I remember last Valentine’s Day as my wife and I had dinner for two in a very romantic French Restaurant, a tradition we’ve carried on for the past 40 or so odd years. We left our cell phones in the car, had a nice before-dinner drink at the bar, and settled in for a sumptuous three course meal complete with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries for dessert.
As we relaxed and caught up on the day’s events we were shocked by how many couples sat quietly at their tables, cell phones in hand, texting and surfing as the waiters brought their food and removed their plates. They rarely spoke to each other, and seemed more interested in the “content” on their phones than in each other.
It was sad to see this behavior in these couples out for a nice dinner on an evening that is traditionally devoted to lovers of all ages. While it was nice to see that they took the time to go out to dinner with each other on this special night, it was obvious to us that they were distracted and disconnected from each other and the entire experience.
This got me thinking about what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about.
Is Valentine’s Day about fancy dinners, romantic greeting cards, flowers, champagne, chocolate, sexy underwear, or erotic gifts? Or is it about something more?
While these symbols of Valentine’s Day are nice and can be genuine expressions of love and affection, they often are just shallow substitutes for what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about: a time when lovers express their deep affection and undivided attention, whether it is in the dining room sharing a special meal or in the bedroom making love.
In other words, Valentine’s Day should be about sexual mindfulness and paying special attention to your lover.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is best described as moment-by-moment awareness. There are four dimensions of mindful moments. They are:
- present centered
Mindful moments present centered because they always focus on the present, never the past or the future. Most of your thoughts are one step removed from the present moment because they focus on the past or future.
Mindful moments are non-conceptual because during them you merely notice the occurrence of something and your thoughts and feelings related to it. You don’t try to figure out why you are thinking and feeling what you are, you simply notice and accept what is going on.
Mindful moments are non-judgmental because they are based on accepting reality for what it is. You do not judge or compare a person or an experience against some arbitrary standard, you just accept them for what they are.
Lastly, mindful moments are non-verbal. They do not involve talking. Speaking involves another layer of cognitive activity that takes you out of the present moment.
What is Sexual Mindfulness?
Sexual mindfulness applies the four dimensions of mindful moments to your sex life. Let me give you an example.
Imagine that you are making love with your partner. Here is what would be going on if you were doing it mindfully:
Present Centered – You would be fully attentive to what is going on with your partner. You would be experiencing your partner with all five of your senses and your thoughts would only focus on what is going on with your two bodies as you make love. Your thoughts would not drift to something that happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow.
Non Judgmental – You would not judge or compare your partner or your lovemaking to anything. You would simply enjoy and accept your partner and your lovemaking for what it was, not for what it could or should be according to some societal standard.
Non-Verbal – You would speak very little. Instead, you would communicate with your eyes, hands, mouth, the rest of your body and your spirit.
Non- Conceptual- You won’t be trying try to figure anything out or anticipate what might happen. Instead of thinking about why things are going the way are or how they might play out, you would simply note what is going on and enjoy it.
Long-Term Sexual Relationships and Mindfulness
If you have been in a sexual relationship with your partner for several years you’ve probably experimented with a variety of different sexual activities and have developed a pattern of behavior that is both satisfying and comfortable.
You probably fallen into a kind of groove in your lovemaking that starts with a particular form of snuggling, kissing, or “foreplay” and progress into different activities leading to penetration and eventually orgasm.
The upside to this predictable pattern is that it is both comfortable and effective. You feel comfortable with the activities, the sequencing, the time spent, and it achieves whatever desired effect you are looking for (usually orgasm).
The downside of being in a long-term sexual relationship with a predictable pattern is that it is easy for your mind to say “been there, done that” and get distracted. It is almost as if you can perform your sexual pattern on autopilot and get the results you are expecting.
If you are like most of my clients and students in long-term sexual relationships you’ve already had many sexual encounters with your long-term partner while actually being on autopilot. This is very common and has a lot to do with how your mind thinks about sex.
How Your Mind Thinks About Sex with Your Partner
Your mind thinks of your sex life with your partner as a documentary film. It is made up of all the individual sexual scenes that you have spliced together over the years with your current partner and past sexual partners.
Each scene in your movie is made up of thoughts, feelings, lines of dialogue (your self-talk about your sex life) and mental images (individual picture frames in your movie).
Some of these scenes relate to your biological sex/biological gender. These are things that are associated with being a genetic male or female. This is mostly related to your sexual anatomy and physiology ( internal and external sexual organs, hormones and hormonal release patterns, ability to conceive , menstruate etc.).
Other scenes relate to your gender identity and gender role. Your gender identity is your internal view of how you see yourself as a male, female, both, or neither. Your gender role is how you portray this identity in your outward behavior.
Lastly some of these scenes relate to your sexual orientation and actual sexual behavior with men and woman over the course of your life. This includes everything from the partners you’ve been attracted to and desire sexually and the specific activities and patterns of behavior you’ve engaged in with them.
As you can imagine, not all of the scenes in your personal sexual documentary film went smoothly. In many cases there were scenes that caused you lots of emotional pain and suffering.
