One of the most common complaints I hear in my sex therapy practice: “I feel stuck in my head when I’m having sex!”
Since this is so prevalent, is there a way to reframe this dilemma that would actually help us have better sex? What (and how) you think during sex can profoundly impact your sexual experience, including genital functioning (!) and if/how you orgasm.
A big part of erotic liberation is the ability to CHOOSE where you are placing your attention, and then to maintain it there. For example, I can choose to place my attention on the sensations that are happening in my body while I’m having sex.
You may not even realize that your mind is wandering during sex, because it happens so frequently. There are many distractions; it can be hard to give ourselves permission for the time it takes to have sex, to have sex even if all of the things on the to-do list aren’t crossed off. Fantasy can be a distraction, especially if one isn’t sharing what’s going on inside one’s head with one’s partner.
“In society’s rush to assure people that sexual fantasies are “normal”—meaning okay --
If the ability to choose where we place our attention is a facet of liberation, then living and feeling inside one’s body as opposed to dwelling in one’s head is an emancipatory practice.
In this way, sex is like meditation; bringing our attention back again and again to what is happening now; we are developing the capacity to be with ourselves and our sensations.
If you are like many people, you are greatly able to be with your suffering. We ruminate and worry, and think repeatedly of our troubles. Our capacity to be with our own pleasure is often much less developed. Staying with sensations that occur during sexual play without attempting to increase them is a challenge.
We rush towards orgasm for so many reasons; habit and conditioning, fear that we won’t get there, unconscious desire for the intense feeling to be finished, unknown wish to retreat from the primal animal body back to the ‘safety’ of the thinking brain are just a few.
I am not advocating for backward growth away from the permission we have worked for to enjoy fantasy and porn.
Instead, take a stand for freedom through choice; meaning, YOU choose how you get turned on.
YOU choose how long you hang out with your pleasure, and YOU choose to feel all the sensation that is available for you to feel.
All that said, you may want to know that there are different ways that folks connect with their sexy.
Donald Mosher was a psychologist and sex researcher who developed a matrix of sexual engagement. His work is a constructed paradigm that can be overlaid your sexuality, to help you better understand how your mind influences your sexual experiences.
Understanding how your sexual mind works can also help you navigate your sexual relationships with partners. Having language to put around experience makes it easier for partners to see how they are alike and how they differ when it comes to getting turned on and feeling pleasure.
Here’s how Dr. Mosher breaks it down:
Each person has a primary mode of accessing their arousal; through erotic trance, partner engagement or role play.
Each of these modes has an energetic tone, communication style, and physical technique. Your psychological preference determines your fantasies, your definition of hot sex, and the types of touch you like. While we each have a primary mode, these aren’t hard-and-fast definitions. Also, we can learn to access arousal through other modes with practice over time.
Partner Engagement focuses on emotional connection with your partner.
This is the sex we see in Hollywood movies. Affectionate sharing and mutual pleasure get you hot. Eye contact, verbal communication, full-body contact and face-to-face positions.
Observing your partner become aroused arouses you, as does their pleasure. There are different levels of partner engagement that run a spectrum of experiences, from predatory to loving.
Erotic Trance focuses on body sensations.
If you prefer this mode, you most likely prefer private sexual encounters with minimal distractions. You may prefer taking turns rather than mutual sexual contact. Even being asked a question about what you like may be quite distracting.
You want to be able to focus on the experience, and not on communication. The normal world falls away. Fantasies are often wordless, just visual images or feelings.
There are varying depths of erotic trance, and at the deepest level you lose awareness of everything except the sensations. You can experience erotic trance either as a giver or as a receiver.
Role Play focuses on sex as a stage.
Performative aspects are important, such as costumes, acting out fantasies, porn, online sex, props that are chosen for their appearance rather than for their sensation, visually interesting positions or settings.
You like to become the role you are playing, and have the flexibility to step into many different sexual selves without shame shutting you down.
Considering which of these descriptions fits you and your partner/s the best gives you valuable information about the mental dimensions of how you access arousal. But the problem that many of my clients face is actually HOW to get into the body so that arousal and pleasure can happen. How can we practice embodiment?
We have all of the tools at our disposal. Breath is an important element. Paying attention to our breathing is a direct route to the body. Practicing bringing our attention back again and again as it wanders is an important skill. We know how to do this, even if it’s hard. So perhaps the real question is this: why is there often so much resistance to being in our bodies? Why do we struggle so with inhabiting our pleasure?
Does this question ring true for you? Instead of beating ourselves up with the “why,” perhaps it is enough to know that we do resist living fully in our bodies and our pleasure, and that we can choose to engage with ourselves gently here.
If indeed it is a goal to be able to get out of your head and into your body during sex, each sexual encounter becomes an opportunity to practice, to make the choice of pleasure again and again.
Acknowledging that we have lots of baggage when it comes to sexuality, and that we are still standing in our commitment as beings worthy of pleasure is enough.
Sometimes we’ll get it, we’ll be in our bodies. Sometimes we won’t.
We succeed through our commitment to examining our resistance, being compassionate with ourselves about it, and gently steering the ship back to pleasure and sensation.