Mindful Sex

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Looking to have a more satisfying sex life? Australia's top sexologist says sexual self-inquiry is key. 

Omega: How can sexual self-inquiry—mindful sex—help us experience more pleasure? 

Cyndi: Sexual self-inquiry is effectively shifting the gaze from the external to the internal. Instead of asking what everyone else is doing or if I’m pretty enough or whatever, I can ask myself what’s important to me and why do I have sex in the first place? That’s probably the number one question, “Why do I have sex?” I don’t necessarily mean intercourse. I’m talking about a physical connection between two or more consenting adults—kissing, touching, hugging, bathing together, rolling in baby oil, or whatever—that’s all still sex.

Omega: What are some ways people answer the question, “Why do I have sex?”

Cyndi: People have hundreds of reasons for having sex, and having babies is very, very low on the list. The most popular reasons are some variation on pleasure and connection. When people are in the middle of some kind of sexual activity they are often distracted. When I ask them what they’re distracted by, they say, "I'm thinking about my boss,” or “I'm thinking that I've got to call my mom,” or “I've got this to do.” Or they may be thinking about whether they’re doing it right, or how much longer they have to be there, or if the kids are going to come home any minute. Their minds are on everything except what they’re doing.

This is where sexual self-inquiry is so important, because when you know why you are doing it, you are in a much better position to be able to gauge your satisfaction. If you are just on autopilot, thinking about other things and not paying attention—if you're not mindful of what you're doing—those moments of pleasure or rich connection pass you by. You're not able to seize them because you're not there.

If you know you’re having sex for connection, then you can put your mind on that. You are able to seize your power back from shame and from the suppression and the silence that makes us feel less than. When you know why you’re there, you’re able to give yourself over to the experience and give yourself permission to enjoy it.

Omega: Much of the information in the media implies there is a “normal” sexuality we should all be aiming for. What do you think about that?

Cyndi: The only thing about sex that is normal is feeling abnormal! Because we’re a youth-obsessed culture, we tend to think sex is for young, thin, beautiful people. There’s an emphasis on it being fast, wild, and spontaneous. But sex is fluid, and the way you experience your sexuality as a 15-year-old is going to be different from how you experience it when you're 25, which is going to be vastly different from how you experience it when you're 55.

When I speak to folks who are older, particularly people over 40 who are more comfortable with their bodies, they are more likely to focus on how they feel instead of worrying about how they’re performing. That is one of the key ingredients to having more fulfilling sex. I don't like to say “good sex,” because that becomes judgmental, but the idea of sex being fulfilling or not shifts the dialog to something internal. We each become the locus of our own satisfaction. We can ask if this is okay for our partner, our relationship, and ourselves. We don’t have to worry about what our neighbors are doing or what the latest article says. Who cares about that if it’s okay for you and your partner?

Omega: How can we help spread the idea that there is no such thing as normal?

Cyndi: Ideally we can talk about this stuff with each other, but not as if it’s a competition. We can share just as if we were sharing recipes. I share my recipe for fried chicken with you and you tell me about your version. You may put your own combination of spices in it, and that’s okay. In the same way, I could share with you that I feel more comfortable lying on my side rather than being on top for sex. It can start this simply—by talking to each other and realizing that people are satisfied by many different things, not just one "normal."