A new wave of mindfulness audio sessions promise to fix libido issues and heighten pleasure
I’m sitting at home, slightly hungover on a Wednesday, spooning leftover daal straight from the container into my mouth — but I’ve managed to carve out 10 minutes to try some mindfulness. I search for a way to put the 11-minute session on 1.7x speed, like I do with audible books.
This should be the first indicator that I’m not a naturally mindful person. I’m trying a mindfulness session called Befriending our Bodies, which aims to help you reach heightened pleasure. I’m soothingly told to treat myself as if I ‘were attending to a friend in need’ as I focus my attention on the feelings in specific parts of my body, starting with my left foot.
Six minutes in I hear a ding from my phone and can’t help but watch a TikTok a friend send me of a lamp that looks like it has a foreskin — my attention span has a long way to go.
So why do people practice mindfulness? It might be to decompress, or to centre their thoughts but rarely do we expect the answer ‘to have better sex’. But if you’ve never thought about the relationship between mindfulness and sex it might be time to start. Problems in the bedroom are common with studies estimating that sexual dysfunctions affect 43 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men.
Recent events have not helped these numbers, with long Covid being reported to decrease sexual libido and cause problems with erectile dysfunction.
And many more people are simply having unfulfilled sex lives, with the orgasm gap larger than the pay gap, as women ‘finish’ far less frequently than their male partners in heterosexual relationships.
Yet rather than look at how to address the problems, many of us simply grin and fake it, hoping these issues will resolve themselves. But while the outcome we’re looking for may be physical, the solution could be mental.
Headspace, one of the country’s biggest mindfulness platforms, last week launched its Women’s Collection centred around women’s health and well-being which crucially includes sexual wellness. I wanted to see the impact of mindfulness on my own sexual well-being.
Now, I don’t care if you’re banging George Clooney or Idris Elba, if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, the worries of the day can seep into the sheets and divert you from the moment.
I’ve been with my partner for over 10 years, and while neither of us suffer from any sexual dysfunctions in the bedroom, I’ve recently noticed that my own thoughts are getting in the way of my enjoyment — mostly I’ve become less kind to myself, perhaps because I’m painfully aware of how different my body is compared to when we first started dating in my twenties.
When I should be thinking about the pleasure of the moment, I’m instead considering how my chin looks from a certain angle.
Kate Moyle is a psycho-sexual therapist, whose video on cultivating sexual wellness is one of the tools I use in my new exploration of sex and mindfulness. “We often don’t think about sex until we have to — until we have a problem — but our mental heath is hugely affected by our sexual health.”
Moyle sees mindfulness as a powerful tool to improve sexual wellness that can help with everything from sexual dysfunctions to just those who want bigger orgasms.
Psychologist Dr Lori Brotto, and author of the book Better Sex Through Mindfulness, has studied the relationship between sex and mindfulness, finding that women consistently report improved sexual desire and satisfaction following mindfulness courses. Perhaps, most interestingly, she measured these results physically by looking at the changes in blood flow to the vagina.
“When we’ve measured genital blood flow, we’ve found more alignment between physiological sexual arousal and mental sexual arousal,” Dr Brotto tells me. “In other words, mindfulness translated into more synchrony between the mind and body’s arousal.”
We’ve found more alignment between physiological sexual arousal and mental sexual arousal
If the word ‘mindfulness’ means nothing to you, let me explain. Mindfulness is being present in a moment and consciously choosing where we direct attention in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. The actual idea of it is very simple, but actioning it can be more complicated. You might be wondering why simply giving something attention needs practice, but take a minute to think about how often your mind wanders, how regularly you feel stressed and how quickly you judge yourself unfairly.
Mindfulness is about being able to remove all of those from a given moment
In pursuit of better sex, for two weeks I do a breathing exercise each morning and then listen to guided mindful exercises in the evening which tell me exactly where to focus and what to think. And it’s not just about listening or watching the videos, I’m given homework including keeping a pleasure journal.
Now, if you’re like me, you may be thinking that after a couple weeks of journalling I’d have a detailed account of each time I touched myself — but the reality is my notes were mostly PG. Because the point of the journal was not to note just the sexual moments that bring pleasure but all the mundane ones too. By taking note of everything that brings you pleasure, you get used to recognising the feeling and focusing on it.
Looking back on my scribbling, I’ve scrawled down everything from a drink with a friend, to a nap in the afternoon but the main thing that stands out to me is that my cat brings me joy far more often than my boyfriend. And while I don’t plan to bring my cat into the bedroom with me, I’ve been training to think just about my own pleasure and hopefully prioritise that.
I enlist the advice of mindful teacher and mental health speaker Amy Polly and try to bring the mindfulness practice into the bedroom on my own first. “I have found that being more present when masturbating and learning what I like and don’t like translates to the bedroom,’’ Amy tells me.
“Rather than it being a performance, it’s an experience of satisfaction”.
Beginning on my own, I was able to close my eyes and breathe deeply in through my nose for five and out through my mouth for five without worrying that my partner would think I’d fallen asleep on him.
And rather than think about any stimulus to help me quickly reach my end goal, I focused just on the pleasure “at hand”, to great success. After a few successful solo trials, I felt ready to test out my new learnings with my partner.
I’m not sure if it was a week of journalling or my intent focus on enjoying the moment, but small details I don’t think I’d have noticed previously, immediately turned me on — the light touch of my boyfriend’s fingertips on my thigh or his breath on my neck felt noticeably sharper and more sensual.
Small details I don’t think I’d have noticed previously, immediately turned me on
It seemed to be going well but a shift here and a shift there meant I once again felt distracted by the way I know the rolls on my stomach are being displayed. Instead of moving myself into a more flattering angle, I followed a technique I’d learned in one of my mindful videos and run through the five senses to shift my attention.
I thought about the way my boyfriend smelt, the sounds of his breath, the feeling of his body against mine… and it worked, I was back in the moment. But then I thought about how well the mindfulness was working, and how I was really smashing all the assignments before realising that I had now been distracted from the moment by the techniques about not getting distracted from the moment. As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about thinking.
It’s clear that after just a couple of weeks of mindful practice I have not mastered the craft, but I can see how it can ease sexual anxiety by helping you pay attention to what matters: both people’s pleasure. Not being distracted takes a surprising amount of practice and I still find myself itching to be busy during the moments I’m being told to be still.
Our lives are filled with constant distractions and multi tasking — dating can be done with a swipe, a movie can be condensed into a 30-second TikTok — so it’s no surprise that it takes time to reset to a slowed down speed when it comes to the most intimate moments. Not every part of our life needs to be done at 1.7x, especially not in the bedroom.