How to have mindful sex when your thoughts are prone to wandering

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We are, this decade, obsessed with mindfulness. And while you should definitely be suspicious of any spiritual snake oil that guarantees you happiness, that’s not actually the promise of mindfulness. Mindfulness can’t make you happy. It also can’t disappear the causes of unhappiness like, say, poverty or systemic oppression. What mindfulness practices can do is help you stay in the here and now and better tolerate the discomforts of being a suffering human. And, it turns out, mindfulness can also help you have better sex.

Recent studies suggest that sexually mindful people have better self-esteem, are more satisfied with their relationships, and are generally more satisfied with their sex lives. That’s not snake oil, y’all. That’s peer reviewed. So, then, you might be wondering, how does one start having mindful sex? As usual, the answer is simple but not easy.

“We can bring mindful attention to everything.” says Sarah Trivett, a Vancouver-based psychotherapist who specializes in using somatic therapy with people who have experienced trauma. “When we bring mindfulness to sex, it can have profound impacts,” she says. Mindful sex, Trivett explains, means staying connected with the five senses of the body during an experience. No problem.

Isn’t the whole point of having sex for pleasure that we’s totally connecting with the senses? Isn’t that what sex for fun is all about? Actually, no. That’s not what most people are doing, anyways. What most people do during sex is fantasize, which is kind of the opposite of mindfulness.

To be clear, fantasizing during sex is not wrong or bad, but it has been linked to anxiety. Since we’re in the muck of it, sharing fantasies with the person you’re having sex with in real time isn’t the same as checking out into the vast recesses of your inner storyland. It’s the latter that can create a sense of disconnection from your body and whoever may or may not be touching it.

Mindful sex, then, means training your attention to stay in the bedroom with you instead of wandering into your anxieties or even off down the hall to your hot neighbor’s apartment. Here’s how to do it.

Start with masturbation

“Most people find that the easiest way to start incorporating mindfulness into sex is by experimenting with mindful self-pleasure,” Trivett says. Most of us have certain go-to fantasies that turn us on quickly, so, when you're trying to be present for the first time without fantasy, she explains, it can take longer to reach orgasm. “Be aware that starting a mindful self-pleasure practice requires some patience,” she says. Step one, then, is letting go of your go-to get off fantasy.

So, but then what? Is it even possible to climax without fantasizing about your hot A/C guy? Yes, says Trivett. When your mind starts wandering off into your thinking mind while you’re masturbating, you bring your attention back to your body. “The easiest way to come into the present is by connecting to the five senses,” she adds. That means: feel what you are feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, and tasting, How will you know if you’re masturbating mindfully? “If you're fully present to the information that is coming in through the senses, then you're being mindful,” Trivett says.

Set up a scene that engages your senses

Whether you’re having solo sex or a full-on orgy, setting up the atmosphere to be sensually appealing is a good way to make friends. It’s also a good way to invite yourself — and others — into an environment that may make practicing sexual mindfulness a bit easier. While there is definitely something to be said for having a quick and dirty fetish sesh on a dirty bathroom floor, setting the scene is a more mindful approach.

Trivett says that can mean putting on music that gets you in the mood, arranging the space so it's a delight for the eyes, having soft fabrics on hand, and burning scented candles or incense. These can all be an invitation to your conscious awareness to come into the present moment. In other words, romance yourself — and anyone lucky enough to be invited in to your sexual pleasure palace.

Communicate instead of overthinking

Letting go of expectations may be the most important part of having more mindful sex. It’s hard to be present in your body if you’re worrying about how you look or whether the person you’re having sex with is having a good time. “It's the thinking part of the brain that takes you out of the moment and makes sex less enjoyable,” says Trivett.

You can cut back on the overthinking by communicating, which has the side benefit of being hot. If, for example, you get caught up in worrying about whether someone likes the way you’re touching their body, you can just ask them. Asking, “Do you like the way my tongue is stroking blank part of your body right now,” is way sexier for all involved than the obsessive internal inquisitions we so often subject ourselves to.

“When you’re getting caught up in performance anxiety, worrying about your weight, or just thinking about all the stuff you have to do later, spending time in your head during sex takes you out of the moment,” says Trivett. And in the moment, she says, is exactly where the enjoyable parts of sex are happening. “Pleasure, sensation, orgasm, intimacy and connection become more vibrant and fulfilling, the more present we are,” says Trivett.