Are You Having a Hard Time Getting Out of Your Head...in Bed?
- Being present in your own body is key to having a positive sexual experience.
- Slowing down and paying attention to the parts of your body that are sensitive can help you stay grounded.
- It's normal for life stress to impact your sex life but there are strategies that can help.
Work tasks take up most of the real estate in our brains during the day, but you don't want them there during sex. Intrusive thoughts like these—worrying if you've fed the cat, reviewing your to-do list for tomorrow or being concerned about if you're sweating too much or not performing up to scratch—can prove distracting during sex.
Yet, for many people, these thoughts dominate a sexual experience, often making it difficult to get aroused, achieve an orgasm or simply have a good time.
"Being present in our body is one of the main keys to having a positive sexual experience. If this isn't happening, it can really hamper your good time," said Marla Renee Stewart, a sexologist in Atlanta currently pursuing a Ph.D.
You're thinking too much
"Thinking about work, to-do list, the kids and so on can cause major anxiety, which is the antithesis to pleasure," Stewart said. "This leads to increased breathing, muscle tightness and stress, which is the opposite of what you want happening during a sexual experience."
Equally common is spending intimate experiences distracted by your sexual performance. Many people's minds get overrun with thoughts about whether or not they're good enough in bed. They might critique their performance, worry about how their body looks, and judge whether or not they are wet or hard enough. Often, they can be consumed by trying to guess and anticipate what their partner is thinking about them.
Critical and judgemental thoughts about your performance can inhibit sexual arousal and orgasm, according to a 2011 study. The cause for this may stem from the theory that when your mind is preoccupied with judgmental thoughts about your performance, you're unable to register the erotic and sexy things taking place that your brain needs to recognize in order to become aroused, the study suggested.
Additionally, thoughts about your performance, work, financial stress, family or current events can impact the function of your sexual inhibition system (SIS).
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., wrote in her book "Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life" that the sexual inhibition system—she nicknamed it "the brakes''—is a system in our brain that looks for reasons it's unsafe or not an appropriate time to become turned on.
Stress and anxiety activate the sexual inhibition system and prevent you from getting turned on.
- The Ups and Downs of Benzodiazepines and Sex: They can help with anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks, but are benzos affecting your sex life?
- A Guide to Dirty Talk for the Cripplingly Anxious: Get tips for incorporating erotic language into lovemaking—even if the idea makes you squirm.
- Can You Have Sex on Your Period?: From religious or cultural taboos to hygiene issues, what are the pros and cons of period sex?
What to do if you're stuck in your head, in bed
Whatever your distraction, there are strategies you can use to make sex an enjoyable and relaxing pastime.
Eight recommendations from experts can combat intrusive and unwelcome distractions during sex.
1. Focus on your breathing
"If you're struggling with distracting thoughts, one of the best things that you can do to be present in your body is to concentrate on your breath," Stewart said. "Doing erotic breathwork and paying attention to your breathing by slowing down and paying attention to the parts of your body that are sensitive can help you to stay grounded and present in your body."
Focusing on your breath can help regulate your nervous system if you're anxious, which can help increase arousal and enjoyment.
2. Practice a sexual meditation
"I'd recommend sexual meditation for people with sexual anxiety or just people who find it hard to focus during sex," said Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based sex and relationship coach and a professor at California State University, Fullerton.
She noted that sexual mediation can help remove the stress that's activating the sexual inhibition system.
3. Try a brain dump
"Whenever you have 10 to 15 minutes, try writing everything that you're worried about at that moment down in a journal," Suwinyattichaiporn said.
For some people, writing down what's on your mind can help clear your head, release anxiety and help you get more clarity about your concerns—all of which can help release the sexual inhibition system.
Suwinyattichaiporn said writing everything that's on your mind allows you to revisit it at another time if you'd like to.
4. Play with dirty talk
Focusing on your breath or practicing a sexual meditation can get some people out of their heads, but others may find these exercises actually increase their anxiety. That's especially true if your body doesn't feel like a safe place or if there isn't enough stimulation provided to concentrate on.
If this is the case, dirty talk might be a better solution.
We're going to define dirty talk as when you say words aloud that describe what is currently happening, what you'd like to happen or what you're fantasizing about. This doesn't have to be a one-way conversation and it certainly shouldn't be offensive.
For some folks, this helps bring their attention back to their body, desires and what feels good. Additionally, saying what is happening out loud can provide additional grounding and concentration. If your partner is paying attention and actually acting on your instructions, that can be erotic and ultimately satisfying, too.
6 Sex Positions You Probably Haven't Tried—But Probably Should!: Do try this at home. It's OK to stick with the tried-and-true missionary, doggy style and cowgirl, but if we promise not to bend you too much or break you, here are some subtle nuances you might like to try. Experts provide some practical and creative paths to pleasure.
5. Add more stimulation
Similar to dirty talk, if you're someone who needs more stimulation in order to concentrate, consider trying activities such as sensation play or the use of sex toys, which may deliver stronger stimulation.
More stimulation can help the brain focus instead of wandering. You can use sex toys for their shape or use ones with high-intensity vibration. For sensation play, there is a diverse range of toys, from feather ticklers to ice cubes or hot tea. If you choose to explore any of these, be sure to do some research first because there's a lot of choice and not everything might work for you.
Some people find that increased visual or auditory stimulation helps them focus. You can experiment with watching porn, viewing erotic photos, audio erotica or autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).
6. Pay attention to your lover's body
Stewart recommended paying attention to your lover's body if you're stuck in your head.
Paying attention to the sensations in your own body can encourage performance anxiety and elicit feelings of being overwhelmed. However, if you focus on your partner's body—the feel of their skin against your own, the details you can see on their body or simply looking into their eyes—that can be more soothing and engaging and prevent your mind from wandering.
7. Work with a sex educator, coach or therapist
Distracting thoughts during sex can stem from stress that builds throughout the day. Typically, when the origins of the stress pass, you'll revert to how you normally engage during a sexual experience.
For others, chronic stress may be getting in the way, which won't dissipate. This might be a good time to work with a professional relationship therapist to acquire the techniques, skills and strategies to overcome these challenges. Having your partner attend these sessions can help.
If working one-on-one with a professional is out of your budget, consider attending a workshop, following their social media or checking information updates posted online.
8. Remove whatever is on your 'brake'
When things happening in your life are activating your sexual inhibition system, becoming aroused can be very challenging, and at times, even impossible, according to Nagoski's book.
"In these situations, you need to pinpoint what is hitting your brakes and remove them," Nagoski said.
While this, of course, may be much easier said than done, it's important to identify what's happening in your life that's causing you to feel distracted during sex.
The bottom line
Being stuck in your head during sex can make you feel disconnected from your body and uninterested in sex. It can lower your libido, prevent erections or vaginal lubrication, and completely block orgasms. All of these experiences can be challenging and can lead to distress in relationships.
It's important to remember that it's normal for life stress to impact sex, but there are things you can do if it's causing distress.