Get it ... om

Once un­likely bed­fel­lows, med­i­ta­tion and pas­sion are the lat­est hot cou­pling. As a grow­ing body of re­search sug­gests mind­ful­ness has a Vi­a­gra-like ef­fect on fe­male sex­ual de­sire, WH re­ports on the trend you never saw com­ing

Women's Health Australia - - DECEMBER - By Gemma Askham Il­lus­tra­tions by Nina Hunter

Sex and mind­ful­ness are the siz­zling new cou­ple in town. Who knew?

AA bead of sweat courses down your mid­sec­tion be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing be­tween your legs. You dig your nails into the sheets and arch your back as the plea­sure builds, be­gin­ning be­neath your pelvis and com­ing in waves. This isn’t the start of bad clit-lit but the be­gin­ning of a move­ment that’s set to change the way you get it on for­ever.

Turns out sex is the lat­est ac­tiv­ity to un­dergo a mind­ful­ness makeover. El­e­vated from a bit-part role in your yoga class, the prac­tice of train­ing your mind to fo­cus on the present is al­ready in­form­ing eat­ing, drink­ing and par­ent­ing tech­niques. But if the news that it’s in­fil­trated your bed­room arouses noth­ing but scep­ti­cism, know that a grow­ing body of re­search claims mind­ful­ness won’t just boost your sex­ual de­sire, it’s ac­tu­ally a vi­tal pre­cur­sor to it. To lay it bare, fail to take up mind­ful sex and your O-fac­tor could be screwed. Def­i­nitely not ideal.

Slump and grind

Re­cent stats on the cur­rent state of our col­lec­tive sex lives make for less-than-tit­il­lat­ing read­ing. While more than half of South Aus­tralians are hap­pily hav­ing sex at least once a week (you smug lot, you), and four in 10 Vic­to­ri­ans are get­ting it on weekly, al­most 90 per cent of those from NSW aren’t sat­is­fied with their bed­room af­fairs at the mo­ment.

Ex­perts be­lieve the prob­lem be­gins in the brain. Pro­fes­sor Lu­cia O’sullivan, a so­cial psy­chol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of New Brunswick, con­ducted a study ask­ing peo­ple why they felt they strug­gled with sex­ual plea­sure. “The par­tic­i­pants were tired, over­whelmed or stressed and their minds were rac­ing too much to fo­cus on or en­joy sex,” she ex­plains. You don’t need a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy to see that the above is all to do with your mind. It seems that the Pavlo­vian re­sponse to no­ti­fi­ca­tions, a just-one-moreep­isode Net­flix ob­ses­sion and a work­ing set-up that en­cour­ages you to re­fresh your emails out of hours is shat­ter­ing sex lives.

“The stress of the daily grind is more de­struc­tive to sex­ual re­sponse than a sin­gle ma­jor trau­matic event,” says psy­chol­o­gist Dr Lori Brotto. “It low­ers mood, and a neg­a­tive mood has a much greater ef­fect on sex than phys­i­o­log­i­cal fac­tors, such as vagi­nal lu­bri­ca­tion.” Case in point: the fail­ure to get fe­male Vi­a­gra off the ground.

Even when tri­als found that Vi­a­gra suc­ceeded in send­ing blood to women’s pelvic re­gions, flow alone didn’t spur de­sire. The rea­son? De­sire sparks in your brain be­fore your bits. Neu­ro­log­i­cal scans pub­lished in the jour­nal Fer­til­ity

and Steril­ity found that women with low de­sire showed a lot of ac­tiv­ity in the area of the brain re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing judge­ments. So in­stead of fo­cus­ing on the sen­sa­tions that are turn­ing you on, the low-de­sire mind goes off on one of its un-jol­lies – scru­ti­n­is­ing your per­for­mance (or your bed­fel­low’s) and then be­rat­ing you for not be­ing into it.

The mind gains

The good news? If the prob­lem is quite lit­er­ally all in the mind, so too is the so­lu­tion. This is where mind­ful sex comes in. “Our com­mon style is mind-filled sex – that goalo­ri­ented ‘I must or­gasm’ men­tal­ity,” says holis­tic sex ther­a­pist Diana Richard­son, whose TEDX talk The

Power of Mind­ful Sex has had more than 230,000 views since April.

