There are so many daily experiences that require us to check out of our bodies.
Riding the subway. Getting your teeth cleaned. Dealing with street harassment. Hearing your co-workers body-shame themselves.
And by the end of the day, when it’s time to come home, connect with our partner(s), and be present with ourselves and our bodies, we may be long gone. Sex requires us to be inside ourselves, listen to our desires, feel pleasure. There are direct sexual benefits to that presence of mind as well: Researchers at Brown University found that women who practiced mindfulness for three months (and looked at sexual images during that time as well!) were able to connect with their bodies and partners more easily. They responded to sexual stimuli more quickly (i.e., got turned on more easily) and felt less anxious or judgmental toward themselves during sexual experiences.
But despite all those benefits of getting into a more mindful state, after a long day of the opposite of that, it can be hard to switch gears and be present. If you struggle to stay focused on the sensations happening during sex (whether with ourselves or others), here are a few ways that we can encourage our minds and bodies to be more in the moment when we are being sexual:
1. Have a conversation with your partner(s) or yourself about how you’re currently feeling and what you’re in the mood for.
As a sex educator and therapist, I love a pre-sex check-in as a way to practice mindfulness and unlearn the ways we have been taught sex should be. Instead of letting sex unfold without naming desires, here we get to say exactly what we want. This is such a powerful act in a world that forces such unhelpful expectations onto people about sex—that people who identify as more feminine or as women should be accommodating and put their desires last, or that people who identify as more masculine or as men should be more dominant and can’t be vulnerable.
This conversation invites honesty and vulnerability. It also requires us to look inside ourselves and ask our core self (the truest version of us, not what the world asks of us) where they are at.
This might be a conversation to cook up a hot fantasy. It also might just be a conversation to reveal to yourself or your partner(s) where you are at with yourself and your relationship with your body at that moment.
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2. During sex, reveal to yourself or your partner(s) what sensations you’re feeling.
When we connect with our internal body sensations, we are interacting with what Peter A. Levine, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of Waking the Tiger, calls the felt sense.
The felt sense is our nervous system’s interpretation of what’s happening. It is texture and temperature and color and basically any descriptor word we can think of. So instead of saying, “That feels so good,” we say what is actually feeling good! This is also a way of incorporating “dirty talk” into sex. The formula goes, “When you do blank, it feels so blank, and I feel it in my blank.” Mindfulness and sexy talk all at once! Boom!
If it feels hard to come up with words in the moment, write about what you were feeling later and catalog those sensations. Again, this is great with partnered sex or with sex with yourself. You deserve to hear how good you make yourself feel too.
This is also helpful if something isn’t feeling good, too. When we are checked into our felt sense, we are also able to feel when something isn’t right. Maybe that can be addressed by changing the way your body is, the pressure or depth, or maybe it’s a way to know when you need to stop and take a break. It can be so hard to hear our core self through all the societal expectations about how we are “supposed” to show up for sex. Listening to those body sensations can be a way to listen if our body is enjoying what’s happening and to discover what may need to change so we can.
3. Check in with your breath.
Yoga isn’t the only place to deep breathe or stay with our breath! The way a teacher encourages you to check in with how you are breathing? Yeah, you can do that for yourself or your partner(s) during sex!
Notice your breath during sex. Are you breathing deep? Are you holding your breath? Are you letting yourself exhale and be loud or stifling your breathing and any authentic noises?
When you’re in tune with your breath during sex, then you can start to play with it! See what it’s like to breathe along with your partner(s). Do you feel more connected? Synced up? Or see what it’s like to consciously hold your breath. When we do this, our muscles tighten, kind of like before an orgasm; then you can notice what it’s like to take that big exhale and settle back into yourself. Are you more present? Able to notice more body sensations?
Another way to bring in breath play: Have yourself or your partner hold their breath as a safer alternative to breath restriction (i.e., hands over someone’s mouth or on their throat, which can be done safely but does have some obvious health risks). Because this is sex and not yoga, being told what to do or telling someone what to do can be hot. Consider taking turns telling a partner or having them tell you to hold your breath, release, or lean into it. Notice how it feels to be more or less in control.
Those are just a few mindfulness tools that can work wonders in the bedroom for some people. Take what works for you here, and leave the rest! The whole point is not to “be better” but to connect more deeply with yourself and your partner(s). There is no right way to feel or experience pleasure. You’re not “doing it wrong,” and if this isn’t a place you can go during sex, there’s also nothing wrong with that. Just notice what works or doesn’t, and be curious about why that is.
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