What Does It Really Mean To Have Mindful Sex?

Photo: Studio Firma

As the founder of MindfulNYU—the largest campuswide meditation initiative in the country—Yael Shy is doing what she can to spread the power of mindfulness with everyone, but especially to 20-somethings who are struggling to find their place in the world and build meaningful careers and relationships. Her new book, What Now?: Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond, aims to combat the epidemic of chronic stress and help young people inject mindfulness into all areas of their lives. Here’s a sneak peek of her book and what she has to say about mindful sex: 

On the fourth day of a seven-day silent meditation retreat I was attending, one of the teachers, Eliezer Sobel, asked the crowd what types of things they had been thinking about over the course of the week. People volunteered things like "regrets," "my family," and "my job." After all the answers came in, Eliezer looked around the room with a smile on his face and said, his voice heavy with sarcasm, "Oh, and I’m sure nobody has been thinking about sex?" The room burst into laughter. Of course we had all thought about sex. In fact, I noticed that in one week of silence on retreat, I had more lustful thoughts and fantasies than I’d had in several months at home. I was just way too shy and ashamed to admit it in front of a room full of strangers. What is the connection between sex, sexual thoughts, and this practice? I wondered. I never found the courage to ask a teacher, but the question persisted.

When I was in college, it was popular for feminist and queer student organizations to host an event where a "sexpert" was brought in to give frank sex advice and answer questions. I attended at least three of these, together with hundreds of others who eagerly packed the room to learn more about the act that most of us were exploring in a major way for the first time in our lives. It felt liberating to hear and talk about everything from positions to protection with no shame or shyness.

Many years later, MindfulNYU, the meditation program that I run at NYU, held two workshops on mindful sex for the student community. Both were completely filled to capacity, with students spilling out into the hallway and crowding every corner of the room, hungry to hear about sex without shame the same way that my classmates and I had been. In fact, it was not only the most popular meditation session we put on that year; it was the most popular session we had ever had. So what is mindful sex? Mindful sex education goes beyond pregnancy or STDs (although that is important!). Mindful sex is a journey of exploration, of our own bodies and the bodies of others, and it can help us understand desire, intimacy, connection, and energy.

Sex as an act isn’t terribly complicated, but mindful sex, sex with awareness, often takes tremendous courage, patience, and a willingness to hang out in our vulnerability. Mindful sex is about showing up as our whole selves, allowing ourselves to be seen, and being willing to truly see the other person or other people.

Excerpted from What Now? by Yael Shy © 2017. Excerpted with permission of Parallax Press.

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