Note: My wife, Christina, is joining me on this post. Her comments are in purple.
Many men and women struggle with staying present during sex. You may find your mind wandering at times, going to the last tv show you were watching, or to to-do lists, project deadlines, shopping checklists, worrying about some upcoming event, or reliving a past one. Or, you might worry about whether or not you are doing what you are doing right? Are you making the right noises? Should you be doing something differently? For myself these last few things – am I doing things right, making the right noises, should I do things differently- actually help me recenter back to where I should be focusing my attention. My thoughts may have strayed for a few moments, and I’ll realize I’m being really quiet, I should make some noise, cause this feels really good. And I’m back in the game.
But for some people, these thoughts could be a distraction cause it takes away from enjoying what’s happening at that moment. You are worrying too much.
Regardless of which path your mind takes, it almost invariably leads to some negative thought about yourself.
I should have done that yesterday
I should know to buy more toilet paper by now
My presentation isn’t going to be good enough
I should have said that at the meeting
Or something about how you should be a better lover, in better shape, or what-have-you. These types of thoughts, when you start evaluating your performance, is called “spectatoring”. Studies have been run to show that when you start spectatoring, both your sexual performance and enjoyment decrease. Not really surprising is it? It’s hard to enjoy something you aren’t focusing on, and it’s hard to be good at something you’re not really paying attention to.
Some think that our brains are designed to problem solve, and in the absence of a problem, our brains will come up with one to solve. Unfortunately, often the problem it wants to create so that it can solve something is “I should be better than I am.” I struggle with this big time.
Others simply go with the Genesis 6:5 sentiment that since the fall, mankind only has evil thoughts and thus we seek to destroy ourselves.
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5
It doesn’t mean you don’t love your spouse, or that you aren’t attracted to them. It doesn’t mean you aren’t enjoying sex, or that you aren’t interested in sex. It just means you’re normal.
The good news is that these wandering thoughts are normal and it happens to many people during sex, and all people at some time or another during other parts of regular life. The better news is that you can do something about it. The solution is simple, and though it may take a lifetime to perfect, you should see improvements fairly quickly with a bit of practice.
So, here are eight steps to staying present during sex.
1. Set yourself up for success
My coaching clients know I’m big on setting yourself up for success. Let’s figure out the obstacles and struggles up front so we can deal with them before they become problems, or at least come up with a plan beforehand so we can respond instead of reacting to issues.
Before bed, take some time to clear your mind and close any open loops. Take 10 minutes and think about anything you have left undone, then write them down. It helps your brain know that it doesn’t have to keep reminding you about these things because you already have them on a written list.
Don’t take that 10 min to finish up the dishes, sweep the floor, start a load of laundry, or fold the load that’s been waiting all day, cause you’ll just talk yourself out of actually wanting sex anymore, cause you gotta do all these stupid chores.
2. Expect distractions – Don’t fight your stray thoughts
As I said, distractions happen to everyone. Our minds all wander from time to time, even when we want to be present, like during sex. About the worst thing you can do is get upset or worried about it. Because then you’re worried about the distraction, which is more distracting!
Instead, just accept that this is normal, it happens. Acknowledge the thought and let it go.
Having AD/HD, it can be extremely difficult to stay focused on what’s happening around you. I have the inattentive type and my mind loves to follow the rabbit hole of thoughts, so it gets lost often, and during sex is no different. So like Jay said, just acknowledge that you were on the wrong train of thoughts, jump off and try to find something to focus on with what’s happening at that moment. It may not be as simple as letting the thought go, you might have to work on what exactly you want to pay attention to.
3. Consider your choices
When you find your mind beginning to drift, or is adrift, think about what the options are. Would you rather be working on your shopping list, or having exciting, orgasmic sex with your spouse? My guess is the latter. And if isn’t … well, that’s something that needs some attention, isn’t it?
Point is, make a conscious decision to put your focus where you want it to be, not where your mind happens to drag you. How can I be enthusiastic when I’m not fully present?
4. “I’m back!”
This is a technique I heard from an acting coach. No, I’ve never taken acting lessons in my life, but this one is applicable to anyone. Anytime you feel yourself not being present, when you drift and lose focus, decide to focus on the present and say “I’m back”. Now, of course, if you’re in the middle of a meeting at work, saying “I’m back” out loud is a bit odd. So, just say it in your head.
But, at home, you and your spouse can work on this, and they’ll know that you’re just working to stay present. They shouldn’t be offended to hear an “I’m back” during sex, but instead should answer with a “Welcome” and a smile. Or you could be a bit cheeky and say “That’s okay, I’ve been enjoying your body while you’ve been out.”
I’ve sorta done this, just not actually said the words, but just that moment of realizing you’re not really where you should be, and you “come to”, it just gives you that recentering to where you want to be, and kind of a renewed energy to put towards what’s happening around you.
5. Practice outside of the bedroom
I don’t mean practice having sex outside of the bedroom, though you can if you want. I mean practice staying focused in regular daily life. Sex isn’t the only time that we aren’t present in our lives. We often get distracted by cell phones, stray thoughts, to-do lists, etc. when out with friends, with family, at church during sermons (I can’t be the only one), in business meetings (so hard to stay focused sometimes!), or while driving (not a good time to get distracted).
