Being present

July 1, 2014

On this blog I’d like to share with you my biggest tip for good sex and why not doing this creates so many sexual issues. The tip is simple: be present. The issues arising from not being present are wide reaching and both more powerful and subtle than we might imagine. It can result in us feeling disconnected from our partner, disconnection from our body or our self, feeling unsafe, not being able to orgasm and so on.

Let me explain some basic neuroscience to give you a context. Deep in our brains is the limbic system, responsible, amongst other things, for our fight-or-flight reaction to perceived threat. One part of this, the amygdala, receives sensory information and processes it. Next to this is the hippocampus which does two things (for the purpose of this discussion). Firstly, it gives sensory experience an emotional context – i.e. I smell roses, that reminds me of my partner whom I love, therefore I start to feel warm and loving inside. Secondly, it provides a temporal framework, that is, it tells us when something happened. So, for example, we know that we’re not children any more because our hippocampus tells us that part of our life is in the past.

However, negative experiences such as trauma, or even negative life beliefs, for example about intimacy, have an impact on the hippocampus. Perhaps we learnt that “sex is wrong” and when we become curious as children and began to explore our bodies, we were told off and felt shame as a result. Fast forward a few decades and here we are as adults, trying to enjoy sex. However even when we’re with a loving partner with whom we want to have sex, we can’t get aroused. An old memory is being reactivated, even if it’s below our conscious radar. Old feelings of guilt or shame may arise and intimacy is off the menu. In situations like this, the hippocampus gets reminded of the old feelings of shame because it links back to the childhood situation. Suddenly it becomes confused about whether the feeling of shame is happening now or if it’s a memory. The net result is that we feel shame now, even though we are a consenting adult and no-one is there telling us off for being “naughty”. The problem has arisen because we are not present with the current situation, but lost in the past.

So how to combat this? One way is to look around the room and remind ourselves of where and when we are. Take note of brightly coloured objects in the room which catch your eye. Remind yourself of how old you are and what the month and year are right now. The chances are that any feelings of shame or guilt in experiencing sexual pleasure didn’t arise in adulthood but in childhood. Assuming you’re a grown-up now, reminding yourself of this can be a powerful trigger to coming back to the present and letting yourself know, you’re allowed to enjoy intimacy.

Any other techniques which bring you into the body and into the present moment will help you to relax and enjoy intimacy more. Just try it, you might be surprised at the difference it makes.

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