Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire

Some of you may not read as many educational books about sex as I do, so you may not realize that this year has been pretty active with releases (this does not actually include my last book review, Becoming Cliterate, which was released last year). It’s why I’ve been reading about sex non-stop for the past several months. It’s been a few years since this has been the case; although, the break from reading about astrophysics certainly was welcome.

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Even though Better Sex Through Mindfulness was just published a couple months ago and I was able to get my hands on a digital copy immediately, the author came across my radar last year. You see, Lori Brotto, a psychologist, is one of the women I wrote about in my post about women who study sex.  Let me refresh with the description of her work because it leads us directly to the theme of Brotto’s book:

Lori Brotto has studied the disconnect that women often experience between mental and physical arousal. Brotto’s research suggests that the way that women multitask and tend to be detached from their bodies contributes to this. Brotto suggests mindfulness as one possible solution

So her work and research have led her to write a book directly about how mindfulness can help women overcome their sexual issues. Brotto is one of many who are adamant that the solution to low sexual desire cannot be fixed simply by a little pink pill (Emily Nagoski, who wrote the foreword, shares similar views). And while the tagline of this book focuses on desire. Better Sex Through Mindfulness goes beyond how mindfulness can be helpful with sex drive and focuses on topics such as heightening pleasure and reducing the impact from pain as well.

As a researcher, Brotto has worked with women to help them solve and alleviate the symptoms of their sexual issues, and she draws heavily from her own research when she makes conclusions in Better Sex Through Mindfulness. When she tells you that women have increased sex drive as well as pleasure from sex due to a something as small as mindfulness, you believe her and wonder if we’ve been treating sexual complications wrong all along. At one point, Brotto mentions how “mood, sense of well-being, body image, self-esteem, and how a woman feels about her partner turned out to be far stronger predictors of her level of sexual desire than a single hormone,” which really drives this point home (later she highlights how opinions about sexuality can also be more significant than hormones). Not only may some treatment options for sexual dysfunction be misguided, but the focus of hormones as cause and treatment for sexual dysfunction after menopause may also overestimate the function of hormones in sexual function.

But let me back up because by calling mindfulness ‘small,’ I am being quite reductionist. Really, mindfulness can be life-changing, and Dr. Brotto takes time to explore the definition and use of mindfulness as well as its history (the word wasn’t using when Masters and Johnson were teaching about sex, for example, but their sensate practices were certainly mindful!). She compares and contrasts mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy, with which I was familiar from my own experiences.

Furthermore, mindfulness can be difficult for some people, and Dr. Brotto emphasizes that willingness to try and practice mindfulness as key to its effectiveness. As someone who has struggled with meditation and mindfulness in the past, I think this is especially pertinent. It struck me that getting help to master mindfulness might be the catalyst to success in people who similarly struggle. Indeed, Dr. Brotto points out how trying to force yourself to relax is a misunderstanding of mindfulness and can be counterproductive.

Brotto often points to others’ research as well. In her book, she talks about studies that have highlighted differences in the brains of women who have healthy versus low sexual desire. One difference may be smaller amounts of grey matter in the brains of women who have low sexual desire. Brotto explains how women with low sexual desire spend more time monitoring their sexual performances rather than enjoying sex — and research backs it up!

Better Sex Through Mindfulness isn’t all about the argument that mindfulness can be helpful, however. Scattered through the books are practices that readers can use to (try to) improve their own sex lives. Admittedly, I am not currently struggling with sexual issues, but I found the reminder to be mindful during my everyday life useful. Of course, this book also offered something to sate my appetite for sexual science. Of particular note was how mindfulness can assist women who suffer from pain during sex due to various conditions. While mindfulness does not lessen the pain (and in some instances, medical professionals are not sure how to do this), it does enable women to enjoy sex and intimacy by reducing the intensity of their perception of pain and by encouraging a wider variety of intimacy.

I also highlighted a blurb regarding how sexual concordance differs between men and women. Women experience a lower level of +.26 than men’s level of +.66 (with 1.0 being perfect concordance between mental and physical arousal). This book was full of interesting tidbits like that.

In Better Sex Through Mindfulness, Brotto makes the case for her mindfulness programs by revealing the results of surveys filled out by the participants. She states that “sexual satisfaction increases by 60 percent” from prior to the program. She also illustrates how learning mindfulness can equate to long-term sexual improvement and not just improvement in the present. Even women who were dubious about the effects of mindfulness found it to be helpful. Certain groups of women (those who were the most distresses prior) even benefited the most.

In the end, Dr. Brotto’s book shows that not only is there hope when it comes to sexual dysfunctions such as low desire or pain but that the solution might be easier and more accessible than people realize, all without needing pharmaceutical intervention. Although geared toward women, I can imagine men would benefit from this book, too.

Better Sex Through Mindfulness ends with an appendix full of resources, either for women to get help to improve sexual function. This book is ideal for any woman (or man) who wants to get more out of her sex life, but some professionals might also benefit from reading it and incorporating mindfulness into their treatment and coping strategies.

If you think you might benefit, you can buy it at any number of retailers. A hard copy might be especially useful for partaking in activities, but I usually prefer Kindle versions for highlighting and taking notes. Get the digital version for less than $10. It’s only a couple bucks more for physical!

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Dandi Lucas

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