This article on staying present during sex originally appeared on Blood + Milk.
By now we all know that the last two years have put us through the ringer. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones whose career and relationships are thriving, for whom the pandemic was the main thing that went wrong—it has touched every part of everyone’s life.
You might have noticed some side effects from this ongoing stressor—and, no, we don’t mean anything about your beautiful body. Things like struggling with sleep. More anxiety. Intrusive thoughts that stop you from staying present during sex.
Such thoughts might range from general, existential dread to more specific, personal worries. Maybe you or someone you love is sick (COVID or not). Maybe the shitty comments about the quarantine 15 (eye roll) got to you. Maybe you’re grappling with the weight of your complicity in systems of oppression.
Anxiety thoughts tend to pop up at inopportune moments—like when you’re trying to lose yourself in the moment. And that’s on top of the regular intrusive thoughts which show up as worries about performance, body image, your partner’s pleasure, your pleasure, and/or being activated or triggered from past sexual experiences
Needless to say: there are a lot of things that try to intrude on your sexy times and mess up the moment. there’s a lot to try and kill the mood.
The good news is that there are several, science-backed ways to handle these intrusive thoughts so that they don’t spiral and you can stay present during sex!
Many mindfulness practices focus on going inward. They invite you to really experience your body, emotions, felt sense, and energy in the moment. While this is what many people tend to think of when they think of mindfulness, it is not the best option for every person or situation. Still, these are long-term and beloved approaches.
Skip these if you already know they don’t work, whether that’s due to a negative experience, a nagging sense, or a deep dislike. What each of these has in common is that you’re using your brain and its energy to bring in more pleasure versus letting it wander, unchaperoned.
- Do a body scan from head to toe. Where is there tension? Where is there openness? Where is there not much sensation at all?
- Check in with your breath: where do you feel it the most (belly, chest, throat, mouth, nose)? Maybe you bring your hand or your partner’s there.
- Fantasize. Call to mind a new or favorite sexual fantasy.
- Ask yourself if you feel safe and, if not, what do you need in order to feel so?
- Tune into your senses. What are five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste?
In moments of anxiety, going further into your emotional body can actually ramp that anxiety up. This can also be true if you find yourself activated or triggered during sex. Whether the above options let you down, you’ve always found your way to more “active” forms of mindfulness and meditation, or you just want to try something different, use these to get present and grounded in the moment while remaining safe.
- Look around, look around. this comes from Jane Clapp: take a moment to glance around your surroundings in all directions: up, down, left right, back and forth. Pay special attention to windows and doors.
- Switch things up. Change up what you’re doing. Yes, sometimes it’s just that simple.
- Try a trickier sex position. Choose a sex position that requires a bit of balance or more thinking, focus, and/or coordination.
Talk about it
Whether that’s addressing what’s going on in the moment or debriefing after the fact, talking about your experience helps redirect your attention and take the wind out of shame’s sails.
- Name it to tame it. This is a common therapy tool used with emotions and it also can be used here. Name what’s going on and then ask for what might help—maybe there’s a certain act that always gets you out of your head and into your body. Maybe you need a break. Maybe you need to switch to mutual masturbation.
- Talk dirty. Harness your brain’s chitter chatter by using its energy to focus on something you want/like versus something that doesn’t serve you. Whether that’s sharing a fantasy, describing the experience, or anything else that turns you on.
- Work with a sex therapist, counselor, or coach. Especially if this is a problem that is bothering you and/or happening a lot, having an objective outside support will be extra meaningful. They can help you with customized approaches to the issue and get underneath some additional stories or pressure that you might be putting on yourself.
- Use a Sex Journal. This journal invites you to reflect on your experience with your partner and notice what came up for each of you. Use it to deepen your connection, open up new pathways to pleasure, and as a conversation starter for any distracted moments you had.
Prep for the next time
If intrusive thoughts during sex are an ongoing problem, taking time to support your nervous system in your day-to-day life and even before sexy times can help you stay more present during sex. All of these can help you be more present and open to pleasure.You can try:
- Practicing some of the above activities on the regular
- Incorporating a shaking, rebounding, or dancing practice into your daily routine
- Moving more throughout your day
- Practice mindfulness while eating, talking, etc.
Accept that sometimes it’s just not meant to be—and don’t beat yourself up about it
If this season has taught us anything, it’s that best laid plans simply don’t matter. It sucks to be left with a case of blue balls/walls but try not to blame yourself for being a totally normal human with a complex emotional life.
Intrusive thoughts don’t have to ruin the moment
These in-the-moment tools plus a regular practice will help you stay present during sex – so that you can have more connection and pleasure in the bedroom and beyond.
Looking for community conversation to explore these concepts and practices?
Join us for a new workshop series to slow down, tune in, & feel more grounded in these liminal times—so that you can experience more joy and pleasure in this co-COVID era.