Mindful Breathing and Sex
By Steph Andrews
Have you ever noticed your breath during sex? Maybe you’re unintentionally holding it, or getting lost in the moment with short, sharp pants. We’re told time and time again that the way we breathe can change the way we feel, so why are we not incorporating that into our sex lives? Breathwork can be extremely supportive in a sexual context; it’s number one on sex coach Georgia Grace’s list of somatic tools for regulating the nervous system. So, here’s how to use mindful breathing in the bedroom, and why it’s beneficial.
Focusing on your breath is an act of mindfulness that can keep you present in a time when distraction can ruin the mood. Whether you’re alone or with a partner/partners, it’s easy for the mind to wander. “I can’t forget to email that person”. “Did I turn the oven off?” “My room is a mess”. Taking deep, mindful breaths is a great way to pause distractions and to-do lists and connect your mind to your body in the present moment. When you focus on your breath, you have no choice but to tune in to your body rather than your mind.
Tips: Psychologist and sex therapist, Dr Laurie Mintz, says practicing mindfulness is the best way to stay present during sex. Notice when your mind starts to wander and actively use your breath to bring it back to the space you’re in. As soon as you have a distracting thought, take one slow, deep breath in. Extend your exhale1. It might be useful to combine this exhale with an affirmation to help you stay present, for example, “My mind is here with my body” or “I am committed to feeling good right now”.
Channelling the breath is a great way to move pleasure throughout the body. Not only does your mind need to be present to experience embodied pleasure, but your body needs to be physically relaxed. If you’ve forgotten to let yourself breathe, you could be tensing your muscles or holding your body in a way that is interfering with your ability to relax. A big exhale is a great way to release tension and give in to good sensations. Deep breathing also helps move blood flow and oxygen to the genitals and other erogenous zones3. The more mindful you are with your breath, the more you allow your body to feel.
Tips: Connect your breath to the rhythm of the sex you’re having, whether that be the setting your vibrator is on or the pace that you’ve set with your partner. Breathe in tune with your movement, and remember, mindful doesn’t always have to mean slow. If you feel things heating up, the pace of your breath might naturally quicken. If you’re ready to orgasm, imagine taking a big breath in through your nose and out through your genitals. Visualise pleasure running through your body in sync with your breaths.
By using breath to focus on how your body feels, you might find you’re less worried about how your body looks. Or how you sound. Or whether you’re doing it right. Sex can be vulnerable, and it’s common for people to experience anxiety or self-conscious thoughts. Worrying about how your body looks or sounds, instead of having fun and feeling good during sex, is called spectatoring. If spectatoring is hindering your sexual enjoyment, mindful breathing might reduce some anxiety by cutting off any negative thoughts you may have about yourself or your body. Remember, sex should be pleasure-focused, not performance-based.
Tips: The key here is to notice when you’re spectatoring, take a deep breath and switch your focus to a feeling within your body. Ask yourself, “When I take deep breaths, what sensations can I feel?” “In which parts of my body can I feel pleasure right now?” Maybe your inner thighs feel warm, or you feel butterflies in your tummy. If you’re struggling to keep your mind away from destructive thoughts, combining a slow breath with a positive affirmation might be helpful again. Try something like, “I feel sexually confident”, or “I deserve pleasure no matter what my body looks like”.
If you’re loving how good your body feels when you focus on your breath, you may want to delay your orgasm to keep things going. There are numerous reasons why someone might want to hold off on orgasming; they may lose arousal after orgasm, maybe they’re practising non-ejaculation, or perhaps they want to orgasm in sync with their partner. If things are heating up before you’re ready, it’s important to know that you’re in control, and you can always use your breath to regulate your body. The breath tends to become more shallow right before orgasm, so slowing things down might keep your orgasm at bay until you’re ready.
Tips: Be aware of your breath, and try to actively keep it deep and slow. Any deep breathing technique will be useful here, like square breathing1, where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four, and repeat. If you want to know more about delaying orgasm, look into the tantric practice of non-ejaculation and semen retention. Whether you have a penis or not, the specific breathing techniques may be useful in teaching you how to take things slow, but be aware, they may take practice!
Being in control of your breath during sex is fantastic for when you need to be quiet, because let’s face it, you won’t always have the luxury of privacy when you wanna get down and dirty. Making noise during sex or self-pleasure is fun and can release tension1, but it may not be a realistic option if you don’t live alone. Consciously blocking noise during sex can sometimes inhibit pleasure, so when you’re not in the position to be loud, you can use your exhale as a release instead.
Tips: When you feel pulled to create sound, it’s time to focus on your inhales and exhales. Sexologist and tantra practitioner, Juliet Allen, suggests picturing your tummy blowing up like a balloon when you’re taking a deep inhale breath. Channel the noise you want to be making, into a deep, strong exhale. Don’t be afraid to make your exhale audible, your family/housemates are probably not going to come in and question why you’re breathing.
So, there you have it! Using breath mindfully during sex can help keep things quiet, control orgasm, remove distractions such as to-do lists and negative self-talk, emphasise pleasurable bodily sensations, and create presence. Mindful breathing is how I first learnt to orgasm; it allowed me to fully relax and commit to feeling good in my body, so I can personally attest to the benefits. Good luck!
Written by Steph Andrews
Steph Andrews is a post-graduate sexology student, sex columnist and future sexologist. Through her sex-positive Instagram account (@SexualWellnessClub), she aims to reduce harmful stereotypes about gender and sexuality, encourage people to feel comfortable and confident in their bodies, provide education around respect and consent, and foster healthy relationships.