Here's a question that's been on my mind lately: Since sex can be so great and fun, why is it so hard to get or stay focused during it? Basically, we spend most of our lives with our minds elsewhere, switching between tasks and doing six things at once; we are constantly practicing not being in the present moment. And what’s good for multitasking is bad for sex.
“Our brains get very good at being in many different places at once, and it turns out that that’s actually really bad for sex,” says Dr. Lori Brotto, a professor of gynecology at the University of British Columbia, a registered psychologist, and one of the forces behind a lot of contemporary research on sex and mindfulness. Sex "requires concentration and attentional mechanisms, and so unless women are deliberately paying attention to the present moment, their mind will continue to do what it does in much of the rest of their day, which is move."
I asked Dr. Brotto which sexual difficulties can that type of distraction create and the answer was resounding: “Pretty much all of them.” Distractibility during sex has been frequently studied for its link to low sexual desire, but it can also make it difficult to get turned on in the first place. "Arousal is not a reflex; it really requires the brain and the body to be communicating with each other,” says Brotto. If the brain is focused elsewhere, physical stimulation isn’t going to do the trick.
Distraction during sex can also make it hard to come. "As women become either distracted or preoccupied... that can directly impede a woman’s ability to reach orgasm,” says Brotto. "Inattention and distractibility actually impair all phases of the sexual response cycle."
So how can you stop getting distracted and focus during sex? Read on for some expert tips.
“Mindfulness, in a nutshell, is about focusing attention and slowing down,” says Dr. Shannon Chavez, a licensed clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and sexologist based in Los Angeles who incorporates mindfulness training into her practice. “Mindfulness can be simple things like slowing down and breathing and allowing yourself to tune in to what your body is communicating. We tend to not be that; we’re so focused everywhere else, sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to focus on our own bodies,” says Chavez.
Learn to Relax
Practice relaxation in small moments all day long, not only before or during sex. "I know it seems very clichéd, but relaxing is much more than right before sex,” says Chavez. "Relaxation should be something that you incorporate throughout the day.”
Doing so can make it easier to relax on cue. “It’s important to actually condition your body to learn to relax. That’s going to be even more helpful during sex because when you’re in that moment with your partner and connecting that way, your body responds more positively,” says Chavez.
Pick the Right Environment
“Choose environments that make you feel safe and stimulated,” says Annie Chen, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Oakland and Berkley, California. Whether that means putting your phone on Do Not Disturb or making sure the door is locked, shutting out external distractions can make it easier to shut out internal ones.
Then: “Get ready for sex,” says Chavez. She points to music being “an underrated form of focusing our attention,” also adding that “anything that arouses the senses will be helpful in relaxing the mind and also relaxing the body.”
One of the best ways to bring your attention back to your body is to focus on your breath. “Breathing is an underrated form of great self-regulation,” says Chavez. “It actually is a form of embodiment.” She recommends deep-belly breathing, a technique used in yoga and mindfulness training. Using your diaphragm, take slow and steady breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. “Right beneath the belly button is where you should feel your abdomen stretch and extend as you’re breathing deeply. You only need anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to change your brain chemistry and physiology, and to create a more relaxed state,” says Chavez.
Make Eye Contact
Eye contact can be a visual to focus on and a way to regulate the nervous system, as well as creating feelings of connection with a partner.
“Eye contact is one of the ways that, from birth, we learn to [use to] regulate our nervous system,” says Chavez. So if you’re distracted during sex, “the combination of eye contact and breathing is going to help,” she says. Plus, “eye contact is also a form of intimacy, so it can be powerful in releasing the right chemicals in the brain in making us feel safe [and] connected,” says Chavez.
Focus on Sensation and Pleasure
"Focusing on pleasure keeps you anchored in the present,” says Chen.
It sounds so obvious, but paying attention to pleasure and what your body is feeling moment to moment—instead of going over your to-do list, getting lost in your thoughts, or overthinking each sensation—is one of the best ways to focus during sex.
And if one type of sensation isn’t keeping your attention, try another. “Sensation and different types of stimulation are going to evoke different types of sensation in the body,” says Chavez. Move around, change positions, or engage with different body parts or toys—the different sensation might be easier to focus on.
Practice, Practice, Practice
“Practice patterns and behaviors that you experience in your mind, in your fantasies, in your body,” says Chen. As with anything, the more you do something, the easier it gets. “The more you practice mindfulness, the more your body’s able to switch in and out of different states, so you can still have the hustle as you’re working but then you can let go of everything going on in the day and just focus on pleasure,” says Chavez.
Give Yourself Permission to Get Distracted
No matter what, sometimes you’re just not going to be fully present during every moment of sex. And that’s okay. Rather than getting ironically distracted by not staying focused, acknowledge the distraction and move on.
"It’s about becoming aware of when one is distracted, and then deliberately pulling the attention back on to the present moment, whether it’s focusing on skin sensations or smells or sounds or internal physical sensations within the body,” says Brotto.
“Try staying with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are pleasurable. If you get distracted, think of it as a meditation and gently bring yourself back to pleasure,” says Chen. “Let go of the cognitive stuff, the stuff that hangs around and doesn’t have a present quality to it. The focus on pleasure and developing a relationship with your pleasure is a good start.