Many of them are so painful that you really wish they didn’t exist at all and that you could just edit them away. Unfortunately, unlike editing real movies, you can’t cut scenes out from your sexual documentary and leave them on the cutting room floor. They are forever tucked away in your mind and cannot be edited out.
The thoughts, feelings, mental images, and personal scripts linked to these scenes occurred under specific circumstances (contexts) at different points in your life (time frames). You have scenes related to every stage of your development including the time spent with your partner.
All of your past sexual scenes, but particularly those created with your partner serve as frames of reference that influence how you perceive current and future sexual experiences.
These past frames of reference can be very helpful and a turn-on when your mind uses them to anticipate future sexual encounters that are positive, pleasurable, and helpful to your relationship.
However, they can also be a turn off when your mind uses these past frames of reference to create new scenes that are negative, not pleasurable, and unhelpful to your relationship. These actually create barriers to having the kind of sex life you want and deserve.
For example, imagine that you are horny. You had sex with your partner yesterday and it was enjoyable for both of you. The only difference is that your partner is satisfied and could probably go a few days without even thinking about sex but you are ready and eager right now.
As soon as you start thinking about approaching your partner your mind jumps back to the past when similar scenes played out. In the past, your partner generally reacted to your request for sex the next day by being annoyed or getting mad at you and accusing you of “never being satisfied.”
Your mind brings all of the thoughts, feelings, dialogue, and mental images of these past scenes into the present moment and then projects them into the future. You close your eyes and anticipate how your request is going to play out based on how it has played out many times in the past.
The emotional distress this causes you is enough to make you back off and not even approach your partner. You decide to masturbate and please yourself rather than risk being hurt by your partner’s anticipated refusal.
Even though the scenes that your mind recreates happened years ago when you were a totally different person and in a different place in your relationship with your partner, they still exert a powerful effect in the present moment and the future.
Getting Stuck in a Sexual Rut
When your mind dredges up the past to create barriers to future sexual pleasure it doesn’t mean you are crazy or sexually dysfunctional; you are just stuck in a sexual rut.
You get stuck in a sexual rut because your mind lacks the psychological flexibility to overcome the barriers posed by your unhelpful sexual thoughts, feelings, personal scripts and mental images.
The sad thing is that many adults just like you who are in long-term loving and committed relationships get stuck and either don’t know how to get unstuck or give up trying. They stay stuck for months and even years and wonder where the passion, desire, and sexual satisfaction went and if they can ever get it back.
The truth is that everyone in a long-term committed relationship gets stuck sexually from time to time. We all have unhelpful sexual thoughts, feelings, personal scripts, and mental images associated with ourselves, our partners or our relationships.
Sometimes we get stuck on body image issues. We don’t see ourselves or our partners as the young, sexy people we fell in love with. We somehow don’t match up to the societal images of sexy men and women any more (if we ever did) and find it harder and harder to get turned on by our partners or turn on ourselves.
Other times we get stuck on a gender role issues. Instead of seeing ourselves as sexual creatures filled with desire and passion we see ourselves as parents, grandparents, care-takers, middle aged or old people, and we allow societal stereotypes about how we should be take precedent over what we want to be.
Sometimes we get stuck on sexual behavior issues. We have these outdated sexual scenes in our minds about how we performed as men and women in our 20’s and now that we are in our 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and simply can’t perform the same way we did in our youth we feel inadequate. Instead of accepting at our sensuality and sexuality for what it is, and enjoying the heck out of it, we get stuck on believing that this is not good enough or somehow inferior to what it was in our 20’s.
How to Get Unstuck
To get unstuck you need to learn how to approach sex with your long-term partner with a “beginner’s mind” as the Buddhists say. In other words, you need to build sexual mindfulness.
In reality, each day you, your partner, your sexual response, and the context of your sexual relationship changes.
Because of this you have the ability to experience sex with your partner as something new and special if you approach it mindfully, without prejudging how things will play out.
Using all five of your senses and the power of your sexual mind you can discover new joy and sexual pleasure with your partner regardless of how long you have been together or how many times you have had sex, if you allow yourself to.
In my new Sexual Mindfulness Course I repeatedly ask people to “notice” their thoughts, personal scripts, mental images, and emotions as they engage in the mindful sexual activities I teach them in the course.
A big part of sexual mindfulness is being aware of the intrusion of outdated and unhelpful thoughts, personal scripts, mental images, and emotions and shifting your focus off of them and back onto the present moment and experiencing your partner and current sexual activity with all five senses.
Imagine what your sex life could be like if each time you made love with your partner you did so mindfully, with all five of your senses.
- Your mind stayed in the present moment, fully experiencing the sensations of touch, taste, smell, sight and touch as you and your partner made love.
- You were so locked into the present moment that your mind did not drift to the past or future, or try to figure anything out or solve any problems.
- You didn’t compare your partner or the experience to some set of societal expectations. Instead you gave yourself completely and accepted the gift of your partner’s sexual offering with grace and gratitude.
This is not some fantasy or sexual lifestyle beyond your reach. It has nothing to do with age, beauty, penis or breast size or other physical attributes, lingerie, jewelry, perfume, make-up, or any of the variables society equates with great sex.
Ordinary people can have extraordinary sex with the same partner for years and years if they approach each experience with grace and gratitude and a beginner’s mind.