Mindfulness has recently gained attention in mainstream media for its potential to reduce anxiety and depression while improving concentration and sleep. Now, many are asking whether or not mindfulness can help to improve sexual function.
Mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to be effective at improving sexual arousal, desire, and function in research studies. Recent mindfulness research has largely centered on female sexual dysfunction, but males are also thought to benefit from mindfulness practice. Specifically, men suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) may experience improved sexual function following mindfulness-based interventions.
Read ahead to learn more about mindfulness and how it might work for men with ED.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that emphasizes aware of one’s feelings and senses within the present moment. Practitioners of mindfulness observe thoughts and feelings without interpretation or judgment. The practice can involve the use of breathing techniques, guided imagery, sitting, or walking.
Practicing mindfulness can help people step away from their tendency to overthink, plan, and dwell on negative thoughts and emotions. Sound impossible? Those promoting mindfulness practice claim that all people are born with the inherent ability to be mindful.
Research demonstrates meditation to be helpful in:
- Managing stress and job burnout
- Reducing anxiety
- Managing pain
- Reducing insomnia
- Improving focus and attention
- Managing chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
Is Mindfulness Effective for ED?
Sexual dysfunction (e.g. ED) can result from an underlying physical condition, mental distress or disorder, or a combination of the two. Even in cases where the root cause of ED is physical, men might experience anxiety around sexual performance. Experts often recommend the mental aspects of ED be addressed for patients to experience the most successful outcomes from ED treatment.
A 2018 study of 10 men suffering from situational ED found a mindfulness-based intervention to be successful in improving sexual function. The intervention took place over four weeks, focusing on ED, counseling, and at-home mindfulness meditation exercises. The pilot study results suggest long-term success, with the majority of participants reporting significant improvements in sexual function six months after the conclusion of the intervention. The study’s co-author, Dr. Lori Brotto, professor of gynecology at the University of British Columbia, wrote in a 2013 publication “mindfulness can also be extended to the treatment of men with premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, [and] low sexual desire.”
A recent systematic review of mindfulness-based therapies (MBT) for sexual dysfunction showed additional promise for the effectiveness of mindfulness. The studies consistently demonstrated significant improvement in sexual arousal, desire, and satisfaction for women who practiced mindfulness. Studies specifically focused on men were limited, but did suggest an improvement in sexual dysfunction related to ED.
How Does Mindfulness Promote Sexual Health?
Mindfulness has been shown to improve sexual function and pleasure in women. A study conducted by Dr. Brotto found that group mindfulness-based therapy improved women’s sexual desire by helping them to become more aligned with, and accepting of, their bodies. Mindfulness also helped to decrease stress and depression, allowing women to be more fully present and enjoy sex.
For people experiencing sexual dysfunction related to conditions like trauma or chronic illness, a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in addition to mindfulness practice may further improve outcomes. During a 2008 study, female cancer survivors living with severe sexual dysfunction participated in three mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MB-CBT) exercises. When compared to women who did not undergo treatment, the MB-CBT group showed significant improvements in sexual desire and arousal.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve sexual arousal, desire, and experience for:
- Women with severe sexual dysfunction
- Trauma survivors
- Partners needing to improve communication surrounding sex
- Men with ED
- People with low libido
What are Popular Ways to Practice Mindfulness?
People looking to practice mindfulness meditation can do so without any equipment or formal instruction. There is no single “correct” way to practice mindfulness.
Examples of mindfulness practice include:
- Observing the moment. Pay attention to how your body feels and responds to what is going on around you. This can be while walking, resting, eating, or any other daily task. Slow down and take notice of your senses.
- Practicing self-acceptance. Observe how you treat yourself and speak to yourself. Be intentional about being kind to yourself.
- Focusing on breathing. When stressful or negative thoughts arise, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Try to steady your breathing and focus during each inhale and exhale.
- Meditating while sitting. Find a comfortable seated position, preferably with your back straight and feet touching the floor. Begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice each sensation that interferes with your focus and breathing.
- Moving or walking meditation. Find a quiet area to walk either straight or in a pattern (e.g. walking labyrinth). Focus on your experience walking and moving through the space. Maintain awareness of your body and the sensations you experience.
- Body scan meditation. Lie on your back in corpse pose (legs and arms relaxed, palms facing upward). Bring attention to each part of your body, moving from head to toe or toe to head. Note the sensations you feel at each stop.
How Can Men with ED Increase Their Mindful State?
Men with ED may find a combination of medical treatment and mindfulness practice to be most effective at reducing their symptoms and improving sexual function.
Men looking to incorporate mindfulness practice in their daily lives can:
- Set specific time aside to practice. Try choosing a time each day to practice mindfulness in a quiet space.
- Practice observing the present moment. Focus not on trying to empty the mind, but observing the moment as it is. Take in the environment, your body’s sensations, and your thoughts without interpretation.
- Let go of judgments. If you feel a judgment surfacing, observe it then let it go. Do not delve into judgments as they arise.
- Return to the present moment. If a judgment or alarming thought comes up, simply acknowledge it and try your best to return to the present moment.
- Be kind to yourself when your mind wanders. It is okay if your mind wanders consistently, because it takes practice to bring it back. Do not judge or become upset with yourself.
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