I can’t tell you how many grocery lists I’ve compiled in my brain during sex. There I’ll be, right in the sweaty, naked thick of it, and I’ll suddenly remember that I’m fresh out of milk and coffee.
I’ll eventually redirect my attention to the man below me, but seconds later, I’m wondering how my stomach looks from his angle. I spend more time in my mind than in my body during sex.
And I’m not alone in this phenomenon. In talking with my female friends, it seems we all have an issue getting outside of our heads in the bedroom. We’re constantly considering whether our partner feels good, what our bodies look like, whether we forgot to turn our hair straighteners off, and whether or not we’re actually enjoying ourselves. So when I came across Jessica Graham’s new book “Good Sex,” I was immediately intrigued.
Graham is a spiritual teacher who, through her own mindfulness practice, gradually worked her way through her own sexual trauma. “There’s no graduation point,” she says. “You’re never going to get to a point where you’re completely sexually enlightened and you know it all. But this practice helps you to grow and evolve and be more present.” Through her practice, Graham helps her clients achieve a greater spiritual awakening through mindfulness and sex.
A lot of the issues Graham identifies have to do with the ways we’re socialized to think about sex. “Everyone is so orgasm-focused,” she says. “Both men and women know that they’re supposed to have this thing called an orgasm. And being so singularly focused means that they’re checked out to the wider spectrum of sex.”
And while men are also socialized to be mainly focused on the orgasm, Graham says that it’s mostly cisgendered women who tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to sexual pleasure. “A lot of women have experienced some kind of sexual trauma in their lives,” she says. “It’s rare for me to be in a group of women where at least 80 percent of them haven’t experienced some kind of sexual trauma. So why would they want to be in their own bodies during sex?”
There’s also the issue of pleasure, Graham says. Female pleasure isn’t taught the same way male pleasure is — to both men and women. So men don’t know what feels good to women, and women don’t know what feels good to themselves.
The solution, according to Graham? Get in touch with your body. And she claims that the best way to do that is through mindfulness and meditation. So I asked her to treat me like a client, which meant she’d give me a series of tasks to help me get outside my own head during sex and masturbation.
I already have a meditation practice — 10 minutes a morning, I focus on my breathing. Whenever thoughts come up, I just take my attention back to my breath. But three days a week, Graham told me to practice what she calls Focus on Self. Whenever a thought or emotion would come up, I’d focus on what was going on around it. How did a specific thought make me feel? What did I see in my mind’s eye when I felt a certain emotion? Through this practice, Graham says, we begin to recognize that we are the ones that connect thoughts and emotions — they aren’t inherently connected. So by recognizing that we have control over both, and that we are greater than both, we recognize that we can choose how we let both affect us.
I tried this type of meditation for the first time the day after a conversation about a family member who was trying for a baby. When I closed my eyes and got to breathing, the first thought that popped into my brain was, “Everyone in your family has someone special in their lives and you’re all alone.” This is a common (and, truly, super unwelcome) thought in my mind, and it immediately makes me feel anxious. So I focused on that thought, and why it made me feel anxious, and I forced myself to meditate on that for a while. Eventually, I was able to reframe the thought and the emotion in my brain, which instantly diffused the anxiety. It was a pretty powerful moment, and it helped me to see that the only thing connecting my thoughts and emotions was myself.
Along with the Focus on Self, Graham also told me to incorporate mindful masturbation into my routine. My ears immediately perked up at this suggestion. “Masturbation can be so regimented for so many of us,” she said. “We know exactly what to do to get ourselves off. It’s just in-and-out, and we can be so checked out during it.”
So Graham said that a few times a week, I was to get in touch with my body for about 10 to 15 minutes. That meant laying back, closing my eyes, and touching myself all over my body — no toys or porn allowed. “And don’t go straight for your genitals,” she said. “Start with parts of your body you don’t usually pay attention to, and focus on what feels good and what doesn’t.”
So I did just that. I laid back, closed my eyes, and started to explore myself. I massaged my scalp — that felt awesome. I ran my fingers across my lips — also great. I touched my breasts, which was not as exciting as I may have led a few partners to believe it was. I spent a full 15 minutes working myself over, tapping into what felt great and what didn’t. It was nothing like I’d ever done before, and it definitely felt silly at first. But eventually, after a few tries, I came to look forward to my mindful masturbation sessions.
The last charge Graham gave me had nothing to do with the bedroom. “I want you to notice pleasure in your everyday life,” she said. And that didn’t have to do with sexual pleasure at all. She said to pay attention to the little things that made me feel good — be it the taste of my morning cup of coffee, the way the air smells, the color of a book cover, or the feel of the sun on my face.
“Acknowledge it, but don’t try to hold on to it,” she said. “Just enjoy it for that moment and then move on.” As a New Yorker, I can admit that I don’t take a whole lot of time to stop and notice pleasure in my everyday life. But once I made it a priority, I noticed how often pleasure actually popped up in my daily life. I enjoyed the smell of the oranges during my food shopping, and how nice my new sweater felt on my skin. I relished in the feeling of slipping into bed after a long day. Soon, I didn’t have to remind myself to notice it — it just became second nature.
But what about sex? Well, I haven’t gotten a sack session with a partner under my belt yet. (One of the woes of being a single woman is that sex isn’t always readily available to you.) But I can tell you that my self-love has become a lot more enjoyable. I feel more in-tune with my body, and the more I follow Graham’s practices, the more familiar I’m becoming with myself and my emotions. I can’t see how that wouldn’t translate into a more positive partnered sex experience. I’m more present with myself, which means I’ll be more present with a partner.
I’ve also noticed that presence in my everyday life, too. I feel more in control of my emotions overall, since I’m learning how my thoughts influence them. And I’m recognizing things that actually make me feel good, and prioritizing them. Graham says that the goal of all of this isn’t just to make sex better, but to make you more present in your everyday life. “And it’s always evolving,” she says. “You’re constantly learning more about yourself, which is the goal.”
I’m looking forward to seeing how this practice influences sex with a partner. But I’m pretty certain I will no longer be making grocery lists in bed.