Both sex and meditation 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. And both help free the mind from daily hassles.
Meditators accomplish this by sitting quietly and focusing intently on their breath, or on a word or phrase (manta), or on a simple activity (walking, slowly chewing one bite of food). Lovers free their minds by engaging in mutual erotic touch while focusing intently on one another (though they may fantasize about other partners). Both expand spiritual connections—meditators to the world around them, lovers to their partners. And after both, meditators and lovers emerge feeling calm and refreshed, better able to cope with life’s challenges.
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 the content. They 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 giving and receiving pleasure. 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
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 can identify. They have heads full of sexual beliefs that may not exactly drive them crazy, but produce sufficient stress to cause problems. Stress/anxiety/worry trigger the fight-or-flight reflex that constricts the arteries in the central body, limiting blood flow to the gut and genitals and sending it out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Reduced blood flow through the genitals compromises sexual responsiveness, function, and satisfaction. But deep relaxation, the kind produced by meditation, opens the arteries that supply blood to the genitals and enhances sexual function and pleasure.
In recent years, several sex researchers, notably 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 aid recovery, cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT 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 wait list. The rest participated in three 90-minute classes over six weeks that discussed the causes of low libido and offered 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 that included 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. During CBT sessions, the researchers endeavored to correct participants’ sexual misconceptions, such as:
• Sexual thoughts and fantasies are wrong, harmful, and sinful.
• Only bad people masturbate.
• My porn watching proves I’m evil.
The therapists endeavored to correct 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.
• Virtually every Internet-connected man on Earth has seen porn, many frequently, some daily. Viewing it doesn’t make you evil. Porn is a cartoon version of men’s fantasies of effortless sexual abundance.
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 many sex problems. That’s why “Am I normal?” is one of the most common questions sex experts get. It’s a leading query on the site I publish, GreatSexGuidance dot com. Many people feel nervous about their fantasies, bodies, libidos, sexual repertoire, and ability to negotiate functional sexual relationships. That nervousness causes stress, which, as mentioned, impairs sexual desire and function.
When sex experts correct people’s misconceptions, sometimes that’s all that’s necessary to resolve their issues. But quite often, sexual issues cause chronic stress not relieved just by learning the truth. Sometimes, people need the truth plus tools to relieve their sexual stress. That’s where mindfulness and other relaxing activities help: deep breathing, 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 refreshing calmness.
Sex unfolds most 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.