Think about the best sex you have ever had. Go on – let yourself really relive the experience. Take a moment to remember what it felt like in your body, what emotions were evoked and what was happening in your mind. Were you completely consumed? Did you feel emotionally and physically connected to your partner? Chances are you were really there. Now take a moment to think about an average or awkward sexual encounter. Again, take some time to recall the physical, emotional and mental aspects of the experience. Did you find your mind wandering? Perhaps you found yourself thinking about work, your to-do list, or worse – praying for it to end. Note the differences between the two.
What is the difference between sex and great sex?
This is an exercise asked by clinical psychologist, Dr. Richard Chambers, in his book, Mindful Relationships. And while I highly recommend you read the whole thing – spoiler alert – he says the answer to truly great sex is intimacy.
“One of the main things that defines the quality of any relationship – whether with ourselves or with those around us – is intimacy. And perhaps nowhere is the importance of intimacy more obvious than when it comes to sex.”
– Dr. Richard Chambers & Margie Ulbrick in Mindful Relationships
That’s not to say one can’t have mind-blowing intercourse with a complete stranger because (let’s face it), most of the population could prove them wrong. But rather, Chambers & Ulbrick suggest that intimacy stems from the ability to be aware of your body, your presence and your emotion (and in turn, your partner’s) in a moment when you are at your most vulnerable.
“When we are able to stay in our bodies during sex, rather than closing down and tuning out, we are able to stay connected to the physical experience of lovemaking. We develop what is called interoceptive awareness, which refers to awareness of our physiological and emotional state.”
And this isn’t just talk from a therapist. Research shows that increased interoceptive awareness improves sexual experiences by literally getting us out of our heads, reducing anxiety, low mood, and self-judgement. In other words, you’ll stop ticking sex off your to-do list and start to enjoy doing it.
As we become aware of our own emotional state and express this physically through lovemaking, we become more attuned to the emotional and physical changes in our partner too.
So how do we achieve interoceptive awareness?
It starts on the pillow. With meditation I mean.
According to Chambers & Ulbrick, the vulnerability associated with sex can be perceived by the mind as a threat, particularly when combined with negative cues such as a change in facial expression or an absent tone of voice. Naturally, this triggers our flight/fight/freeze response, which causes us to withdraw and can inhibit our orgasm. Through meditation, we are able to counteract this response by activating the mammalian tend-and-befriend circuits instead. These circuits allow us to maintain an emotional connection with others, even when under stress.
“By simply remaining present during sex, we minimise the activation of the fight/flight response. And by focusing on connection and nurturing when stakes are high, we release oxytocin, which helps us to calm down, focus and maintain emotional connection rather than withdrawing or reacting.”
– Mindful Relationships.
By practicing meditation regularly, we can strengthen our tend/befriend circuits making it easier to turn them on during sex. Since meditation makes us more aware of our emotional and physical state, it deepens our level of intimacy during intercourse.
According to Chambers, some people describe peak experiences of momentarily losing any sense of where they end and their partner begins. The Kamasutra, as well as Buddhist and Taoist sexual manuals, all point toward this as being the highest form of lovemaking – indeed, the very point of sex. And they all emphasise presence and embodiment as the fundamental starting point.
“Making love in intimate, connected ways literally rewires the brain for deeper intimacy. We become less critical of our (or our partner’s) performance, more aware of our breath and body sensations, and more responsive to our partner’s body.”
Want to learn more about the benefits of meditation, and practical steps to start introducing it into your daily life? Join Dr. Richard Chambers’ four-week meditation course, recharge.
Meditation and Mindfulness Course
Every Thursday 7 – 8:30pm
November 17th – December 8th