Ask A Sex Therapist: What is mindful sex and how do I do it?


Performance anxiety, be gone.

Laura Miano is a sex and relationship writer and sex therapist based in Melbourne. Her mission is to help those with sexual concerns as well as support individuals who might like to enhance their sex lives beyond cultural norms. To learn more about her, follow @lauramianosexology or contact her here.

“What is mindful sex and how do I do it?” – Looking For Contentment 

Hi, Looking For Contentment. Great question – your sex life is probably about to go from good to stunning with a question like that. I’m quite happy for you. Derived from Eastern traditions, mindful sex has gained widespread attention in the West in recent years, and for good reason – it’s pretty incredible.

If you’ve tried mindfulness in your daily life and experienced any of the benefits it offers, you are about to experience a similar revolution in your sex life. Before I go into what mindful sex is, let me educate you on what mindful sex is not. Chances are you might have experienced any one – or all – of these phenomena.

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Performance anxiety is a big one, and maybe the biggest culprit of sex that is not mindful. If you notice yourself ruminating over things like pleasuring your partner in the ‘right’ way, looking sexy to your partner, whether your body looks good from a certain angle, whether the face you’re making is ‘too much’ or if you’re acting too sexual or not sexual enough, you might be suffering from performance anxiety, and/or it’s lesser-known sister, spectatoring. These involve anxiety over how you act or look in a sexual experience.

You might also find that during sex you have a goal-oriented mentality like actively working toward achieving an orgasm, having your partner achieve an orgasm, or doing certain acts that you think are obligatory during sex. Further to the last point, if you are having sex by deliberately following a certain structure such as kissing then foreplay then penetrative sex, you also might not be having mindful sex.

If you find yourself becoming distracted by your thoughts, like wondering about the errands you need to run tomorrow or using sexual fantasies to help you achieve arousal, these also digress from mindful sex. The latter is absolutely healthy to do, it just doesn’t fit the criteria of ‘mindful’ sex.

Another phenomenon that falls outside this criterion is a form of dissociation called depersonalisation. This is when a person can’t feel their body or connect with their sexual identity and might occur in people with a history of sexual trauma. Although this is not mindful sex, just like the others, overcoming disassociation is best worked through with a trained sex therapist, sexological bodyworker or psychosomatic counsellor, as engaging in mindful sex can be more challenging for people with this condition, compared to the others I described earlier.

So now that you know what mindful sex is not, let’s get into the fun stuff – what mindful sex is! Mindful sex involves being vulnerable, surrendering to the present moment and letting any distracting thoughts simply come and go during a sexual experience. Any preconceived ideas of what sex should look like, how long it should go for or what sexual acts or events need to occur, can all say bah-bye.

It involves being physically, psychologically and emotionally cognisant when you’re having sex. That is, bringing 100 per cent of your awareness to how and what you are feeling during the experience, and the emotional and sexual connection you are forming with your sexual partner (sexual partner being a one-night stand, casual fling or long-term partner).

In psychological terms, your conscious mind is called a limited capacity system because you can only process a certain amount of information at any given time. Imagine your mind is like a bubble, when you are filling it up with your anxious, distracted or goal-oriented thoughts, you leave less space to consciously process the stimulation and pleasure. What mindful sex does is push those thoughts out and utilise the whole bubble by only processing information that is relevant to your pursuit of pleasure, connection and arousal.

This means you start psychologically experiencing deeper layers of sex that you might not have had the capacity for before. This can lead you on a really incredible journey of pleasure and change how you actually physically have sex too. For example, when you truly tap into your pleasure, maybe you actually don’t want to follow that cookie-cutter mould of sex I mentioned before. Sex that is mindful might start to look completely different to the sex you were having before.

So why is it worth doing? Well, you can experience a range of benefits including deeper intimacy and connection with your partner, a deeper understanding of and connection to your own sexuality, boosted self-esteem and body image, less performance anxiety, more connectedness and awareness of your body, heightened pleasure, more pleasure literacy, and easier and better orgasms.

Not to mention, if you use your mindfulness skills learnt during sex in everyday life, you could start to experience positive changes in your mental health more generally. There really isn’t enough space in this article to list every benefit but take my word for it – mindfulness will do you well.

So now that I’ve gone total sales pitch on you with mindfulness, you probably want to know how it’s done. There are no defined steps, obviously, but if you try any of the following techniques you’ll be well on your way. Also remember, with the exception of partner-related tips, any of these can be used during solo sex (i.e. masturbation).

Try to set up your environment in a way that makes you feel sensual, relaxed and safe. This might include a clean and tidy room, dim lighting, soft music, and a nice scent. You’d be surprised how much it can impact you on an unconscious level.

You should also try to remove any preconceived ideas of what sex should look like. This might be hard to do completely (we internalise a lot on an unconscious level), but if you find yourself thinking things like ‘I should probably do x now’ or Have I been doing x for too long?’, push those thoughts away and return to what you are feeling.

On top of this, instead of trying to achieve an orgasm, focus on experiencing pleasure. Many people who struggle to orgasm do so because they are too focused on it. Move away from the orgasm goal and get comfortable with just being.

You should also let thoughts come and go by gently pushing them away when they appear. Try mindfulness techniques like The Five Senses exercise, focusing on your breath, deep breathing or imagining your thoughts disappearing on a moving cloud.

You can also be mindful by pursuing your own pleasure at the start of the experience, instead of putting your partner first. This can kick start that gorgeous dance of reciprocal arousal that two people achieve when one person becomes aroused because the other person is aroused, which then keeps repeating and can create a really beautiful cycle of shared pleasure.

Other steps to try are synchronised deep breathing and eye gazing with your partner. These will be great for creating trust, intimacy and a deeper sexual connection with the person you share these with.

I’m trying my best to stay realistic here, but mindful sex is truly your ticket to wildly pleasurable and mind-blowing sex. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest giving it a go. Whether you are exploring solo or having sex casually or with a committed partner, mindful sex will reshape your whole understanding of pleasure and satisfaction. Trust me, you need to try it.

See the other instalments in our Ask A Sex Therapist series here.

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