Our high-stress, dysfunctional and busy world is witnessing a shift. People are increasingly switching off, taking a pause and tuning in. In turn, meditation and mindfulness practices are seeing more success than ever, becoming an integral part of many people’s lives.
Meditation apps like Headspace, which now has 16 million users, are bringing mindfulness to the mainstream, while yoga, the ultimate meditation-based exercise, is entering workplaces and classrooms, glinting through the stresses of modern life like an iPhone screen in a dark room. The benefits of the ancient practice are just too good for most to miss: one study found meditation actually changes the make-up of the brain, improving concentration, reducing stress and regulating emotions.
The upside of meditation for our sex lives is less well known, especially when it comes to the female orgasm. But an emerging pool of knowledge connecting meditation and sex suggests that being in tune with our bodies can improve our sense of touch – and lead to better orgasms.
Several studies have shown that women who practise meditation experience higher levels of desire and sexual function, which increases the chance of having more intense orgasms. One found that practising mindfulness improved concordance in sex – the association between arousal and genital response – for women with a history of sexual difficulties or reduced libido. Another study in 2017 detected a direct connection between meditation and sex, finding that women who meditated had higher levels of sexual function and desire.
"It’s about getting in the right space while having sex," says Jessica Boston, a London-based cognitive hypnotherapist who helps women overcome sex-based issues through meditation. "To be in the moment with your partner is really important, to be thinking about connection, how it feels, [and] focusing on your body’s [sensations]."
Roughly 25% of women struggle to reach orgasm or have never had one at all, while women who do have them only orgasm during 50-70% of sexual encounters, according to estimates. "A lot of women aren’t thinking about the right things in a sexual environment," says Boston. From overthinking the other person’s enjoyment to being anxious about body hang-ups, Boston says many women are distracted during sex. Meditation – being in the moment and focusing on a particular thought or activity – can help bring someone back into a sexy situation.
"Whenever you’re concentrating on being in the moment, that always heightens whatever it is you’re focusing on," says Boston. "When you feel pain you can manoeuvre it and make it stronger or less intense. It’s the same for pleasure. If touch is pleasure, and you’re focusing on it, you can accentuate it."
Much like meditation, ancient Eastern practices like tantra focus on breathing exercises to heighten sexual experiences. Tantric sex is usually slow and is said to increase intimacy between partners through a mind-body connection that can lead to more powerful climaxes.
Concentrating on being in the moment always heightens whatever it is you’re focusing on. If touch is pleasure, and you’re focusing on it, you can accentuate it.
Tantra may be more than 5,000 years old but the relationship between meditation and sex went mainstream in 2016, when San Francisco-based wellness company OneTaste popularised a practice called "Orgasmic Meditation" – or "OM". It quickly became a media phenomenon, with reams of reports and reviews published about the company’s group meditation classes in which women had their clitorises stroked by a partner. Controversially, OneTaste has since stopped all in-person OM classes after former members of the organisation told Bloomberg how their participation ended with debts to the company and exploitation of trauma victims.
Silicon Valley corporations aside, meditation can be life-changing for sufferers of sexual trauma.
"I do meditation regularly and it’s helped me to improve my sex life," says Nikki Mattocks, a 21-year-old student mental health nurse living in Croydon. "I experienced sexual abuse growing up and use meditation to calm negative and intrusive thoughts from my PTSD which helps my sex life." Breathing exercises and positive affirmations before sex help Mattocks overcome shame about her body brought on by the abuse.
"When a woman has suffered a sexual trauma, there has been a major rupture to her most sacred and precious self and her entire being can become disregulated and incoherent," says psychotherapist Elisa Bragg. "Meditation can form part of [a woman’s] healing process [by inviting her] to come back into the relationship with her body, her feelings and thoughts that she may be trying to push down and escape."
This is not to say orgasms are dictated by our mental states alone. The "orgasm gap" and a disparity between clitoral and vaginal climaxes has led many women to believe they’ve been wired incorrectly. But the majority of people with vaginas don't orgasm from penetration. Anatomy is key; women with a shorter distance between the clitoris and vaginal opening may be more likely to climax during sex, while the connection between the genitals and the brain is integral to climaxing. Naomi Wolf’s 2012 book Vagina explores the science of orgasms, summarised as "how the genitals connect to the lower spinal cord, which in turn connects to the brain".
Given this connection, sex itself can also be a practical meditation method.
Catherine*, a 29-year-old Londoner who has a demanding job and busy lifestyle, uses sex as a relaxation tool. "Imagine this," she says, "you’re floating in a pool, and there’s nothing around you. You’re calm, and relaxed, and your ears are underwater so you can’t hear anything either. That’s what happens to my mind when I have sex." Catherine has no specific process for this, but she stresses how sex allows her to "shut off my mind and focus purely on a physical act," much like meditation.
Women are increasingly taking matters into their own hands when it comes to pleasure, with the rise of feminist sex toys, masturbation, sex positivity and now meditation, marking a woman-led quest for upgraded orgasms.
"It’s an exciting time for women to realise there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them," says Boston. "They’re taking the time to learn about their own bodies and where their mind needs to be in sexual situations."
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons