Imagine… things are just starting to get heated with your partner. You’re both really turned on and he starts to undo the buttons on your shirt one by one. But as soon as you’re naked in front of him, you feel embarrassed and worry what he thinks about your body. This ends up killing the mood – for you anyway.
Or maybe you have trouble reaching orgasm with your partner. As soon as he begins to give you oral sex you worry what he’ll think. And the more you think about him, the more pressure you feel to orgasm. You end up feeling anxiety instead of pleasure.
Does any of this sound familiar? Getting carried away with thoughts, whether they’re about how you look naked or if you’ll have an orgasm, rather than being able to enjoy sex is something many men and women have experienced.
Focusing on your body
Enter mindfulness. It’s a technique based on Buddhist meditation practice – not exactly what you might expect for spicing up your sex life. But here’s the point. Mindfulness is a state of awareness of the present moment – the opposite of getting wrapped up in worrying thoughts. It involves learning to become aware of pleasurable sensations and to focus on your body instead of on those anxious thoughts about whether sex is going well.
Sexologists are just beginning to use mindfulness to help women with sexual problems like not being able to reach orgasm or low desire and arousal. Dr Marita McCabe is an Australian researcher who uses psychotherapy and mindfulness to give women tools to improve their sex lives. At the 2015 WAS world sexology conference in Singapore, Love Matters quizzed her on the secrets of mindfulness in the bedroom.
Oh no, he’s going to see me naked!
LM: How does a woman actually realise that something is wrong sexually?
Dr McCabe: I think that’s really difficult because we don’t talk about sex as a society. We don’t really know what’s normal and what’s not normal… Women may think that it’s quite normal for them not to have desire, or for them not to get aroused, or not to have an orgasm. Or they might have unrealistic expectations – they might think that if they’re having an orgasm, they should be multi-orgasmic, or they should get aroused all the time.
LM: How can working with a counsellor or psychologist help?
Dr McCabe: Often a woman will need reassurance, she will need guidance. What you’re working with is what they bring to the therapy. What you’re working with is their resistances: “I’ve found that I got embarrassed when I was doing this.” “I felt anxious when I was doing this.”
That’s where mindfulness is useful. Because if they start feeling embarrassed or anxious about their bodies, if they just focus on their sensations and allow themselves to work with the here and now rather than thinking “Oh no, he’s going to see me naked!” “Am I going to be able to perform okay?” “It didn’t work last time, will it work this time?” If they just sit with the moment, then they are more likely to be responsive and not be ‘catastrophising’.
LM: How can people learn to ‘sit with the moment’ and not get lost in thought?
Dr McCabe: That needs training. You start with less threatening areas, like mindfulness of the breath. That means just sitting and observing your breathing – just breathing in and out and noticing the breath. You then move on to mindfulness of eating. When we eat, we’re often talking or doing other things and we don’t notice the chewing and the sensations.
Then you can start moving on to more mindfulness of the body. And then get the woman to start touching her own body and stimulating herself and tuning into the sensations she has.
It takes a little bit of time for women to learn but they certainly find it very satisfying and very useful – and not just in the sexual area, but in other areas of their life as well, where they start catastrophising and thinking into the future rather than just sitting with the now.”
LM: How have you seen mindfulness benefit women’s sex lives?
Dr McCabe: What mindfulness will do is take the focus off thinking, “Oh, he’s going to be looking at me” or “Oh, I’m going to have to start responding now because that’s what he’s going to expect, he’ll get impatient if that doesn’t happen.” Instead you’re just thinking “Oh, isn’t that a nice touch?” or “Oh, I’m enjoying that.”
And if those other thoughts do come into your mind, you just acknowledge them, recognise that they’re not helpful, and then go back to the sensations that you’re experiencing. And so women learn how to just sit in the moment and enjoy what’s happening.
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