Slowing Your Mind is Great Foreplay

It’s easy to say you’re not in the mood, but a short break might shift that.

llustration by Sébastien Thibault

If you want to have sex more often, meditate. Say what?! The image of a stoic, cross-legged person suddenly leaping up, tearing off their comfy clothes and tackling their stunned (yet probably delighted) partner isn’t exactly commonly associated with mindfulness. Well, perhaps it’s time to change that. The proposed effects of meditation on the body and the mind have implications for both your interest in making love and your sexual pleasure itself. So that weekend silent retreat or weekly MBSR class can improve your sex life, if you want it to.

On the physiological level, regular sitting practice has been shown to increase endorphins, improve blood flow, and to mitigate the damaging effects of cortisol and adrenaline. Heck, stress alone is a major sex drive killer, so simply learning to calm down after a demanding day—perhaps with 20 minutes of mindfulness practice—can make connection and love more likely.

Ultimately, great sex is all in your head. And mindfulness helps you minimize distractions by staying focused on what’s actually happening (I’m here in bed with you, kissing… not sending that email that’s been on my mind), pay attention (I’m experiencing the touch of your fingertips on my thigh…mmm), and become more self-aware (I’m really enjoying connecting with you sexually and emotionally).

Interestingly, nonjudgmental awareness of body sensations is essentially what legendary sex researchers Masters and Johnson called sensate focus. They coached their patients to bring bare attention to what was actually happening—specifically the sensations of genital arousal—without getting lost in negative thoughts about sex.

In one study, as few as three 90-minute mindfulness sessions significantly improved several aspects of sexual response—from physiological measures to self-report—in women with low sexual desire.

Indeed, according to Lori Brotto, a psychologist and sex researcher at the University of British Columbia, a raisin can change your sex life. She and her colleagues have investigated the impact of mindfulness training—which classically includes the slow, sensual eating of a single raisin—on various sexual dysfunctions and found it to be a key factor in success rates. In one study, as few as three 90-minute mindfulness sessions significantly improved several aspects of sexual response—from physiological measures to self-report—in women with low sexual desire.

Does this matter for the rest of us, who may not feel we have an actual sexual dysfunction? You bet it does. Given that partner familiarity—that is, being in a long-term relationship—predicts low sexual desire and decreased frequency of lovemaking in both sexes, the impact of mindfulness on improving desire is an important finding.

For many couples, refusing sex has become the automatic response to an amorous pass. But sexual arousal is a multifaceted thing. Just because you’re not aroused right now doesn’t mean you can’t warm up in a short while. So here is the instruction I give to my patients who rarely get naked together. Ready? Here goes. Never say “I’m not in the mood” ever again.

Now wait a minute. I don’t mean the partner who doesn’t feel aroused should just give in and have sex. I am simply suggesting that getting “in the mood” may not be as difficult as you think, particularly if you know how to meditate. When you give a flat “no” to a sex request, you don’t even give yourself a chance to transition into arousal. So instead of no, say “ask me again after I meditate for a bit, baby.”

Then, go ahead and take a few minutes. Slow down your thinking. Relax with some deep breathing and focus on opening your heart. Recall some loving acts of kindness between you and your sweetie. Allow space for your attention to turn slowly toward desire. Imagine how fun it will be to make love. Connect with your body and sensual feelings. Then go find your partner. Maybe invite them to take a slow, sweet, shower with you. Focus on the points of contact between you. Kiss, mindfully. Take your time. There is nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. Just you and me, here and now, enjoying one caress at a time.

Subscribe to support Mindful.