Last week, I talked about how enjoying the journey, rather than focusing on the outcome, can help you have a happier sex life. Likewise, learning to stay present in the moment can deepen your connection with your partner and your enjoyment of the experience.

Phase 5 – Learning to be Present

Our minds are busy creatures. You can get so consumed with thoughts, ideas and stories that you are totally unaware of what is going on around you, disconnected from the present moment and the actual person you are with.

You may find it hard to turn off your mind from constantly running through your to-do list or over analyzing worries about life and work. Thoughts of planning, evaluating, and strategizing about what you will be doing next are swirling around in your mind like a whirlpool. It may be hard to switch gears and put those concerns aside to show up and be present with your partner. If your mind is busy and you are “all in your head,” you may have a hard time “getting into your body”—where you can be aware of your physical self, feel and focus on sensation, and connect with touch and stimulation in a way that allows you to get aroused and interested in sex.

Your mind may also be busy with self-conscious and self-critical thoughts. Worry about your body, your sexual performance, or the state of your relationship can also get in the way of you having a good time in sex. Your expectations about sex—for you, your partner, and your encounter as a whole—can start to consume you. And your judgments about how you’re doing compared to those expectations can be another layer of mental busywork that gets in the way of sexual enjoyment. If you or your partner is distracted or worried during sex, it can become that much harder to enjoy it (giving you one more thing to worry about). And as that continues to grow and build, you will likely find your interest in sex declining.

Sex is enhanced when you can relax and be fully engaged in each moment. Stress, anxiety, fears, and distractions diminish your access to pleasure and connection with your partner and what you are doing together. It’s important to learn to relax, slow down, and just take in the breadth of your experience. This includes the subtlety of the physical sensations you are having in your whole body, the thoughts and feelings you are having while doing it, and the awareness of your partner. You will increase your sexual satisfaction if you learn to minimize those things that pull you out of your experience.

Learning to slow down and pay attention is a good skill to have in all areas of life, and it is very important for good sex and for a sense of connection with your partner. Can you tell what your body is feeling? Can you feel your sensations? Are you aware of the emotions you are having? Can you identify your thoughts and recognize they are nothing more than that? Can you just be? Can you allow yourself and your partner to temporarily leave reality behind?

I recommend developing a mindfulness practice in your life. Whether you learn to meditate or develop the habit of sitting quietly and just noticing what is happening for you, in your mind, body, and emotions, you can get better at being present and aware of each moment.

There are several practices you can do together with your partner, as well. One tool is eye gazing, done for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Sit in chairs, facing each other. Adjust the distance between your chairs so your eyes can focus on each other. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and relax. Hold your gaze on your partner’s left eye (to your right). Let yourself just be in this experience; there is no need to mask what you’re thinking or feeling. Notice how your body feels, what emotions come up, and what sensory experiences you have. Let go of any judgment you have about what’s happening for you or what might seem to be happening for your partner. This is a good practice for letting yourself be seen, as well as just being in the moment.

Once you have some comfort holding each other’s gazes, you can add an element of synchronizing your breathing. Begin by breathing in and out at the same time, so that you both draw breath in together. Once you’ve aligned your breathing together, switch to alternate breathing: when your partner breathes in, you breathe out, and vice versa. Keep your body relaxed and your breathing slow.

Using the Giver/Receiver Exercise – Learning to be Present

You and your partner can use the exercise to practice being present. Because you are taking time out of real life to do an exercise, you can slow down. You are taking one role at a time, and that gives you the chance to notice everything going on with you—thoughts, feelings, sensations. As you pay attention to these things, you will grow adept at tuning in and being in your experience. The exercise is a place to practice showing up with whatever you’ve got, learning to relax and bring yourself to the moment. Settling your brain down is an important step before you can fully participate in the exercise and get the most from it. Don’t worry if it takes time to be able to show up and just be present in the exercise.

Pitfall 1: Being Steeped in Self-Criticism and/or Self-Consciousness

You may spend your turn feeling bad that you don’t know what you want. Or you might feel bad about whatever it is you do want. If you believe you should want sexual touch, but don’t, you may not allow yourself to ask for or enjoy other kinds of touch that you would like. If you want sexual touch, but your partner is struggling with that, you may feel bad about that the whole time instead of enjoying what you’re being given. You may judge your progress or your struggles. You may feel self-conscious or hateful about your body. You may spend the whole 10 minutes in negative thought that gets in the way of you enjoying the touch you’re getting.

Breakthrough 1: Stopping the Self-Talk/Criticism

Your critical inner voice shuts up. You let go of the self-doubt. You stop judging your body, your thoughts, your desires. You let yourself just be in the moment with what is and stop holding yourself up to some standard or expectation. You can’t fail this. You’re okay knowing it is what it is, that this is one experience of many. You finally feel good about yourself as a sexual person, wanting what you want, responding however you respond.

Pitfall 2: Being Stuck in Your Head, Distracted

You can’t stop thinking about the chores that need doing or what’s going on at work. You’re a list maker, and the list is too long to take time out to be intimate. You’ve always lived in your head and never sit still for long to connect with your body or your sensations. You analyze everything, so you live (at least) one step removed from your experience in the world. The idea of taking 10 minutes to just be—without thinking about it and without knowing what’s going to happen—doesn’t sound inviting.

Breakthrough 2: Settling Down Your Mind

You learn to quiet your mind and let go of the thoughts that still show up. You find a peace and relaxation you didn’t know before. You’ve learned to leave your to-do list at the door and that you can pick it back up once you’re ready. You’ve also learned to let work stay at work and to let some chores go undone (or at least wait until later). You’ve slowed down a little and found you are more productive when you aren’t so harried.

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