Have you ever felt distracted and not able to focus while having sex? Because not feeling present during sex is a super common experience, yet one no one really seems to talk about. New research from sexual wellness app Ferly has found that 30 percent of women experience anxiety before, during and after sex, and that 92 percent of women don't feel present during sex. Here's an expert guide to feeling present during sex, including advice on how to use mindfulness techniques to focus your mind (and on your pleasure).
How not feeling present during sex manifests itself is different for all of us. "It can really vary from person to person and in the level of intensity that it's felt," explains Kate Moyle, a psychosexual therapist at Ferly. But for most of us, she says it feels like not being able to silence our busy minds and "letting our thoughts jump from things that have happened in the past to things that could happen in the future rather than tuning into the very present moment." Some of us may find we have moments of presentness during sex, but then become distracted again.
"Someone might be in the middle of sex when their phone rings and suddenly all they can think about is that missed phone call. Instead of paying attention to how their body is responding to their partner's touch, they are now distracted and thinking about something else which will make it harder for them to have a pleasurable experience," Kate says.
"On the other end of the scale, not feeling present can be a defense mechanism that someone uses to protect themselves from emotional or physical pain. This is known as disassociation and in extreme cases, some people pull away so much they feel they are outside of their bodies, watching from afar."
Is it common not to feel present during sex?
Kate says it is very common not to feel present during sex. "As a society, we struggle with overactive minds, letting our thoughts run riot and preventing us from being in the 'here and now'," she explains. "Women's number one question to us at Ferly is 'Am I normal?'— and while we hate the word 'normal' because generally there is no 'normal' when it comes to feeling distracted during sex—well, that is normal!"
Why do so many women struggle with feeling present?
While distractedness is an issue for people of all genders and sexualities, Kate explains that it is more likely to affect women. "75 percent of global unpaid work is done by women. This is often on top of the work they do in their day job," she says. "Women have to think about running a household, pushing themselves at work, caring for their family (children, elderly parents, sick siblings) and so much more. So, as well as being incredibly busy, this means women also put others' needs before their own. It's unsurprising then, that women get distracted during sex because if they're not thinking about their endless to do list, they are most likely thinking about whether their partner is having a good time instead of tuning into their own pleasure."
"The mind-body connection is really important."
There are also a lot of dominant narratives and messages about what or how to be a sexual person, and "particularly a sexual woman" Kate says. "This can impact women being in the moment." Men also struggle with feeling present during sex, but Kate explains that the combination of being overworked and having a responsive desire type means that presentness plays a much larger role in women's pleasure.
"Rather than focusing on the experience itself, these internalized ideas can shape how someone perceives that their partner, or even themselves may be seen in that experience, and what that means about them; and these thoughts can be very distracting," she continues. "Men are also excluded from this type of messaging, and as a psychosexual therapist I also work with a lot of, particularly younger, men who experience performance anxiety; related to have they believe that they have to be sexual 'as a man', and messaging about masculinity, toxic masculinity, and performance can follow them into the bedroom."
Understanding your desire type
Before learning how to feel more present during sex, it's useful to understand how different people experience sexual desire.
"For all sexes, but particularly women, the mind-body connection is really important. For the majority of women and [people] with vulvas, we experience what is called 'responsive desire'. This is different from most men and [people] with penises who experience what is called 'spontaneous desire'," Kate explains.
"Spontaneous desire is, as Emily Nagoski describes it, a 'lightning bolt to the genitals'. You want some sex out of the blue, you get aroused, and maybe have some sex. This type of desire is super common, healthy, and unremarkable. Responsive desire, is also super common, healthy, and rather unremarkable too. Responsive desire is essentially desire (i.e. your wanting/unwanting of sex) that happens in response to stimuli, which could simultaneously include: 1) the 'exciting' stuff or the things that tell your brain to get in the mood, e.g. a kiss, a touch of the hand, a lingering look, the smell of perfume or cologne, a secluded (or maybe a busy) beach etc.; and 2) the 'inhibitory' stuff or the things that tell your brain right now probably isn't the best time, e.g. while on a Zoom call with your parents, when you're stressed at work, when you're worried about getting an STI etc."
If your mind is in overdrive, it'll be much trickier to tune into the "exciting" stuff and therefore you'll find it much more difficult to feel present in the moment and focus on feeling pleasure.
Why to work on feeling more present during sex
It's easy to forget that sex is supposed to be fun and pleasurable and enjoyable. And as Kate says, sex tends to go badly (or at least as not as well as you'd like) when you're distracted or not fully into it. "If we really want to improve our sex life, access more pleasure and experience more intimacy working on our ability to stay present during sex is crucial," she explains.
Kate says learning to feel more present during sex can:
- Help you discover what types of touch you enjoy most.
- Bring you into your body so that you're aware of how you're feeling moment to moment, which gives you the insight to communicate more effectively.
- Make you aware of your breath and heart rate which are indicators of your pleasure, and knowing this allows you to control the experience. You can speed up to bring yourself to climax or slow down to extend the pleasurable feelings.
- Help you better understand your partner and their needs so that you can become a better lover.
- Reduce self-judgement and "spectatoring" which is the act of evaluating yourself during sex and worrying about your performance.
How to feel more present during sex
Sensate Focus is a sex therapy technique used to increase your intimacy and make your sexual experiences (hopefully) more pleasurable. It teaches mindfulness as a way to train your brain into battling distraction and being more present in the moment. Mindfulness can also teach you how to control your thoughts, silence your mind and tune into your pleasure.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.
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