“But there’s an­other style that uses the mind to be present in the body. You’re not lost in thought (read: mon­i­tor­ing your per­for­mance),

“The stress of the daily grind is more de­struc­tive to over­all sex­ual re­sponse than a trau­matic event”

you’re di­rect­ing all your at­ten­tion to your body – be­ing in the here and now, with­out goals.”

Here’s the gist: the at­ten­tion you’d usu­ally waste on self-crit­i­cism or dis­trac­tion (ever men­tally filled your ASOS bas­ket mid-bang?) gets redi­rected into ob­serv­ing what you feel in­side your body. Be­fore you start call­ing bull­shit, the sci­ence is on side. Last De­cem­ber, Ger­man psy­chol­o­gist Dr Ju­lia Vel­ten, a spe­cial­ist in sex­ual dys­func­tion, pub­lished re­search in The Jour­nal

of Sex Re­search that con­firmed the ef­fi­cacy of mind­ful­ness on sex­ual re­sponse. In her study, 41 women watched an erotic film and then com­pleted ei­ther a mind­ful­ness ex­er­cise – a six-minute body scan fo­cus­ing on sen­sa­tions in the body and gen­i­tals, con­tin­u­ally re­fo­cus­ing when dis­tracted – or a vi­su­al­i­sa­tion task imag­in­ing them­selves in a for­est. Women clicked an ‘arou­some­ter’ (one for the Christ­mas list?) when­ever they felt changes in arousal. The find­ings: be­ing mind­ful is a bona fide turn-on, with the mind­ful group ex­pe­ri­enc­ing arousal – both sub­jec­tive and phys­i­o­log­i­cal. “Sex­ual re­sponse will be trig­gered only when women pay at­ten­tion to erotic stim­u­lus and are not dis­tracted by non-sex­ual thoughts,” says Vel­ten.

For those af­ter cold hard stats, Brotto – who has stud­ied mind­ful­ness as a treat­ment for fe­male sex­ual dys­func­tion since 2002 and re­cently pub­lished a guide, Bet­ter Sex Through

Mind­ful­ness – found that an eightweek mind­ful­ness pro­gram can boost sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion by 60 per cent. De­sire for a part­ner can go from ‘al­most never’ to ‘al­most al­ways’, or­gasms are more in­tense and women no longer panic if they get dis­tracted – they sim­ply tune back into their sen­sa­tions. Such is the sex-life-chang­ing power of mind­ful­ness that Brotto hails it as “the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive way of at­tain­ing sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion”. When Brotto isn’t work­ing through the wait­ing list of women des­per­ate to join her work­shops in Canada, she’s in the lab try­ing to un­ravel the ex­act mech­a­nisms that make mind­ful sex so suc­cess­ful. She’s also re­search­ing mind­ful­ness as a ther­apy for men with erec­tile dys­func­tion and prostate can­cer.

The prac­tice of har­ness­ing the power of the mind-or­gasm con­nec­tion is mak­ing its way into cou­ples ther­apy ser­vices too, as well as more spe­cial­ist clin­ics. “Mind­ful­ness is in­te­gral to sex­u­al­func­tion in­ter­ven­tions, such as for sex­ual pain, loss of de­sire and/ or lack of plea­sure or or­gasm,” says Dr John Helps, sex­ual health psy­chol­o­gist at St Mary’s Hospi­tal in Lon­don. He runs ‘mind­ful­ness for sex’ groups, teaches sex ther­a­pists across the coun­try and be­lieves that mind­ful sex could even help pre­vent some com­mon sex­ual dif­fi­cul­ties.

