'I find it difficult to keep focused during sex'

Sex advice with Suzi Godson

I am having difficulty keeping focused when I am in bed with my boyfriend. I get one thought about a parking ticket and totally lose the moment. I feel guilty about it, and obviously it’s not something I can share with my partner. I find it really hard to let go.

You are not the only one. In fact, there is even a term for it: Non-erotic cognitive distraction. It has such a detrimental effect on arousal that countless studies have been done on it. It has also been correlated with less satisfaction, less consistent orgasm and, of course, a higher incidence of faking orgasm.

It is not clear whether getting distracted leads to lower sexual satisfaction, or whether people who are finding sex less satisfying are more easily distracted, but actively trying to suppress unwanted thoughts doesn’t seem to work. In fact, it makes matters worse because it sets up a vicious cycle where worrying about distraction becomes a distraction in itself.

The issue was first identified in the 1970s by the pioneering sex researchers Masters and Johnson. They coined the term “spectatoring” to describe how, rather than immersing themselves in the sensory aspects of a sexual experience, some people observe themselves from a third-party perspective during sex.

Masters and Johnson also developed their “sensate focus” technique to help couples to learn how to be present in their bodies, to “focus” on their own experience, and to turn off unhelpful distractions.

Sensate focus builds gently from non-erotic to erotic touch, and would be a useful technique for you to learn, but it is something that you would have to do with your partner. If you find it hard to let go in general, mindfulness might be a better option because it is something that you can practise on your own. There are lots of free online courses and apps and you could also try Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

The Canadian psychologist Lori Brotto has been successfully using mindfulness to help women suffering from low sexual desire and arousal. The women are taught how to “stay in the moment”, rid their minds of unwanted distraction and tune in to physical sensation. When these techniques are incorporated into sex, they have been shown to improve desire, arousal, and satisfaction.

Brotto’s research shows that mindfulness improves a woman’s ability to identify and be aware of physical signs of arousal. This is important because there is a great deal of research to show that even healthy women will ignore responses in their body that indicate arousal if they feel inhibited, anxious or distracted.

In 2014, Professor Pascal De Sutter at the department of sexology and family science at the University of Louvain in Belgium found that women who were more focused on their physical sensations during intercourse found it a lot easier to reach orgasm. The women in De Sutter’s study who had easier orgasms also reported having more erotic thoughts during sex, and this is definitely something you should try. Replacing unconscious thoughts about parking fines with actively erotic distractions forces you to be present to the experience and is a highly effective way of boosting your arousal.

During sex, create a mental narrative around what is happening. Concentrate on every detail and almost narrate it to yourself. Telling yourself the step-by-step story of exactly what you are feeling, hearing, seeing, touching and smelling tricks your brain into concentrating on the erotic rather than the mundane. This tunes you into sensation and makes sex a much more enjoyable and engaged experience.

Send your question to suzigodson@mac.com


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