s going on in your mind as in your body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hormonal imbalances, and side effects of certain antidepressants can all negatively influence sexual health. Cleveland Clinic also names stress, anxiety, relationship problems, past sexual trauma, and depression as psychological factors that can result in low sexual health.
Distractions in everyday life are plentiful. Whether you’re eyeing the unfolded laundry as your honey tries to get busy it’s common for the mind to ping pong, even if promise of pleasure is waiting, says Tynan Rhea, MACP, registered psychotherapist, and sex and relationships therapist based in Canada.
“It’s a pretty common experience to be so overwhelmed with parenting tasks and to-do lists, and even exhaustion on top of that, that it’s not uncommon for people to feel really distracted during sex,” they continue, discussing the range of stresses that can surface specifically for new parents.
How Can Mindfulness Help Sexual Health?
While it’s essential to address each of these conditions for a range of reasons, stress might be the most widely experienced. According to a 2013 small-scale study, women who were classified as experiencing high stress had lower levels of genital arousal, even if they reported mentally feeling hot under the collar. What’s more, these participants also had higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and were more distracted when watching an erotic film.
Begin by noticing distractions and rushing thoughts with openness. This can help return to the present moment.
“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,” according to Headspace, a leading mindfulness and meditation app.
It can even help to tune into commonly overlooked everyday sensations that can invoke sensual experiences. For example, mindfulness can turn your attention to the texture of a yummy sweater, the taste of a delightful meal, or the feeling of warm air against your skin, says Katehakis. And while these might not be innately sexual, it brings focus to the body and what feels pleasurable. You can then apply this practice to what you enjoy in the bedroom.
According to research conducted by Lori Brotto, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Director of University of British Columbia (UBC) Sexual Health Laboratory; Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health; Professor at Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, UBC; Executive Director at the Women’s Health Research Institute; and author of “Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire,” mindfulness was found to positively impact desire, arousal, and orgasm in survivors of genealogic cancer who had struggled with sexual dysfunction as a result of chemotherapy. Due to the promising results of the early research, Brotto and colleagues replicated the study on a range of other participants from sexual abuse survivors to women who had Hypo Sexual Desire Disorder.
The results were staggering. Across participant groups, mindfulness played a crucial role in turning up (or on) sexual health. In the same report, Brotto names a range of influences that mindfulness may have on sexual health. For example, any current of negative thoughts may influence sexual responses. With mindfulness, these thoughts can be observed non-judgmentally and attention can be reverted to positive physical sensations.
“If we’re stressed, we tend to clench our pelvic area. Particularly if that stress is related to any kind of historical, physical, or sexual trauma,” says Rhea. “Our nervous system tends to get tight or to want to protect. That bracing can lead to pain during sex. And so, a mindfulness practice can help us go, ‘oh, I’m clenching.’ Yep. Take a breath.”
Another benefit of mindfulness? Communication. Talking about sex can be uncomfortable, Rhea says.
Mindfulness Exercises to Try for Sexual Health
Try a Body Scan
Brotto recommends her three-minute breathing space practice, which can you can listen to on her website. For one minute, take stock of what’s going on around you. The next minute, dial into your breath. For the last minute, apply that focused attention to your body.
Return to Touch
Rhea suggests a daily two-minute hand touch (they also said, if hands are related to any trauma, try another body part). To start, get comfortable and touch one hand with the other. For the first minute, notice what it’s like to have your hand touched. The second minute, direct your attention to what it’s like to touch your hand. Focus on the hand’s temperature, pressure, texture, any sensation. If you notice your mind getting pulled into distractions, refocus on the hands and what you are presently doing.
Other Ways to Improve Sexual Health
While mindfulness can be a key instrument in addressing sexual health, it’s one of many tools to enhance sexual health. Katehakis recommended a range of exercises like yoga, sports or dance, to reconnect to your body. Everyone is different, and it’s important to talk with a therapist or other licensed provider to help determine what methods are best for your needs.
It’s also crucial to note that, while mindfulness proves to be a useful practice for a variety of sexual challenges, it’s not right for everyone. Rhea and Brotto both recommend that folks who struggle with disassociation, especially because of sexual trauma, should work with a therapist in advance of taking a stab at mindfulness for sexual health — and be sure to perform any of these exercises with a licensed therapist in the room as you get started.
To Sum It Up
Mindfulness can offer a slew of benefits to improve sexual health. From learning what you like, feeling comfortable communicating that to a partner, reducing stress, and staying present, there are plenty of perks to be gleaned.
To get started, Brotto emphasizes the importance of building a mindfulness practice before gearing it toward sexual health. If you find mindfulness to be a challenge at first, keep at it, she encouraged. It’s simple, but not easy,” she says.