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Not Feeling Present During Sex? The Reason Is More Common Than You Think

Feeling pleasure requires surrender.

Sex

“My stomach looks huge in this position.”

“Did I remember to take the trash out?”

“I forgot to call that client back. Shit!”


“He doesn't look like he’s enjoying this at all.”

“This doesn’t feel good. Is something wrong with me?”

“Why am I taking so long to ‘finish’?”

At some point or another, I’ve had these thoughts during sex. If you’ve ever battled distracting thoughts when you’re supposed to be enjoying sex, you are not alone! We are thinking about everything from our cellulite to whatever random noise is happening in the background.

This phenomenon is known in the world of psychology as “spectatoring.” Essentially, we are “watching” ourselves engage in sex and pleasure, while also having an anxious dialogue about everything that is or isn’t happening.

And I know what you’re thinking, “The sex can’t be that good if you’re so distracted, sis!” But spectatoring can happen even with the most skilled and attentive partners.

But why? How?

We Don’t Live Mindful Lives

All day long, our minds are going a mile a minute. We are constantly toggling between Zoom meetings and laundry, to social media and social engagements, to lengthy daily to-do lists, and back again. This creates a “busy brain” which is not good for sex! The busy brain life we live is hard to shut off once we hit the sheets. We all spend a lot of time in our heads and we rarely connect with our bodies.

Tell me if you’ve ever been driving home from work, only to arrive at your destination with no memory of how you got there. Your body may be on autopilot while your brain is off doing other things. This happens in a lot of other scenarios. Fast forward to when I actually settle down to self-pleasure or have sex with a partner, it’s hard to trigger the mind to suddenly be reconnected with the body and focus on the sensations that are happening.

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Trauma

Not all trauma that I’m speaking about is sexual trauma but a good portion of it is. If you are someone who has had some level of sexual violence happen to them, it can show up in your consensual sexual situations. This can cause you to go into a protective mode and disassociate or not feel present during the act.

Our brains are very complex, but they are also really good at trying to protect us from harm. If you are someone who has experienced harm, it’s not uncommon for you to experience disassociation, or feeling disconnected from your body.

Being Performative

Orgasms aren’t the only things people fake in bed. We fake moans, body language, and facial expressions. It isn’t always because we aren’t into the sex we are having. Instead, it's because we have a particular image in mind of what pleasure looks like. So we try to perform pleasure for our partner. And if you’re performing, there's no way to be truly in tune with your body!

Oftentimes that means not giving our bodies enough time to really warm up before sex or self-pleasure. So then we spent a lot of time in our head trying to perform! This leads to us wondering why we are taking so long to orgasm, or why we don’t feel pleasure in a deep and authentic way.

Regardless of what the cause is, I’m sure the question on your mind is, “What the hell can I do to fix it?”

Sexual Mindfulness: 4 Ways To Be More Relaxed & More Present During Sex

1. Turn to your breath.

Our breath is powerful! Deep breathing is the most underrated sex tip out there. You wanna feel more focused? Breathe deeply! You wanna experience more pleasure? Breathe deeply! Do you want to feel more present? Breathe deeply! There is a reason people pay good money to sit in silent meditation. There is a lot to be gained from intentional breathwork.

During sex we often find ourselves tensing up or even holding our breath without realizing it. And while some tension is necessary for orgasm, our bodies need to have a balance of relaxation to allow proper blood flow. The next time you find yourself feeling distracted or busy brain during sex, try taking a few deep, slow breaths into your diaphragm to help you feel more present and more relaxed.

2. Focus on your senses.

Get out of your head and into your body! In order to fully access pleasure, we need to focus on grounding ourselves in our own bodies. If you find yourself wandering off during sex, try this grounding exercise: Think of one thing you can see, one thing you smell, one thing you feel, one thing you hear, and one thing you taste to help ground you. Our five senses are an incredible way to bring us back into our bodies and we can easily use them to ground us during sex.

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3. Change your environment.

You may roll your eyes when you read this but “setting the mood” can be a game-changer. Get the lights just right, turn up your favorite playlist, light a candle! And make sure the door is LOCKED. Be free from any distractions and submerge yourself into the moment with your lover.

4. Reflect

A lot of us just roll over and continue on with our day when we are having sex. We never spend time reflecting on the sex we are having with ourselves or with our partners! To be honest, the “debrief” after sex is one of my favorite parts of sex. Sex is about pleasure, but sex is also about learning, growing, and reflecting. Try to spend at least five minutes after sex reflecting with your partner or with yourself if you’re masturbating. In an effort to reflect and connect, consider asking yourself the following questions after sex:

  1. What was the most enjoyable part of this experience?
  2. How did I show up for myself and/or my partner?
  3. Think of a word to summarize the sex you just had.

It’s so important to remember that no one is perfect. Above all, have grace with yourself and remember that if you don’t do all of these things perfectly, that is okay. Finding a practice that works for your life takes time, but the journey is always worth it.

Featured image by Getty Images

Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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Featured image by Getty Images

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