As a sex therapist, one of the questions I hear most frequently is, “how can I stay more present during sex?”
The main reason so many of us have lackluster sex lives is that we find it nearly impossible to stay in the moment during sex. We spend our days moving at breakneck speed and trying to juggle dozens of tasks at once, then get home and wonder why we’re too distracted to slow down and focus on sensual pleasure and connection.
So how can you stop drifting away mentally during intimate moments? How can you have the kind of sex that demands your full attention? Here are my top five tips:
1. Acknowledge what usually gets in your way, then set yourself up for success.
Do you get stressed about your to-do list? Do you have a hard time prioritizing sex over all of your daily commitments? After you’ve figured out what stressors are consuming your mental energy, take active steps to minimize the distractions. Turn off your computers and cellphones. Write out your to-do list and put it aside for the evening. Carve out blocks of your schedule for you and your partner to be intimate, and protect those times using any means necessary!
2. Take an honest look at the role expectation plays in your sex life.
Do you ever feel inauthentic when you’re having sex? Do you force yourself to have sex when you don’t feel any desire to? Are there things that you don’t allow yourself to do or ask for during sex? Don’t let cultural expectations determine how and when you have sex. Pressure is the antithesis of pleasure.
3. Work on improving your sexual skill set.
We don’t get taught how to have great sex, and many of us are still quite clueless about what we need in bed. If you’re having sex that doesn’t feel particularly good, of course your brain is going to go elsewhere! Fortunately, learning to have better sex can be an awful lot of fun. You can read books together, watch videos, take workshops, or schedule a few sessions with a sex therapist.
4. Practice being present outside of the bedroom.
Presence is like any other skill—it take time to develop. For most people, it’s usually easier to learn how to be present during activities other than sex first. Try spending five minutes a few times a day sitting quietly and paying attention to your internal world. Practice noticing your body when you’re in motion, perhaps as you're walking down the street or as you're working out.
5. Get better at catching yourself drifting away in the moment, and gently bring yourself back.
Moving in and out of consciousness is normal. You’ll have more success taking a quick second to acknowledge your distracting thoughts than you will trying to force yourself not to think of anything other than the moment. When you catch yourself going somewhere else mentally, simply take a deep breath and try to bring your attention back to the present. Focus on the sensations you’re feeling in your body while taking a few deep breaths. Ask your partner to take a second to slow down. Pause. Enjoy.
Getting distracted during sex can be frustrating, but taking the time to step back and figure out what’s getting in your way can be a deeply rewarding experience. Developing your skill in returning to the present can help ensure that you have a lifetime of pleasurable and fulfilling sex!
Vanessa Marin, M.S. is a sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist and writer living in Berlin, Germany. She has a bachelor's degree in Human Sexuality and Sociology from Brown University and a master’s in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Marin runs Finishing School, an online course that helps women learn how to orgasm on their own and with their partners, and has helped thousands of clients have a better sex life. She has over 15 years of experience working in sex education, research, and therapy, and she has been featured over 1,000 times in major publications like The New York Times, CNN, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Real Simple.