These techniques can be practiced anywhere, all the time. It will help your brain create new routines to pull you back to the present when you’re distracted.
6. Focus on your body
Once you’ve noticed that you were distracted, made the choice to be present and said “I’m back”, how do you stay anchored in the moment? One way is to focus on your body. This works particularly well during sex because there’s just so much going on.
Focus on the sensations your feeling. Our daughter just completed a study unit on touch in her science book and we learned that touch is split into three different receptors in the body – pressure, temperature, and pain. In truth there are five different types of touch we can register:
- Tactile (simple touch)
We also have 2 senses most people don’t know about:
- Proprioception – the sense of where the various parts of your body are without looking at them
- Sense of internal surfaces of the body – this is like touch, but uses a different class of receptors and so is classified as a separate sense.
So, there you go, you not only have a 6th sense, but a 7th as well.
The point is that you can use these senses to feel what’s going on in your own body. Focusing on those sensations will not only keep you present, but also more aware of what’s happening, and let you feel and enjoy the experience more.
Depending on how I got distracted will change what I do to focus on the present. But closing my eyes, and really focusing on the sensations I’m feeling helps tremendously.
This is known as “being in your body” rather than “being in your head”.
Another thing to focus on internally is your breathing. Typically long, deep breaths will build arousal and help you climb towards orgasm, whereas slower, shallow breaths help bring in orgasm when you’ve built enough sexual tension. By focusing on your breathing, you can modify how your body responds and it will also keep you grounded.
Lastly, you can physically explore your own body during sex. Unfortunately, we often get taught, inadvertently or not, that masturbation is wrong because you’re touching yourself. This is ludicrous, of course, because we have to touch ourselves when washing. Infants and children touch themselves all the time, out of curiosity, when they have to go to the bathroom, or whatever. The problem isn’t touching yourself, it’s having a solo sexual experience, at least that’s my opinion. These experiences are designed to be shared with a spouse, and once you have one, there is no prohibition to touching yourself sexually.
Feel free to explore your body: some people enjoy the feeling of running their fingers through their hair (lots of nerve endings there), pinching or pulling their own nipples, rubbing their clitoris, or any number of other things.
Exploring your own body during sex can again help you maintain focus and stay present, as well as enhancing the experience. Plus, most spouses find it quite arousing to watch.
Another great way to stay in the presents to keep one of your hands on your spouse’s as they explore your body. You don’t know where they are going to go next or what they are going to do. It makes it that much more exciting.
7. Focus on your immediate surroundings
You can also take special note of what’s around you. The feel of the bed, the glow of the lighting if you are using candles or a dimmed light. The sounds of sex, your spouse, or music if it’s playing.
You can also focus on your spouse’s body. Notice how it looks, feels, tastes, smells, etc.. Or explore it in that same way you’d explore your own. Run your hands down it, pinch nipples, pull hair, spank, grab, whatever you think they might enjoy. Not sure what they like? Check out our Sexploration List resource.
Focusing on your spouse’s body can not only keep you in the here and now, but also helps boost their enjoyment as well.
When you turn the focus of what you are doing to your spouse and watching for their reaction, it also shows them your enthusiasm. For myself, I need lots of different stimuli, so using all my senses helps keep me focused and engaged.
Another thing you can try is making eye contact during sex. This is something that many people find awkward and uncomfortable because it’s so intimate. However, it also helps keep you focused. It’s hard to drift off when you are looking someone in the eyes, especially during an already intimate exchange. Even if it’s only for a moment or two, it really helps bring you back.
Or, you might find that if you just can’t stay present, a change of positions can help snap you back.
You can’t check out when you’re communicating. I won’t say it’s impossible to let your mind drift while you’re talking erotically, but it’s much harder. Describe to your spouse how sex feels, what you want them to do, and what you’re enjoying. Ask questions. Not sure how to start? Check out our introduction to talking dirty resource.
If you both communicate, this can also stop spectatoring. Much of the cause of spectatoring is not knowing things. Not knowing if your spouse is enjoying what you are doing, not knowing if they want to change positions, or whatever. Having them communicate how they are feeling and enjoying the experience helps you not to worry about it as much. Likewise, you communicating with them helps them not to worry.
Another idea to try that my wife suggests is to practice silently narrating what’s happening, what your spouse is doing to you, how it feels, etc..
How to stay connected during sex
There you have it, 8 ways to stay connected during sex, to help stop your mind from wandering, to pull it back when it does and even ramp up the excitement after you come back. Do you have any tips or tricks I missed? Let us know in the comments below.
7 thoughts on “How to be present during sex”
That was a REALLY great post! Lots of food for thought! Can’t wait to try out these strategies! Reminds me alot of mindfulness and self-regulation techniques!
Thanks “R”! Would love to know if they work for you.
great thoughts! Totally valuable.
Super good post! Not just good information, but workable. Great things to practice together. Thank you!
You’re welcome! Thanks for letting us know you enjoyed it!
It was great to have Christina’s thoughts added in, these ideas carry a really solid impact when voiced by a former gatekeeper.
Great advice! I do find my mind wandering. Especially during sermons ? Not so much during sex, still new and exciting.