Science of Sex: Mindfulness as a Treatment for Sexual Dysfunction

This month’s Science of Sex post is directly inspired by the book that I reviewed by Dr. Lori Brotto and, in fact, will draw from several of her studies. Mindfulness at first times to be new agey– more hype that hypothesis. But multiple studies have shown that mindfulness can have a positive impact on many facets of life, sex among them. So this month’s Science of Sex post focuses on that.

Check out previous Science of Sex posts here.

Mindfulness as a Treatment for Sexual Dysfunction

Dr. Brotto does a good job of explaining what mindfulness is in her book: it’s an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, that allows you to create a distance with them, which can reduce the impact of pain, for example. But mindfulness also helps you remain more in the moment to focus on sensation. We’ll start with Brotto’s work since she’s done so much.

In one study, Brotto and her team found that while mindfulness didn’t necessarily increase arousal, it does increase women’s’ awareness of their physical/genital arousal, in turn increasing arousal concordance (symmetry between observed physical and genital arousal).

Another study by Brotto et al found that a group of 31 endometrial cancer survivors experienced improvements in multiple aspects of sexual functioning — desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm,  and satisfaction — after participating in three sessions of mindfulness-based cognitive behavior therapy. And the improvements remained six months later.

Yet another study by Brotto found four sessions of a “mindfulness-based therapy significantly improved sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, satisfaction, and overall sexual functioning”. Continued sessions resulted in further improvements in genital and mental excitement. Any immediate improvements continued to a 6-month followup.

Finally, a 2008 study found similar improvements in women’s’ sexual function when exposed to mindfulness training. Furthermore, women who had previously experienced sexual abuse benefited the most from mindfulness compared to all participants.

Clearly, Dr. Brotto has done a lot of research on mindfulness and sexual function and talks about a 60% increase in sexual function after mindfulness in one of her studies. I think we can expect that to continue. But she’s not the only one. Time and again, studies suggest that mindfulness could be key to an improved sex life.

One such study compared how long it took men and women to register their physical arousal, finding that men did it significantly quicker than women. Mindfulness meditation enabled women to require less time to notice bodily responses, putting them on par with men. Additionally, women who practiced mindfulness were less judgmental toward themselves. Others found that mindfulness may be helpful to people who experienced sexual abuse as children.

Yet another study posited that people with more disproportional mindfulness would be less likely to engage in sexually compulsive behaviors or use drugs and found this to be true. Finally, a survey of women who completed mindfulness-based therapy online only found improvements in sexual function.

Studies on mindfulness have focuses on women, perhaps because they’re more likely to experience certain sorts of sexual dysfunction (low desire, difficulty with arousal, impaired pleasure, etc), but it’s reasonable that men could improve their sex lives by learning and practicing mindfulness, too. Some sources even state that mindfulness could help people with ED and at least one study focuses on sensate touch, a type of mindfulness program originally developed by Masters and Johnson, as a possible aid here. I’d like to see mindfulness applied to men. Otherwise, the science is promising.

Further Reading

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Dandi Lucas

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