We live in a world full of constant sex advice:
“Try this new position to have a stronger orgasm!” “Do these three things to drive him wild in the bedroom!” “The ONE thing to say to get her in the mood!”
If we want to have better sex we are told to buy lacy lingerie, try new sexual positions, engage in role play, use vibrators, eat aphrodisiacs, experiment with flavored lubricants, watch sexy videos, make sex a priority, but don’t focus on it too obsessively. The list goes on and on. And it’s enough to make your head spin.
And while experimentation and novelty can be fun, what if the most helpful thing you could do for your sex life is, well, nothing?
Being Mentally Present
Over the course of my research, I interviewed women who self-identified as having higher levels of sexual desire. And while these interviews almost never focused on surprising, unusual or erotic sexcapades, most of these women indicated that simply being “mentally present” during sex was one of the most important components to their ability to experience higher levels of passion and desire. For example:
“If we decide we want to have sex, it’s just like, forget about everything else right now. I’ll just concentrate on pleasing my partner and he’ll concentrate on pleasing you. Like being in the moment”
As this quote suggests, being “mentally present” is the ability to keep our mind on the activity at hand. To focus on having sex, on your partner’s touch, on the physical sensations. And not worrying about what you’re doing, how your body looks doing it, what your partner is thinking, or what list of things you have to do tomorrow. Simply being there, taking it all in, and not judging or evaluating.
The finding that mental presence is important to sexual satisfaction, has been replicated in other studies as well.
Peggy Kleinplatz, a Canadian sex researcher at the University of Ottawa wanted to understand what people who reported having the most passionate and enjoyable sex were doing “right” so that others could learn from them. Her team interviewed 44 people who self-identified as having great sex as well as 20 sex therapists (considered sex experts).
The researchers developed a list of eight things that nearly all people in the study described doing to have “great sex” (which she refers to as “optimal sexuality”). Spoiler: there weren’t any specific acrobatic positions or high sexual frequencies documented. Instead, one of the prominent themes included was “being present.”
It’s an interesting thought: that people who are having the best sex are simply present for the sex they are having. That just “being there” and not getting caught up in how we look or what position to try next be enough to make sex better.
But as simple as being “in the moment” during sex sounds, it’s not such an easy thing to do in practice. So how do we turn down the noise of all of those things that tempt our mind to wander – like how we look, whether there is enough money to take a vacation this year, the disagreement we had with a colleague at work and so on?
Mindfulness may hold some answers.
Mindfulness has become more and more prominent in the western world through yoga, meditation practice and the slow sex movement. Mindfulness essentially is the process of focusing on our breath and observing our thoughts come and go and not judging them.
Interestingly, more and more research is discovering that by being mindful during sex men and women, but particularly women, are experiencing increasingly high levels of sexual desire.
Dr. Lori Brotto and her team at the University of British Columbia in Canada is a leader in this research. Study after study Dr. Brotto has found that women who practice mindfulness report higher desire. She has also implemented mindfulness as a treatment strategy for women who struggle with problematic low desire and low desire related to gynecologic cancer. Through her research, she has found that the benefits of a mindfulness course (i.e., three 90-minute sessions) were found to produce positive impacts on desire, arousal and satisfaction even six months after the treatment.
So, if we notice our mind wandering while we’re having sex, from thoughts about whether we could lose five pounds to making a mental grocery list, the best thing to do we let the thought pass and bring our thoughts back to our partner and those sexual sensations. In other words, instead of worrying, planning, latching on to and evaluating distracting thoughts we just invite ourselves to be in the moment.
Experiment all you like with sexual positions, outfits, toys and fantasies. Those things can be fun and exciting in the bedroom. But, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many sex tips, your sex life might just benefit from slowing things down, breathing, focusing on the moment and and doing a whole lot of “nothing.”
Sarah Hunter Murray, Ph.D., is a sex researcher and relationship therapist specializing in how men and women experience sexual desire in long-term relationships.