Come again

So, you’re med­i­tat­ing on the idea. But while you might have mas­tered us­ing the Headspace app on your com­mute, tak­ing the con­cept un­der the cov­ers surely re­quires a whole new tool­kit? Not so, says mind­ful­ness prac­ti­tioner Jes­sica

“Mind­ful sex doesn’t mean star­ing into your part­ner’s eyes – it can be dirty, ex­cit­ing and even rough”

Gra­ham. “Med­i­ta­tion can seem like a big and fright­en­ing com­mit­ment, but you don’t need a silent mind, just re­solve to keep com­ing back to what you’re med­i­tat­ing on.” Suc­cess will also come with prac­tice – you wouldn’t at­tempt an iron­woman af­ter a sin­gle Sun­day af­ter­noon bike ride. “Mind­ful sex has no short­cut,” agrees Brotto. “You’re cul­ti­vat­ing a mus­cle in the brain in the same way that solid gym time is re­quired to cul­ti­vate mus­cles in the body.” For Brotto’s clients, prac­tice comes in the form of weekly group ses­sions (that’s group med­i­ta­tion, not or­gies) and daily 30-minute home­work tasks, be­fore tak­ing their Jed­i­fo­cused minds to bed, by which point they’ll be more in tune with their bod­ily sen­sa­tions than your friend who al­ways needs to wee.

You can also reap the sex­ual re­wards from the com­fort of your bed­room – and kitchen. As well as 15 min­utes of daily prac­tice with gen­eral mind­ful­ness apps such as Headspace, Calm or Hap­pify, Brotto sug­gests a tried-and-tested tech­nique in­volv­ing a box of sul­tanas (natch). Rather than the usual method of lob­bing a hand­ful in your mouth, with a few in­evitably miss­ing the tar­get en­tirely, the aim of the ex­er­cise is to eat the sul­tanas one at a time, not­ing the tex­tures, sen­sa­tions and flavours in, erm, in­ti­mate de­tail. It teaches you just how much you can re­ally feel when you be­gin to slow things down and fo­cus. Af­ter ex­am­in­ing the sul­tana, did you feel your mouth sali­vat­ing in ex­cite­ment at the thought of fi­nally eat­ing the thing? Now imag­ine the sul­tana is your part­ner. Train your mind to fo­cus on the sen­sa­tions of sex in this way and you can el­e­vate the ex­pe­ri­ence from av­er­age to ex­tra­or­di­nary, us­ing only your mind.

And you don’t have to be slow and steady to win the race. “Mind­ful

sex doesn’t mean star­ing into your part­ner’s eyes, whis­per­ing sweet noth­ings or be­ing mushy; it can be dirty, fun, ex­cit­ing and even rough,” adds Gra­ham, who wrote

Good Sex: Get­ting Off With­out

Check­ing Out with the in­ten­tion of shar­ing her hon­est ex­pe­ri­ences of sex as a young woman. Be­cause that’s the other head­board-sized hur­dle in the way of bet­ter sex.

While we all like to think our smoked-salmon brunches come with a side or­der of or­gasm chat, real life isn’t Sex and the City, and ad­mit­ting the high­light of your sex life in the past week came 11 min­utes into the lat­est episode of Out­lander isn’t easy. “Oh, I was checked out [be­fore],” says Gra­ham. “I’d squeeze my eyes shut dur­ing sex, lost in my own mind, only able to ask for what I re­ally wanted when I was drunk. I was way too fa­mil­iar with the sound of my­self fak­ing an or­gasm.”

Gra­ham started teach­ing med­i­ta­tion in 2009 and when she started ap­ply­ing some of the mind­ful­ness ex­er­cises to her sex life, she found it re-en­gi­neered her sex­u­al­ity en­tirely. “It alerted me to the fact that, men­tally, I was dis­ap­pear­ing dur­ing sex; and I wanted a new kind of sex, pas­sion and plea­sure. By train­ing my mind on my body and ev­ery sen­sa­tion, I felt more. Feel­ings of plea­sure be­came height­ened and, with time, it helped me re­ally tune into what ac­tu­ally aroused me. I be­gan to feel more of a con­nec­tion with my body and ev­ery­thing felt more sen­si­tive. The more I got to know my body, the more I re­alised how much it could of­fer me.” She ac­cepts the hip­pie stigma but urges us to look be­yond it be­cause, ba­si­cally, “it’s just about be­ing more present”.

It’s a sim­ple sen­ti­ment that seems to have been missed dur­ing the phal­lic ba­nanas of sex-ed class and the gen­i­tal close-ups of porn. But with time, it be­gins to make sense. Turn your brain on first and your body will fol­low. May we sug­gest you start get­ting it om? WH

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