Mindfulness of Sex
7 ways to intimately connect with your body (in and beyond the bedroom)
How is it that in our sexual lives- one place that is so much about the body, we can get so far outside of our bodies, disconnect, and get lost in our heads? Sex, like anything else, can be another experience where we are mindlessly going through the motions. Get horney, connect with a lover or ourselves, climax, roll over and go to sleep. Sound familiar? It did for me.
It took years of sitting meditation practice to become aware of just how disconnected I was from my body during intimacy. On the cushion, I became quite skilled at noticing the thought patterns in my head, noticing when I’d drift off, and bringing the attention back to my breath. But the rest of my body? Clueless. And sex? Well, it too was largely an experience of getting lost in my head. I was able to witness that I was lost, but couldn’t seem to bring myself back.
For those that have a meditation/mindfulness/body practice, what’s the point of bringing awareness onto our cushion or yoga mats if we’re not making an effort to bring embodied presence to ALL areas of life?
By bringing embodied mindfulness into our sex lives, we can practice staying more in our bodies, opening to deeply feel sensation and emotions, and more intimately connecting with ourselves and lovers. And when we learn to more deeply open in our sexuality, we can carry that over to other areas and deeply open and embrace our entire life.
I’d like to propose approaching sex as a practice- a practice of coming back to our bodies. This may require putting aside the way we are familiar and maybe most comfortable engaging in sex, and making room to experience something new. Just like building a new practice such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi, doing the work may include experiences of aversion, resistance, and impatience. But give it a try! The results may change your life. The practice really is simple- bring awareness to bodily sensations. Use the body as your point of attention. Over and over, keep bringing the attention back to what you’re feeling in each moment. While it may sound too simple, I should warn you, this practice does not come easy (pun intended). We need to set aside our goal-oriented mind and allow ourselves to learn something new. Like confronting any habitual pattern, this requires intentionally, curiosity, and unconditional loving kindness towards what we may discover.
Here are 7 body mindfulness practice tips that you can bring into your pleasure practice with yourself or lovers:
1. Set aside time and set your environment. Now I know you may be thinking that putting sex on the calendar is not so sexy, but I’d like to challenge that. We’re building a new practice that requires some discipline, and you’re not going to willpower yourself into making a conscious effort to be more mindful during intimacy whenever you spontaneously get the urge to have sex (believe me, I’ve tried). The more you intentionally practice coming back to your body, the more you’ll be able to do it during sex- whether routine or hot, passionate, and spontaneous. Once you made the commitment, stick to it. It’s ok if you’re not in the mood for sex, remember, this is a practice of experiencing our bodies, there is no other goal here. When you take orgasm off the agenda there may be uncertainty about when to end this practice. Setting a timer – say 20 minutes – can help create a supportive container for your practice. I personally like to set my environment to deepen my practice (light candles, lay pillows on the floor in my room where I practice solo sex). Whatever is going to help you drop in and connect. Intentions can help set the environment too – “today I want to get to know my g-spot,” or “tonight I want to keep coming back to my heart center.”
2. Start with a few moments in stillness, becoming aware of your body breathing. Imagine your breath coming in through all the pores in your body. On the inhale, follow the breath into your sex center. Notice any sensation. After a minute or so follow the breath from all pores into your lower belly (halfway between belly button and perineum). Notice the space in your belly open up. Then bring the breath into your heart center in the middle of your chest. Feel whatever is there. Spend a few minutes with your own body before you engage with another.
3. Use body sensations as your focal point of awareness. Start slow and explore yourself or another. Maybe start with some slow caressing. Over and over, keep coming back to sensations. What sensations do you notice when your leg is touched? What sensations do you feel inside your body when you kiss your lovers inner thigh? You may need to really slow down at first. Maybe even challenge yourself to see just how slow you can possibly move. A LOT is happening in our bodies and it can be a lot to track. See if you can fully bring your attention to one part of the body. It’s also ok not to feel much of anything. Can you just keep your attention on the numbness? Gradually you can include more and more awareness until you can include the entire body (which may take several practice sessions). Emotions can be included in awareness as well. Notice where in your body you feel love, fear, etc.
4. Pause. Simply pause from time to time. One partner may initiate the pause by saying “let’s pause.” There are also great meditation apps you can use to have a bell go off at intervals so you don’t have to remember or worry about the time. Take a few breaths. Notice what happens in stillness. Feel your heartbeat, breath, belly, genitals.
5. Be Curious. This is not a practice of reaching orgasm or offering our partner an experience. In fact, I’d even recommend not even including genital stimulation at first to really help you drop the goal (yes, we can still have sex without genital stimulation!) It is a practice of becoming curious about our own bodies. Notice what happens inside. Notice when your mind slips away. Notice where the impulse of desire comes from in your body. Can you become aware of the impulse to act before the action? Does the impulse have a certain texture, or sensation to it? This is a process of learning. Try to bring the same sense of curiosity that you would if this was your first time exploring a body. What happens inside my body when I nibble on my partner’s ear? How about when I lightly touch my lips against theirs and take in their breath? Tongue in belly button? Yes, it’s ok to be silly and try something new.
6. Be gentle. As we bring a sense of wonder and mindful attention to our experience, we may become aware of things we did not know were there. When I started this practice my thoughts included, “why don’t I feel more in my nipples? How come I can’t have a clitoral orgasm without fantasy? I MUST BE BROKEN!” Sexuality is so vast, and our bodies are all wired differently. Everyone’s experience will be different. As you pay more attention, you start to feel more. This means more pleasure, but you don’t get to pick and choose what you feel – grief, anger, fear, and doubt may also be there to surprise you. Sex can bring forth a full range of emotions and memories locked in our bodies. Honor yourself for courageously and lovingly taking the time to feel whatever is there.
7. Take the practice beyond sex. How we experience sex can reflect how we relate to the world. The more we can practice opening our hearts and connecting with our bodies during intimacy within the container we set for ourselves, the more we can bring the practice of embodied presence into all areas of life. See if you can feel the sensations of your body as you’re drinking a cup of tea, in conversation, out for a nature walk. Pause. Feel. Practice whole body breathing into your sex, belly, heart. Notice the world open up to you, deeply longing to be entered.
Sexual/life energy is running through us in every moment. It has the power to destroy and the power to create. This energy supports our capacity to love, to feel our bodies, and intimately connect with everything. I invite you to give these practices a try. It’s not necessary to replace whatever you’re already doing, or to say that however you engage with sex is wrong-but maybe to add a new layer of curiosity to explore. If any of this seems out of reach or overwhelming, remember that it’s a practice. I am still certainly walking the path of discovery with my body and my sexuality and I expect that to be a lifelong journey.
There’s so much more to discover than we think. Make space to venture into the vast realm of possibility and deeply connect with your life. And perhaps above all else, offer unconditional loving-kindness to whatever you may discover.
About the author: Lyndsey Lyons, MA, is a psychotherapist at the Love, Sex and Gender Center in Boulder, CO. She provides culturally sensitive, sex-positive therapy to couple’s and individuals. She graduated from Naropa University and holds an Master’s Degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology. Her Philosophy is that sex is a portal to some of the deepest parts of our soul. She does not believe sex therapy is an isolated service, but a big piece of the whole.