If mindfulness can make us happier, healthier, and more compassionate (that is, if the raft of current scientific research is to be believed), what can that same moment-to-moment awareness do for our sex lives? Imagine the possibilities.
On the face of it, having enjoyable, loving sex seems like the last thing we might be inclined to tune out. But we all know the kind of mind-wandering that can strike even in the midst of great pleasures. From a mental replay of the staff meeting earlier in the day to obsessing about the final luscious peak of the sex you’re having in that very moment, in lovemaking, as in life, tuning out is a part of being human that’s very difficult to turn off.
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
But before we go there, let’s admit: sex is tricky to talk about. It’s either too much information or not enough. And it’s probably the most subjective thing you’re likely to have an opinion on. (Substitute one little word in “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like,” and you’ve got it just about right.)
It’s challenging because our sexuality is such an essential part of who we are. It’s energy that flows through us whether we’re in a softly lit bedroom or not. And it’s energy we continually need to respond to and guide. (If we didn’t, chances are making chitchat with, say, your dry cleaner could develop into something pretty awkward and inappropriate.)
But get two people sharing some intimate space and toss in a little attraction, and “guide” doesn’t exactly cover it. The energy is palpable, positive, pleasurable. The very best sex happens when we tap into and are at play with that nearly untamable energy: yours, mine, ours. We don’t own it or possess it (or the other person, for that matter), but we get to dance with something more powerful than us for a little while. It’s the difference between chess and tango.
And being mindfully aware in situations like that can work wonders. Or so researchers at Brown University found. Their study was designed to measure the effect of mindfulness on sexual arousal. They found that compared to the control group, who did not practice mindfulness, the 44 women who took a three-month mindfulness meditation course (and who spent some time looking at racy pictures) reported feeling much more aroused, much more quickly.
Increased awareness was the key, according to Gina Silverstein, the study’s lead author. Mindful sex involves being able to observe and describe what’s happening inside your body and mind without sorting experiences into “bad” and “good” or trying to change your feelings. When we are able to do that, Silverstein says, we can “turn off the autopilot.”
Studies have also shown that long-term mediators experience increased cortical gyrification (folding) of the brain’s insula. Doesn’t sound terribly erotic, does it? Until you read another study from Dartmouth that found women with more gyrified insula experience more intense orgasms.
If you’re curious, then, the first, best, and simplest step you can take toward more mindful, and hence more enjoyable, sex is engaging in a daily mindfulness practice. It gradually trains your mind to pay attention (in all areas of life) and cuts down stress. And stress is a famous turnoff, a true killer of pleasure.
Over the past two decades, many researchers have documented the benefits of mindfulness. It turns out they’ve also gained some helpful insights that can be applied specifically to sexual experience.
By Jeremy Adam Smith, Mindfulness Magazine