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“Just let go and enjoy yourself” sounds simple so in theory, but in practice, it can feel nearly impossible. We’ve all run through our to-do list or fallen deep into dissociation during sex at one time or another. And for many of us, staying present is a constant challenge. Sex is complicated, after all. Getting naked with another human can dredge up our deepest fears and insecurities. And at other times, sex can become such a routine, mindless act that we start to mentally file our taxes between thrusts.
Aside from the purely mental challenges, sex can also be an acutely uncomfortable experience physically. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 3 out of 4 women will experience pain during sex at some point, and for many it is a chronic problem. Pain itself—or the fear of it—can quickly pull you out of the present. And if you’re prone to UTIs, the potential infection waiting for you at the other end of an orgasm can easily sweep you up, shrouding the entire experience in anxiety.
So how do you stay present and enjoy the pleasant sensations as they come? By applying the basics of mindfulness to your sex life, you can experience greater pleasure, connect more deeply with your partner, and feel more satisfied over all. Here are a few tips.
It’s totally normal to want to blaze through the act of sex, especially if you’re experiencing anxiety or discomfort, like so many people do. But these unwelcome guests don’t have to ruin the experience for you. When you feel the urge to rush through a sexual experience, take a moment to pause and reset. Remind yourself that you’re not on the clock and can move at a pace that feels comfortable and safe for both you and your partner.
By taking sex more slowly, you can begin to feel out the parts of your body and your partner’s that you might miss when you’re going full steam ahead. This makes it harder to detach from the experience, because you’re moving more consciously, experiencing each sensation, and identifying what feels good and what doesn’t.
Before and during sex, try practicing a few phrases that you can say mentally or out loud to help ground you. Something as simple as “Let’s slow down,” “I want to feel this,” or just “I’m here” can be helpful affirmations. When repeated often, these little verbal cues, or mantras, serve as switches that flip you from a state of braininess to embodiment.
If you practice meditation or breathwork, then you know how powerful tuning into your breath can be. It’s our number one (free!) tool for reconnecting to our bodies. Just taking a few deep belly breaths (AKA diaphragmatic breathing) can reduce stress levels by oxygenating our bodies. During sex, breathwork is especially useful and effective. When you’re feeling distracted or detached, deep breathing can bring you back into the physicality of the experience and get you out of your head. Plus, it can heighten the intensity of sensations, allowing for deeper orgasms.
If you’re new to breathwork, try practicing outside of the bedroom to get in the habit of it. Whenever you’re feeling anxious or uncentered, pause for a moment and focus on your breath. Close your eyes. Pull the air in through your nose. Let it fill up and expand your belly. And then slowly exhale through your mouth as your belly relaxes. Do this for a minute or more to feel the greatest effect.
There are an endless number of breathing techniques that you can try in bed when you’re ready. Our advice? The simpler the better. For instance, breathing through your nose can be an easy and powerful one that enhances sensation. Check out these tips from Bustle on how to bring your breath into bed with you.
The last (but arguably most important) suggestion is to be kind to yourself when you notice you’re disconnecting. Accept what is happening and remind yourself that it’s completely human and natural—not an indication that you’re a bad partner, a bad lover, or a bad person. We all do it. Every single one of us. The mind’s role is to analyze, and asking ourselves to stop thinking during sex is like asking our hearts to stop beating. Yes, we can get better at it over time, but only through gentleness and patience.
It’s so easy to get caught up shoulding ourselves in bed when we’re already stressed or disinterested. I should be more into this. I should be more present. I should be better. When you notice your mind veering into negative self-talk, take a second to focus on your heart. Literally. Feel your heartbeat. Connect to the warmth of your chest. And try sending feelings of love and encouragement to this space. If you’re comfortable enough with your partner, share what you’re experiencing and ask them to help you be compassionate to yourself.
This can feel awkward and even uncomfortable at first. Most of us were not taught to speak kindly to ourselves or tune into our bodies this way, and certainly to not share that experience with another. But this is the foundation of intimacy. The more we can practice loving ourselves, especially through the uncomfortable moments, the more we can indulge in the act of love-making.
So go on. Give it a shot when you’re ready. We’re cheering you on.