The power of the present: the effect of mindfulness on women’s sexual response
The aim of this study is to evaluate the impact of three mindfulness exercises on women’s sexual response since mindfulness was associated with an improvement in the treatment of sexual dysfunctions but the underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood.
Mindfulness advertising message means paying attention, but in a particular way: with intention, at the present moment and in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness is an ancient oriental practice, with roots in Buddhist meditation, also defined as presence and attention to the present moment, to the here and now (Hanh, 1976). The literature so far has focused on the study of how a conscious state, or a person’s ability to achieve that state, is related to healthy sexual functioning and how, on the contrary, a lack of awareness can threaten the ability to a person to experience sexual pleasure and to have a positive sexual response (Arora & Brotto, 2017).
It has been shown that women respond regularly with some degree of both subjective and genital sexual arousal when they interface with revealing sexual stimuli (for example, watching an erotic video); however, a sexual response is activated only when women pay attention to the erotic stimulus and are not distracted by non-sexual thoughts or other diversions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in its current fifth edition (DSM-5; APA, 2013), defines the lack of arousal or sexual pleasure and an absent or reduced response to genital arousal during sex, as criteria for a female sexual dysfunction, that is, the arousal disorder. Further studies have deepened the relationship between subjective and genital sexual arousal,
It is essential that women are able to focus on the sensations of the present moment during sex; therefore, psychosocial interventions that aim to improve women’s sexual functioning, teaching them mindfulness, have been found effective for the treatment of sexual dysfunctions, including sexual arousal disorder.
The goal of this study is to evaluate the impact of three mindfulness exercises on women’s sexual response. The sample consisted of 49 women, who participated in a laboratory session based on three 5-minute mindfulness exercises, a mental imagination task (control activity) and viewing of erotic films. In these exercises, the participants were encouraged to focus on the sensations in their genitals, the sensations of the body in general and the flow of thoughts. In control, however, attention was focused on the imagination of a walk through a lush forest.
The hypotheses were:
Subjective sexual arousal was measured continuously during the presentation of neutral and erotic videos. The device, called arousometer, consisted of a computer mouse and women were asked to move the mouse up and down whenever they noticed a change in excitement during the presentation of the stimulus. The visual feedback on their current level of excitement was presented to the subjects on a computer screen, through a bar graph indicating the levels of excitement on a scale from zero to 100 (highest level of excitement). On the other hand, genital sexual arousal was constantly measured by the amplitude of the vaginal impulse (VPA) using a vaginal photoplethysmograph.
Advertising message To assess how the exercises in the laboratory were considered by the participants, they were asked to indicate on a Likert-type scale how difficult, relaxing and enjoyable they found the exercises. In addition, the subjects indicated the extent to which they thought the exercises had influenced their response to the erotic footage directly after the assignment, via the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (Lau et al., 2006). It is a scale consisting of 13 items, administered repeatedly during the laboratory session to evaluate whether the different exercises led to changes in state awareness. This scale is composed of two factors: curiosity, which reflects awareness of the experience of the moment, and decentralization, which reflects the ability to observe thoughts and feelings only as distant mental events, to be accepted without being excessively involved in the content. In relation to this, no significant differences were highlighted with respect to the control situation, with the exception of some items on curiosity which seem to show higher scores.
The results provide evidence that a single exposure to an awareness exercise in a laboratory setting can affect both types of women’s sexual response, both during the exercise and during the activity that follows, viewing the erotic movie. . Specifically, as regards the difficulty of following the instructions, only the exercise of focusing attention on one’s body differed from the exercise of control, in that women perceived the significantly more difficult exercise. No differences emerged regarding the pleasantness derived from the different exercises and mindfulness addressed to the body was the only exercise to be perceived as more relaxing than the task of the control situation. The first hypothesis and the second hypothesis have been confirmed. The results demonstrate that women’s vaginal sexual arousal is higher during a mindfulness exercise that encourages them to focus attention on their genitals and not on their body as a whole or on the flow of thoughts and, therefore, could be useful. for women who experience a lack of genital lubrication during sexual activity. However, this effect did not translate into strong increases in VPA during the subsequent presentation of erotic footage; VPA tends to respond very quickly to sexual stimulation and peaks after 21 seconds, this probably leaves little room for increases in VPA during subsequent erotic films. The increase in VPA was higher in the condition of focus on bodily sensations in general. Indeed, mindfulness exercises that lead the woman to focus attention on bodily sensations lead to greater subjective and genital sexual arousal. Finally, this would also explain why the third hypothesis was only partially supported: it seems that the relationship between subjective arousal and genital increases only after the exercises of attention to bodily sensations. Therefore, the results do not support the idea that focusing on sensations specifically in the genitals could lead women to be more “in tune” with their physical arousal response. it seems that the relationship between subjective arousal and genital increases only after the exercises of attention to bodily sensations. Therefore, the results do not support the idea that focusing on sensations specifically in the genitals could lead women to be more “in tune” with their physical arousal response. it seems that the relationship between subjective arousal and genital increases only after the exercises of attention to bodily sensations. Therefore, the results do not support the idea that focusing on sensations specifically in the genitals could lead women to be more “in tune” with their physical arousal response.
In conclusion, women are advised to regularly practice mindfulness towards general bodily sensations, breathing or sensations in the genitals, over the course of several days or weeks, for the long-term improvement of sexual response and pleasure testing. Furthermore, the intervention is effective to work also on low sexual desire, on arousal disorder and on genito-pelvic pain experienced during sexual activity.