Stress causes many sex problems. Mindfulness relieves them by reducing stress.
Great sex and meditation have a good deal in common. Both involve taking breaks from daily routines and responsibilities. Both include deep diaphragmatic breathing. Both encourage emptying the mind of extraneous thoughts and focusing attention on the present moment. Both help free the mind of daily concerns. Meditators accomplish this by sitting quietly and focusing intently on their breath, or on a word or phrase (mantra) or on a single activity (walking, slowly chewing one bite of food). Lovers free their minds by engaging in mutual erotic touch while focusing intently on each other. Both expand spiritual connections—meditators to the world around them, lovers to intimacy with their partners. And after both, meditators and lovers emerge feeling calm and refreshed, better able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
But emptying the mind isn’t easy. During both meditation and lovemaking, random thoughts—some possibly disturbing—inevitably dart in and out of consciousness. Meditation teachers urge students to accept their thoughts without judging them, no matter what their content. Teachers say: “Your thoughts are not you. They’re like dreams. You can’t control them and are not responsible for them. Don’t judge your thoughts. Simply observe them, then let them go as you return to your breath, mantra, or mindfulness activity.” Sex therapists concur, encouraging lovers to observe their erotic thoughts and fantasies nonjudgmentally no matter what their content, and then gently let go of them as lovers return to focusing on each other. Just as random thoughts during meditation don’t mean anything, neither do the vast majority of thoughts and fantasies during sex.
A Head Full of Ideas That Are Driving Me Insane
In Bob Dylan’s song “Maggie’s Farm,” one line goes: “I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.” Many people have heads full of sexual beliefs that may not drive them actually crazy but produce sufficient stress to cause sex problems. Stress/anxiety/worry triggers the fight-or-flight reflex that constricts the arteries in the central body. Limiting blood flow into the digestive and genital tracts, and sending it out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Less blood in the genitals compromises sexual responsiveness, function, and satisfaction. But deep relaxation, the kind produced by meditation, eliminates cortisol and opens the arteries that supply blood to the genitals, which enhances sexual function and pleasure.
In recent years, many sex researchers, particularly Lori Brotto at the University of British Columbia, have harnessed the power of meditation to treat a broad range of sex problems:
- Child sex abuse. A team led by Brotto enrolled twenty adult survivors of childhood sex trauma in a program shown to help—cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helped them reframe their stories away from the horror of abuse toward self-forgiveness and personal empowerment. Half the group also learned mindfulness meditation and practiced it daily. After one month, both groups reported less sexual distress, but the mindfulness group reported greater relief and better sexual functioning.
- Low libido. Another Brotto team recruited 117 low-desire women. Forty-nine were placed on a waitlist. Sixty-eight participated in three ninety-minute classes over six weeks that involved education about the causes of low libido, counseling to minimize these causes, and instruction in mindfulness meditation. Between classes, the women practiced mindfulness daily at home. After six months, the treatment group reported significantly greater desire, arousal, and lubrication, easier orgasms, and greater satisfaction.
Investigators at Willamette University in Oregon analyzed eleven studies of mindfulness involving 449 women who complained of low libido and arousal and orgasm difficulties. “All aspects of sexual function and well-being—exhibited significant improvement.”
- Erectile dysfunction (ED). A third Brotto team enrolled ten men suffering erection difficulties in a four-week mindfulness-based treatment program similar to the efforts just discussed—information about ED, counseling, and mindfulness meditation practiced in therapy sessions and daily at home. Most of the men reported significant improvement.
- Men in distress because of their porn consumption Creighton University investigators took thirty-eight men convinced they were porn addicts to a rustic retreat center for eight-days. They spent thirty-two hours in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT sessions, the researchers endeavored to correct participants’ sexual misconceptions, such as
- Sexual thoughts and fantasies are wrong, harmful, sinful.
- Only bad people masturbate.
- Porn is evil.
The therapists corrected those mistaken beliefs:
- There’s nothing wrong with sexual thoughts and fantasies. Everyone has them. They’re perfectly normal and a key element of great sex.
- Almost everyone masturbates, particularly men who feel stressed. Unless it interferes with life responsibilities or partner lovemaking, there’s nothing wrong with it, even frequently, even daily.
- Porn is not evil. It’s a cartoon version of men’s fantasies of effortless sexual abundance. Virtually every Internet-connected man on Earth has seen porn, many frequently, some daily.
The researchers also taught participants mindfulness meditation, which they practiced several times a day. After the retreat, their sexual anxiety and porn viewing decreased significantly.
Breaking Vicious Cycles
Anxiety contributes to a surprising proportion of sex problems. That’s why “Am I normal?” is one of the most common questions I get on my site GreatSexGuidance dot com. Many people feel nervous about their sexuality—their fantasies, bodies, libido, sexual repertoire, and their ability to negotiate functional sexual relationships. The nervousness causes stress, which, as mentioned, impairs sexual desire and function. When sex experts answer people’s questions and correct their misconceptions, that’s sometimes all that’s necessary to resolve things. But quite often, sexual issues cause chronic stress that’s not relieved just by learning the truth. Sometimes, people need the truth plus tools to relieve their sexual stress. That’s where mindfulness, other types of meditation, and other approaches to deep relaxation help —hot baths, massage, yoga, tai chi, dance, hiking, and other exercise. They break the vicious cycle of stress-dysfunction-more- stress-worse dysfunction, and replace it with calm and more openness to sexual truths.
Sex unfolds more pleasurably when people feel calm, centered, and focused on pleasure—their own and their partners’. Even those free of sex problems can benefit from deep relaxation. For more, search: mindfulness, meditation, or the relaxation response.
You may also be interested in reading – Yoga Helps Prevent and Treat Erectile Dysfunction