Stressed out? The sexier side of science has good and bad news for you. The bad news: Your stress is keeping you from having the best sex you can. The good news is you can change that with just a few minutes of meditation every day.
You've probably heard that meditation helps you be more present, keep your mind focused and quiet your thoughts. Turns out that's pretty much the hat trick of preventing mental performance anxiety in the bedroom.
Megan Fleming, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist based in New York, uses meditation and breathing exercises to help clients get in tune with their own bodies. To do that, she focuses on getting people to actually relax.
"The foundation of arousal is relaxation," Fleming told Mic. "When people think, 'We gotta hurry up and have sex!,' they just lost the guiding principle. Meditation facilitates relaxation and blood flow along with present-moment awareness."
Presence isn't just a state of mind: It's a state of brain too. For type-A personalities and people who find themselves constantly stressed out, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain right behind your hairline, is like a screaming next-door neighbor, distracting you from the things that matter with anxious thoughts about the world around you.
"You start thinking about painting the ceiling and wishing your partner would hurry up," Fleming told Mic. "There's so much mental chatter. I say to my patients, 'If you had a thought bubble above your head, what's in that dialog box, and is it sexy?' Because a lot of people are not saying very sexy things to themselves when they're having sex."
"A lot of people are not saying very sexy things to themselves when they're having sex."
When the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is hushed, however, you're letting the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of your brain that activates when you're aroused, do its thing.
What's going down: There are other chemicals in your brain that keep you from orgasm.
The most important one is cortisol, a hormone that helps fight stress and, at high levels, can prevent women from reaching orgasm. In your body's grand scheme of fight-or-flight, cortisol is flight. Adrenaline, on the other hand, is fight. It creates constricted energy, cutting off blood flow and decimating any potential boners you might be trying to achieve.
"A big part of meditation is decreasing our cortisol levels," Fleming told Mic. "In our culture, especially with iPhones and people not getting enough sleep, they run around with all of this stress. When people meditate or practice breathing exercises, it really gives them the opportunity to let go of stress and release tension, creating relaxation."
Fortunately, there are plenty of different kinds of meditation, and all of them help you relax.
In and out: One of the most simple methods Fleming mentioned is to work on your breathing. This concept is called coherence breathing. It involves inhaling and exhaling for specific set times, like six seconds in and six seconds out. Try things out and see what works, Fleming recommends — maybe it's kundalini yoga, or guided meditation with a group or a track on Spotify.
For Fleming, and probably for most people, a good place to start is finding something physical to do, because when your body is really active, your mind tends to relax. "For me it's spin class," Fleming says. "You're letting whatever into your consciousness so you aren't holding onto thoughts."
Either way, try to find 20 minutes twice a day to slow your brain down and to be as still as possible. It'll help reduce those stress-fighting cortisol levels, make you concentrate more and be more open sexually because your head is really in it.
Best of all, your partner will notice. And when that happens, mirror neurons, the things in our heads that make us mirror the behavior of another person we're looking at, fire like crazy.
"You can see it in your face but also your body," Fleming told Mic. "You know that feeling when someone looks at you with intention and desire? When we see that, our bodies want to reciprocate."