If you don’t have a regular mindfulness practice, or even if you do, you likely find yourself on autopilot a lot of the time. Autopilot involves doing things without paying close attention to them. It can look like being distracted, getting constantly lost in thought, or making decisions by default instead of desire.
When was the last time you took a shower and immersed yourself in the feel of the water running over your skin, the smell of the soap as you lather it between your hands, or the sound of the water as it hits the floor?
When was the last time you completely lost yourself in a meal? You might have noticed the way your food looked on your plate, and the different textures and colors. When did you last notice the rising aroma as you put together a perfect bite, not just the first time but every time? Or raised it slowly to your lips, and ate noticing all the different flavors across your tongue?
When was the last time you went outside and noticed every detail you saw, listened only to your breath, wondered at the fragrant moments of beauty that surround you?
Okay, and when was the last time you did that without your phone?
If you’re always on autopilot, you miss a lot of the pleasure the world has to offer. It’s the same with sex. So many people find it challenging to stay present during sex, and yet sex on autopilot is just not that good. For one thing, one study found that for women (to use the researchers’ language around gender) respondents, those who were distracted from erotic thoughts reported it was harder to have orgasms. For another, it’s hard to have a good time doing anything if you’re fixated on tomorrow’s to-do list, that message you forgot to send, or that dirty sock in the corner of the room.
Sometimes mind-wandering looks a little less clear. For instance, you might become a sort of spectator to your own experience and start to think about what your body looks like, worry about your performance, or wonder if you’re taking too long to have an orgasm.
You might become preoccupied with whether you’re doing it right (even if you know there is no “right” way to have sex) or what you’re supposed to do next (even if you know there’s no one answer to that either).
No matter how you find yourself on autopilot or distracted during sex, mindfulness can help. Being mindful and learning to be present during sex can allow you to stop worrying about having a good time and start actually having one. According to the authors of a 2019 study, respondents who were more sexually mindful tended to have better self-esteem and were more satisfied with their relationships and sex lives. It’s one of Lover co-founder and clinical psychologist Dr. Britney Blair’s top tips for more pleasurable sex for a reason.
In her fantastic book, Better Sex through Mindfulness, Dr. Lori Brotto writes, “Whether you are struggling with a sexual difficulty such as low libido or lack of orgasm or you simply want to enhance your sex life, ... the simple practice of paying attention, non-judgmentally, moment by moment, will cultivate sexual desire and a new awareness of sexual arousal for you.”
Depending on where you are, that can sound either too easy or impossible. Either way, here are a few tips for how to start.
To set yourself up for success, take a moment to disentangle from your day and move into a state of arousal and openness to the erotic. Think of your erotic engagement less like a switch to flip and more like a volume knob you can slowly turn up. Don’t expect to go from a whirlwind of tasks to feeling relaxed and ready to explore without pausing to breathe.
Next, create an interruption-free space. Eliminate distractions from your environment by decluttering or tidying up, locking the door, and adjusting the lighting to your taste. If you share a space with others, a white noise machine can help with privacy. Minimize distractions from your body by taking care of needs like hunger, thirst, sore muscles, or physical tension.
Then, spend some time exploring. Whether you’re alone or with a partner, you can practice focusing on your breath to bring yourself back to the moment, sending your awareness down into your body and the sensations you’re experiencing, and experiencing what you’re feeling with awareness but not judgement. Download the Lover app for specific mindfulness exercises to try.
Working towards becoming sexually mindful is a process, but the end goal can be revolutionize the sex you're having.