Sex Matters: Mindfulness Meditation and Sexuality

By on April 1st, 2015 Categories: Sex Matters

There has been considerable public dialogue about the practice of mindfulness, described by experts as “nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness.” Although traditionally associated with Buddhist philosophy, anyone can incorporate mindfulness techniques into their daily activities or in their expression of sexuality.

Mindfulness has been used for a variety of different conditions including depression, anxiety, pain, and eating disorders. Scientific research shows that mindfulness causes brain waves to change and improves the ability to pay attention. In addition, there are also data and clinical research suggesting that meditation and yoga promote numerous health benefits for breast cancer survivors, including helping to diminish fatigue and stress.

Dr. Lori Brotto has been a champion and pioneer in the study of mindfulness in female sexual arousal and desire. In her work with clients, Dr. Brotto has used exercises to incorporate mindful strategies in both nonsexual and sexual situations. Some mindfulness advocates encourage a short period of mindfulness during driving, eating, or during conversation with your partner. As a practical suggestion, take some time during meals to savor the aroma of your food, chew thoroughly, and taste the delicate textures of the cuisine. When your mind wanders to other things, gently and kindly redirect your attention back to the sensations associated with eating. It may only take a few minutes, but mindful eating can be a pleasurable and exciting experience.

Mindful or Mind Full?

Most of our lives we fluctuate between worrying, planning, and anticipating the future or focusing on the past. We can sometimes become preoccupied with reviewing, analyzing, or replaying experiences that are no longer happening. Paying attention to the present is often something most of us don’t do.

Many issues contribute to our mind being full. Work obligations, demands coming from emails, iPhones, iPads, or computers; promises of exercise; or financial and employment burdens may cloud our mind and decrease our sexual arousal and overall sexual satisfaction. We may become less excited and sexual pleasure may become less intense.

Here are some simple techniques that can help maintain mindfulness during sex:

  • Eliminate distractions in the room where you have sex. Make your bedroom a safe tranquil haven. Turn off your phone, television, and other electronics.
  • Calmly observe the feelings you’re having with respect to your body and its sensations. See if you are able to be non-judgmental and accepting of whatever you’re feeling. If negative thoughts about yourself arise (and they do for all of us), just notice these as “events of the mind” and redirect your attention back to what you’re doing.
  • Repeat non-judgmental statements such as these, recommended by Dr. Brotto:
    • “My body is my own.”
    • “It is alive.”
    • “I notice and appreciate the following aspects of my body [name them].”
  • Read up on sexuality. One great book I recommend is Julia Heiman’s Becoming Orgasmic. This may help with understanding arousal and female anatomy and the influence of values and judgments on your sexuality.
  • Focus on your body or a specific body part and start by really noticing sensations in that area. You can then incorporate touch and notice what that feels like. Don’t try to create pleasure or arousal — simply notice any and all sensations.
  • Allow any negative sexual thoughts to be there. This practice is not about emptying the mind or challenging thoughts. We all have them. Rather, notice these thoughts as habits of your mind and try to be gentle with yourself for having them.

Staying focused outside or inside the bedroom is not an easy task, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Thoughts of treatment side effects, financial obligations, or the fear of recurrence may cloud your mind. Try to accept these thoughts rather than resisting them; this can allow you to still feel your sensuality.

At first, try to practice mindfulness during small periods of time, and do not be discouraged if your mind wanders. In fact, mind wandering is another opportunity for you to practice focusing your attention on where your attention is. Practice, time, and determination may make a state of mindfulness easier to maintain.

According to Medical News Today, a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles suggested that tai chi, a Chinese martial art that incorporates mindfulness, may reduce chronic inflammation for breast cancer survivors with insomnia.

You can read more about the benefits of mindfulness in Dr. Weiss’s recent column, Calm Your Mind, Boost Your Mood.

Introducing: Vaginal Dryness 911

Next month, we’re excited to introduce Vaginal Dryness 911, a new segment of “Sex Matters” that addresses the urgent issues of vaginal dryness in women who’ve been treated for breast cancer. Stay tuned, and please submit any questions in the comments area below!

I’m extending a special thank-you to Dr. Lori Brotto for her help and guidance with this column. Dr. Brotto is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of British Columbia and a registered psychologist with the BC College of Psychologists.

Michael L. Krychman, M.D.C.M., is the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, California. He is the former co-director of the Sexual Medicine and Rehabilitation Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer. Dr. Krychman is also an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexual counselor. He is an associate clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine, Division of Gynecological Oncology, and the medical director of Ann’s Clinic, a high-risk program for breast and ovarian cancer survivors. His special interests include menopausal health, hormone therapy, sexual pain disorders, loss of libido, and chronic medical illness and its impact on female sexual function as well as breast cancer sexuality. Dr. Krychman is also a member of the Breastcancer.org Professional Advisory Board.

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