During sex, do you frequently find yourself thinking about grocery shopping, or getting distracted by the cobwebs on the ceiling? It's frustratingly hard to turn our brains off when we're being intimate, even though we all know how much better sex can be when we're mentally present. These tricks can help. Illustration by Jim Cooke.
Practice Outside the Bedroom
The key to all of this is mindfulness, or put less jargon-y, learning how to be more present in the moment. If you spend your entire day adrift in a sea of anxiety, multitasking, and overactive thinking, you can't expect to be perfectly calm and centered the second your partner starts taking your clothes off. The best way to learn how to be more present in the bedroom is to practice slowing your mind down outside of the bedroom. Being present is a skill that requires practice, and it's usually easier to make the space for that practice when you're not naked with another person.
Meditation can help a lot here. I highly recommend Headspace, an app that teaches you how to meditate. Headspace takes a topic that seems befuddling to most people, and breaks it down into simple, easy-to-understand concepts. It guides you through structured meditation sessions, so you're never left wondering what you're supposed to be doing. Even 10 minutes of meditation a day will naturally make it easier for you to feel more present during sex. If ever there was a good argument for starting up a meditation practice, this is it.
Set Yourself Up for Success
The distractors that I hear about most frequently from my clients are clutter, electronics, and to-do lists. You can transform your bedroom a sex haven by making it a clutter- and electronics-free zone. If you're a frequent to-do list ruminator, quickly jot down your list items before you go pounce on your partner.
Take a moment to think about any other distraction triggers that you might have. Do you tend to get distracted if you know there are dirty dishes in the sink? Or maybe the peeling paint on the wall always catches your eye. Take any necessary steps to remove that distraction. Some distractors can be eliminated permanently, while others may require ongoing effort, but the idea is to try to create more mental space for yourself. You don't want to create a situation where things have to be perfectly in place before you're able to be intimate with your partner, but you can try to keep your usual distractions at a minimum.
If you're like most people, you've probably had the experience of thinking about the cupcakes you need to bake for your kid's soccer team, and the consequent feelings of guilt for thinking about baked goods while balls deep in your partner. You get so derailed by your frustration that you wind up getting even more distracted than you were by the original thought.
The truth is that it's impossible to be present and focused 100% of the time. You can't stop your brain from thinking. You're going to have unwanted (and incredibly random) thoughts pop into your head at all moments of the day, including during sex. If you have the expectation that your mind should be clear of all thoughts except for how much fun you're having with your partner, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. Instead, acknowledge that distraction is the price we pay for having brains. Try to reframe your goals and think about minimising distractions rather than eliminating them altogether.
Don't Fight Your Thoughts
Trying to prevent yourself from thinking never works, and usually just intensifies the distraction. You've got to figure out a way to let the thoughts just be, without making them take up even more space.
Headspace has a great metaphor where they compare mindfulness to sitting beside a busy intersection. Imagine that your thoughts are the cars driving down the roads. You can't stop the flow of cars, but you can prevent yourself from hopping into one of the cars and driving off in it. Try to allow thoughts to pop into your head during sex, but don't actively think about them. You may even find it useful to visualise them driving out of eyesight.
Use Your Breath
Focusing on your breath is one of the core principles of mindfulness. It's a great way to let go of your thoughts and bring yourself back into the moment. When you feel yourself hopping into that little hot rod with one of your thoughts, take a deep breath and imagine gently opening the car door and escorting your brain out of the car. One particularly effective breathing technique is to imagine sending your breath down to your X-rated bits as you inhale, and back up to your nose as you exhale. This requires a bit of extra attention, and brings your focus back to your body.
Narrate What's Going On
Here's another super simple mindfulness technique that can work wonders during sex: Tell yourself a story (in your head) about what's happening from moment to moment. It might sound something like, "now he's running his hand up my thigh. Now he's spreading my legs apart." This trick gives your brain something to do, but focuses it on the sex itself. You can also narrate your body's reactions to the events at hand, which will help you tune in to the sensation even more. For example, "now I'm feeling my breath start to quicken. Now I'm feeling my stomach flutter. Now my skin feels like it's tingling in anticipation." It's like writing your own erotica.
Consider Your Choice in the Moment
Sometimes the best way to combat distraction is to remind yourself of the decision you have in front of you. You can allow yourself to get swept up in your thoughts, or you can make an effort to stay present with your partner. Try something like, "I can keep thinking about the arsehole who cut me off on the freeway, or I can enjoy finally getting a chance to be alone with my incredibly sexy partner" or "I can spend all of my mental energy worrying about when I'm going to work out, or I can spend it on this beautiful arse in front of me." You can try being gentle with yourself, like, "It's ok to feel annoyed about my client no-show, but I'll have plenty of time to worry about that after I've boned down," or you can try being a little sassy, like, "am I really going to think about my mother while I'm getting it in?" These kinds of statements help bring you back into the moment and focus on what's actually important.
Staying in the moment during sex can seem like a challenge if you're used to constant distraction, but it's much more doable than you might think. Plus, is there any great motivation for learning to improve your mindfulness skills than hotter sex?