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A Sex Coach on How to Cultivate Sexual Mindfulness

Dr. JennLet’s talk about sex baby. Cleo sat down with intimacy expert, sex coach, and author of From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women, Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D., (aka Dr. Jenn) to discover how women can empower themselves to do exactly that. The trick is to give yourself permission to feel more worthy of love and great sex. Here’s how.

You open your book about how women can find and embrace their authentic sexual selves with a story about the first time you heard about menstruation.

That’s right. When I was in 4th grade, they separated the boys and girls, and the female teacher showed us this cartoon about menstruation. At first, I didn't understand the concept, but slowly it dawned on me that this was going to happen to my body. I started to get warm all over, and then I threw up in front of everyone, which was horribly humiliating.

How does this experience relate to sexual mindfulness?

That was my earliest memory of shame around having a female body and the natural things that our bodies do. It speaks to how important it is to pay attention to the somatic reactions inside our bodies because that's where we can take back our power. When we begin to notice our visceral emotional reactions and remember to be kind to ourselves and breathe through it, we can experience empowerment like never before.

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days, but what does it have to do with sex and sexuality?

Everything! There are three main ways that I address it in my work:

The first is mindfully reflecting on the messages you received in childhood and early experiences around sexuality, body image, and intimacy, as these probably don’t work for you today. We have to shine a bright light on where these messages came from and what they are, and realize that they don’t have to define our sexual experiences anymore.

The second part examines your current relationships: Where are your patterns? When do you lash out? When do you shut down? When do you want to numb or distract yourself? Those are the main four paths we go down when we're triggered. Mindfulness is all about taking ownership of what your interpretations  and emotions are and where you feel them. It’s about speaking from that place of vulnerability and authenticity and creating a safe space for your partner to do the same.

The third way explores your sexual encounters mindfully and where you are distracted.  Do you have body image concerns or performance anxiety? Maybe you’re worried it's taking too long for you to come or if you have your period. You can acknowledge these thoughts then choose to bring yourself back. And by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and authentic with your partner in the moment — you experience real emotional intimacy.

What are the benefits of cultivating sexual mindfulness?

The great thing about feeling sexual is it feels powerful. It has a vitality to it — and we could all use more of that right now. That neurochemical cocktail of feeling turned on makes us feel more confident. Mindful intimacy with yourself or your partner only takes five minutes and is about honoring the little things you can do every day.

For example, you could start a sexual encounter by just looking into each other’s eyes and breathing in sync for a couple of minutes, and then lightly start touching each other’s arms and face. Any time you notice that you’re distracted (or afraid of feeling this vulnerable), acknowledge that thought or feeling and choose to bring your focus back to your five senses and your emotional connection with your partner in the moment. Cultivating this skill of presence, focus, and connection helps you better attune to what’s happening inside of you and also what’s happening with your partner. Over time you can bring this level of awareness into experiencing pleasure and giving pleasure, asking for what you want, and liking yourself more.

Passion and intimacy can be a challenge during this pandemic, so how do you keep things steamy?

Start by exploring both of your reactions and fears to this stress. Come at it from a kind, gentle, curious space - no blaming, no shaming. Now look at passion. Are you lacking desire? Feeling neglected or pushed? Many people don't feel horny when they're in a stress response, while some feel loved, connected, and nurtured through physical contact and sex. It’s best to get present in your body first, and then tackle getting present in your sexual body. And have empathy for your partner's feelings and acknowledge when and where you’re wired differently. If sex feels like the farthest possible thing you can do, but your partner misses it, you can try some simple physical touch. I recommend a melting hug, which is one of my favorite exercises to give couples. It's not like just a passing hug; you hold each other while taking deep breaths together.  You literally can feel your chests melting together. It is such a good stress reduction — you are creating this little sacred minute to reunite and to prioritize connection in your relationship.

And what can you offer to those who are in isolation alone? 

I ordered a ukulele :-) at least I’m diddling something. I, of course, recommend masturbation. Try slowing down and exploring your body more, maybe not doing what you usually do and try something different, like new sex toys. You might learn some new things about your sexual responsiveness. To help, I have a free audio download of a guided visualization designed for women who want to experience masturbation in a meditative, mindful manner.

No complaints here!

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D., is a sociologist, intimacy and communication coach, and author of From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. Dr. Jenn is a national speaker on couples’ intimacy, sexual consent, gender communication, women’s empowerment, erotic play, and mindful sex. She has presented two TEDx Talks, is the co-host of the podcast Sex Talk with Clint & The Doc, and has over 1.6 million hits on her In the Den with Dr. Jenn YouTube video series. For more fun, educational, and sexy info, follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

This interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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