Nothing kills arousal like anxiety. Whether you’re worrying about the argument you had over breakfast, listening for sounds of trouble from the kids downstairs, or mulling over a big project at work or school, it’s hard to think about sex when you’re pumped full of nervous energy.
These anxieties may be well-founded, and good reasons not to have sex in this moment. You can always decide that this is the not the time, not the situation, or not the person for you. If something in particular about this situation is pinging your anxiety radar, listen to your gut and do what feels right for you.
But what about regular, day-to-day free-floating anxiety? Type A worries, or “being wound too tight?” Any kind of anxiety can get in the way of desire, but this latter type can last for years. Assuming you might want to experience desire even before becoming a less anxious person, mindfulness is the ticket.
Learning strategies to quiet your mind and settle into a place of awareness is key. You can begin to build this ability in literally countless ways but here are a few:
- You might practice tuning in and being present when you’re doing the dishes. Slow down. Breathe. Notice the sensations in your body. Don’t rush. Just be with it.
- Be present in your body and notice the sensations of being in the shower. Check in with all of your senses; what do you smell? Hear? Are there different textures? Can you feel your feet where they touch the floor?
- Notice the sweet moments in the day. The sun on your cheek, a moment of quiet, or any other moment you experience as pleasant. Instead of letting it pass in a millisecond, be with it and see if you can stay with it for maybe 3 seconds. Then you can expand to not just lovely moments, but just any moment. Take a look around and take a breath. That’s being in the moment.
- Take a few minutes to sit or stand still and pay attention to your breathing, to the in and out flow of air. Just notice it, don’t try to change it. See if you can stay with your body and your breath for 5 breaths. Don’t try to control your breathing, and don’t worry about your mind wandering, just be there.
- If you WANT to control your breathing, put some very light attention on lengthening your exhale in a really relaxed way. Don’t worry about the inhale at all; it will happen automatically. Aim for your exhale to be twice as long as your inhale.
Aside from lowering anxiety, reducing stress hormones in your body, and about a million other positive effects, being present in the moment and in your body can make the difference between ok sex and great sex. You can practice mindfulness alone, and you can also practice being present in the moment, and in your body, with your partner.
- Next time you’re holding hands, notice what it feels like in the place where your hands meet.
- Next time you’re making out, see if you can be right there with your whole self. When you find your mind wandering, just refocus; look right at your partner, and say “hi”. Notice that connection, and stretch it out a little longer, just like the sun on your cheek.
- When you experience arousal, don’t reach for a goal, even if that goal is orgasm. Stay with your body sensations, and try floating in that space for a little while. Sex can be a perfect distraction from anxiety, and is great for your body and mind. But it might take practice not to hurry, not to reach, not to pressure yourself. Just enjoy it. Start with just a few minutes; work your way up. Soon you can enjoy an hour or an afternoon of lovely, embodied, spa-like sex.
When you feel yourself tensing up during a sexual encounter, or feel your mind spinning out into an obsessive worry when you want to be focusing on your or your partner’s experience of pleasure, with practice, it will feel intuitive to draw on that practice of mindfulness, to take a moment, feel what you are feeling, and come back to the present.
Note: you can’t do mindfulness wrong!! Don’t make this another thing to worry about. Practice being in the present moment, which might be quite “imperfect” with all its thoughts and sensations and feelings. It’s all ok. It’s all your life, and this isn’t about changing it. It would be too bad if you missed it because you didn’t take a moment here and there to notice it, though. Take a moment here and there. It’s worth it.