5 Ways to Improve Your Ability to Stay Present (Mindful) During Sex

Mindfulness is talked about everywhere now. It’s synonym “stay present” is equally as powerful. But where does the term come from and what does it actually mean?  The term was coined by a Buddhist scholar, Rhys Davids at the beginning of the 20th century.   He was looking for an English translation for the concept of sati from Buddhist meditation practice.

Sati in plain speak means remembrance or recollection.

However, when used in relation to meditation, it refers to a ‘a mental state in which one/recollects/remembers the activity that one is engaged in, in the present moment’ as John Peacock says.

Davids’ first translation for the word sati was ‘thought’.  In 1910 he decided upon the term mindfulness.  John Kabat-Zinn brought the concept fully to the west and in 2003 he defined mindfulness as ‘the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.’.

For me, mindfulness is about staying fully present in the moment.

When I say fully, I am speaking of thought, feeling, body, spirit.  All awareness in the moment.  In this way, to talk about being mindful doesn’t really sit well as the word seems to forgo emotion, physical sensation and spirit.    I prefer to speak of staying fully present or becoming fully present.

staying present in the moment with your partner

For many people, staying present is incredibly difficult.   The mind wanders off or is triggered into some memory or other.  The emotions are triggered and you begin to think/feel the past or think/feel about the future.    When mindfulness is first taught, people are often taught to focus on breath.    Though many teachers find this the easiest access point, I do not.  I prefer to have my clients learn to observe using their senses first.  I prefer to talk about becoming grounded into the present.

Grounding refers to becoming aware of and connected with the present moment.

It starts with being aware of the body and then using the senses to become aware of the environment.    When a person is grounded, she feels in her body, connected with the world around her.   This is not a new age or an abstract concept.  Many people pull away from their bodies when situations become difficult and painful.  Some pull away from feeling so much that they feel they are watching themselves from outside their bodies and a distance away.   In psychology, this is called dissociation and it is a sophisticated psychological defence that allows a person to survive intense pain or trauma (physical and/or emotional) and continue on.

Joshua and Martine were on the tube heading out for a day with friends.   The explosion was sudden and within feet of them.  They were not physically injured but saw carnage around them.  Martine talks about going into ‘overdrive.  I am a nurse so I just started seeing to people’s injuries and trying to calm people down.  I didn’t feel anything.  I just had to act.’  Joshua talks about ‘being on autopilot.  I tried to calm people down so that evacuation would be orderly.  I don’t remember thinking much except it was important that people didn’t get trampled.  I felt like I was watching myself from a distance.’    Being distant from intense fear, intense pain and any intense sensory experiences allows a person to continue to function.

People who have experienced sexual trauma whether mild or severe, often learn to distance themselves from sexual experiences.  Once you have learned this defence, it can be difficulty to unlearn it.  If you automatically dissociate when triggered, it can be nigh on impossible to get yourself to stop even when you recognise that there is no danger, just a trigger.   Professional help can make it possible to learn how to stop dissociating automatically while allowing a person to keep the defence intact when it is appropriate (in a disaster situation, for example or a family emergency).

Sometimes people have difficulty staying present when situations feel too intimate (emotionally or physically) or too intense.

This can also be a problem when someone feels frightened or when someone is withholding thoughts or feelings from a partner.

staying present can be frightening

How do you know if you have trouble staying present during sex?

Do you have difficulty with orgasm?  If you do, it is likely that you have trouble staying fully present.  Do you have trouble switching off at the end of the day?  Is it hard for you to clear your head?  If so, it is likely you are not present during sex.  Have you been traumatised in the past?  If so, you may find staying present difficult.  Is your relationship difficult or on the rocks?  You are likely to find it difficult to stay present if you are not happy in your relationship or if you are having problems with your partner. Do you have difficulty letting go of control or feeling vulnerable?  It is likely that you aren’t fully present during intimacy if either of these are an issue. Being vulnerable can be incredibly frightening.  If you are fully present, you are authentic and therefore vulnerable. Finally, if you have depression anxiety or are using or abusing substances staying present can be difficult.

As you can see, there are lots of reasons that people find it hard to stay present during sex.  Sometimes they aren’t even really aware that they are not fully present or even when they are just ‘going through the motions’.    All forms of intimacy are so much more intense and more pleasurable when you are able to be fully present throughout.    When you are not putting up barriers or distancing yourself from your pleasure and your partner’s pleasure, sex can be transformational.

Here are 5 ways to improve your ability to stay present (be mindful) during sex.

  • Learn basic grounding and/or mindfulness. I have people start using a simple grounding exercise.   Some people prefer to use simple mindfulness focussing on breath.  If you want copies of the exercises I teach, email me at drbisbey@the-intimacy-coach.com .  The exercises themselves are basic.  It is the practice that is most important.  Some people find it much easier to be guided by another person (rather than having to take themselves through the exercises).  If this is you, email me at the above address for my free .mp3 with a number of guided grounding and mindfulness exercises.
  • Make sure your body is prepared. Get a good night’s sleep the night before.   Limit the amount of food you eat.  A light meal is best.  Limit the substances you indulge in.  Alcohol makes it hard to remain present.  The alcohol acts like an emotional barrier between you and others.  It creates a distance through the physiological changes that occur when you imbibe.  Most psychotropic drugs can interfere with being present so use them sparingly.eating light to stay present
  • De-stress: Make sure your mind is prepared. Finish any tasks that are pressing.  Turn off phones and make sure that there will be no buzzing, dinging or beeping.  If you are expecting an important call wait until you have received it so you can give your partner your full attention.  If you have lots in your head when you return from work, set aside some time to talk about it.  Downloading all the stress of the day by talking it over or writing about it will leave you clear to focus on the pleasure in the moment.
  • Clear the air with your partner. If you and your partner have outstanding issues that can be dealt with (eg are not long standing issues or ones that are so large – like breaches in trust – that they cannot be dealt with during a short conversation), take the time to deal with them.   End your clearing the air conversation by telling each other three things that you find exciting about the other.
  • Start sex slowly and focus on each sensation. Take your time undressing and focus on the sensations as you remove your clothing or as you watch your lover remove his clothing.  Focus on every touch, every sound, every smell, every taste.  When extraneous thoughts drift into your mind, let them drift through.  Re-focus on the physical sensations.

present while kissing

These five practices should vastly improve your ability to stay present when you are intimate with your lover(s).  If you are finding any of the steps overly difficult, you will benefit from some professional help from a sex & intimacy coach.  In addition to individual and couples coaching to increase the ability to stay present during sex, I run a group focused on helping couples and individuals increase their ability to stay present and improve communication around sex and intimacy.    The group meets fortnightly for 8 ninety minute sessions and there is specific play work for the week in between the meetings.  Book a discovery session with me for more information.