Humans are too busy. We rarely slow down, we’re easily distracted, and we sometimes miss out on wonderful experiences because of the pace we keep. The pandemic has added to the chaos, and while we may want to run away from it all, our only option on most days is to mentally escape through exercise, television, or a hobby. Our minds can usually drift in and out of what we are doing without much loss of enjoyment in the thing we are trying to do. But there are times when grounding yourself in the moment and being fully present is what’s going to give you the most enjoyment. Sex is one of those times. If you are able to have mindful sex, you will likely be able to have mind-blowing sex.
First of all, sex shouldn’t ever be a chore or done out of obligation. If you don’t want to have sex, don’t. But there are layers of desire when wanting to have sex. Whether you are ready to tear each other’s clothes off or are both up for it but need some extra time to get the engines started, reframing how you think about sex will make it more meaningful and pleasurable.
The first step in being sexually mindful is to let go of the goal of an orgasm. Listen — I want to have an orgasm when I have sex, and I want my partner to have one as well. However, if that is the only point of having sex, then there is a lot lost in the middle. And it’s a lot of pressure! Our bodies act differently on different days for a lot of reasons, and sometimes an orgasm just isn’t going to happen for one of you. You should never be made to feel that there is anything wrong with you if you don’t get there, nor should you ever feel fully responsible for “giving” your partner an orgasm.
Laurie Mintz, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Florida says we need to think less and immerse ourselves more in the sensations our bodies are feeling during sex. It’s the idea of having your mind and body in the same place at once. She describes this as sexual mindfulness — as opposed to sexual spectatoring. If we’re constantly worried about how our bodies look, about our performance, or thinking about our work email during sex, then it’s hard to relax and experience the sensations enough to know what we want and need. In those moments, we become spectators; voyeurism can be a fun part of sex too, but that includes intention and presence as well.
To counter those sometimes negative thoughts that can pull us out of our sexual experiences, it’s important to focus on how our bodies feel. We need to trust that we deserve pleasure and that our partner wants to make us feel good. And if little distractions pop up that take your focus away, Mintz says it’s okay to acknowledge them and then let them go. It’s not always our to-do lists or the dog roaming around the bedroom that pulls us out of the moment; it can be our own fears that our partner is bored when they are giving us oral sex or whatever else they may be doing. We worry our partner is frustrated that we are “taking too long” to orgasm. Or maybe we get frustrated with ourselves. *Revisit my words about orgasms.*
As sex expert Emily Morse said on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, “Communication is lubrication.” Talking about sex before, during, and after will help you stay in the moment because you have provided the groundwork for trust and vulnerability. You have already established what you are in the mood for and what you like. You aren’t put off if your partner redirects you, because communication is expected and desired. For me, my partner’s pleasure is just as important as my own during sex, so I want and encourage her to tell me if something is or isn’t working. I also trust that her feelings won’t be hurt if I ask her to change what she’s doing so that my experience is more enjoyable. Sex should feel good, and all people involved need to let go of egos and selfishness.
Staying present and being mindful during sex means paying attention too. Michelle Mouhtis, LCSW, a New Jersey-based therapist and relationship coach, says to focus on the different senses we experience during sex. Listen to the sounds your partner is making, look at the way their chest is moving while they breathe, notice how their mouth feels on your body, observe how they taste. Not only does paying attention to your body help you have great sex, but it can help your partner too. Some people may not feel comfortable talking during sex, but body language speaks volumes. If your partner’s body isn’t relaxed or fully enjoying what’s happening, you will know. That’s when you — as a mindful sexual partner — can stop and ask what they want or what you could do differently. On some days the answer may be to get a toy or try a new position. On other days, it could be to stop and snuggle. Intimacy can include sex, but a back rub or nap together may be what you both need too.
I hope that all of our sexual experiences are mindful ones, but I also know it takes practice and sometimes a little bit more time to really settle into a hot session of love making. Sometimes all you have time for is a quickie, and those are fun and valid too! But performative and unsatisfying sex is often mechanical and bad sex. Sexual mindfulness is about being present while being intimate with someone. And even though the idea is to let go of the goal of an orgasm, orgasms are often easier and more intense when the focus is on the journey.
If you are struggling to stay present during sex, it’s important to look at why. This can be tough because examining our mental health, relationships, or even our sexuality can be overwhelming and life changing. But everyone deserves to feel physically and emotionally taken care of.
As a sexual assault survivor, I want to mention that I know what it’s like to dissociate during sex. If you or your partner is a survivor, it’s important to talk with each other and a therapist to be sure everyone feels safe during sex. Flashbacks or physical reactions to previous assaults can’t be predicted, so please make a plan to take care of yourself and your partner if staying present isn’t possible.
Now carve out some time and practice mindful sex with a partner. Or schedule some time with yourself — giving yourself pleasure and finding out what you like is empowering and a great way to build sexual mindfulness.