For so many of us, being fully present in sexual experiences can be a real challenge. Our minds are simply so busy, we can struggle to avoid being distracted, or having our minds wander on to other things just as we want to connect to ourselves and our partners sexually.
There are a multitude of things that can pull us away from the present moment in sex, everything from noise in our environment, lack of privacy, worry, pain or discomfort, focus on other tasks in our lives or relationship difficulties (to name but a few!). These are all incredibly common, but they tend to serve to divert our attention away from our bodies and the sexual experience as it is happening.
This matters, because the more our attention shifts away from the present moment in sex, the less we are able to connect to things that can increase arousal and switch on the systems in our brains that can help build desire, maximise arousal and facilitate our bodies working in the way we want them to. The more distracted we become (whether that by worries or just thinking about something unrelated to sex), the less chance we have to build arousal consistently, or worse invite anxiety to build which often reduces the ability for our bodies to function sexually. Click here to learn more about how anxiety can impact our bodies in sex.
Here are some simple ways we can start to practice increase our attention onto the present moment.
Anchoring ourselves to our breath:
Take some time to try and focus on your breathing. This sounds simple, but we are often completely unaware of the sensations happening in our bodies at any given moment. Find some space to get comfortable and then explore trying to place your attention on the breath coming into your body and then moving back out again. Try to focus on what you are experiencing in your body now, in this moment.
Quite quickly, you may notice that you mind wanders. This is normal and what we expect our minds to do. When this happens, see if you can notice where your mind has wandered to, and then gently bring your attention back onto your breathing. You may need to do this many times, it does not matter, just practice noticing where you mind wanders to and then brining your attention back onto your breath.
You only have to do this for a couple of minutes at a time, but it can be a very useful way of demonstrating to your brain that it is possible, to place your attention into the present moment in spite of the feelings, thoughts and distractions that might come up for you.
Anchoring ourselves to the present in everyday tasks:
An extension of the breathing exercise is to also practice trying to connect in the present moment in tasks we are performing throughout the day. For so much of the activity we engage in we are distracted; thinking of other things, planning the rest of our day or shifting our attention between multiple things.
For this exercise it is good to pick an activity that we often do without thinking too much about. We usually recommend relatively mundane things, like brushing your teeth, washing dishes or walking to work. These are things we frequently do whilst simultaneously thinking about or being distracted by other things.
Take moment to make an active decision to place your attention onto an activity of your choosing. To become more anchored to the present try to place your attention onto your senses in this moment. What can you feel? What do you hear, taste, smell, see?
As in the previous exercise, see if you can practice staying connected to your sensory experience in this activity. If you mind wanders (which it almost inevitably will), just notice where it wanders to and bring your attention back onto the activity you have decided to be present with. Again this only have to be a 1-2 minute exercise but done regularly can help our brains to get increasingly used to creating a present moment focus and doing so in a range of real world contexts.
Self exploration and present moment focus
Oonce you have begun to practice becoming more present in everyday contexts we can start to apply this more directly to our experiences of being with our own bodies.
Self-touch: You do not need to feel aroused before or during this exercise, although if arousal builds this is also ok. Spend time touching your body and try to generate a range of sensations through different forms of touch. This can include any part of your body and does not need to include genitals if you do not want it to. Focus on paying attention to the sensations that feel good. If you become highly aroused, e.g. get an erection or become lubricated, that is ok, but the aim of this exercise is not to reach a particular goal. It is not about becoming aroused or reaching orgasm, and it is not about any form of sexual act.
Instead try to keep your attention on sensations as they are happening in the moment. Focus on your senses, what do you feel, hear, see? Try to notice what these sensations actually feel like in your body. If you mind wanders, try to notice where it wanders to, and then bring your attention back onto your body.
Again you do not need to do this for a long time (typically 5 -10 minutes maximum is recommended), however the more opportunities you have to explore becoming more present with your body through sensual touch the more likely it will be that we can stay connected in partnered or others form of sexual experience.