My boyfriend and I have an app to thank for our solid relationship, but not a dating one. For the past year or so, we've been somewhat addicted to the meditation smartphone app, Meditation Studio. At the end of the day, when we're going in circles talking about all the things we have coming up the next day, we grab some headphones, lay in bed with our dog, and listen to a recorded guided meditation. Some nights we self-soothe solo, and other times we both put ourselves into time out together.
On the free app, there's a menu of over 250 meditations to choose from with different teachers and varying lengths. Our go-to meditations are "Change Your Lens" in the "Confidence" collection, and "Float To Sleep" in the "Sleep" collection, both by Chrissy Carter. I've also been messing around with the "Kindness Toward Your Partner" one by Stefanie Goldstein in the "Relationships" collection when I'm feeling particularly impatient. The nice thing about this app is that they break the meditations into specific categories, so you can find one that seems tailored just for you.
Occasionally, we do float to sleep (as the meditation suggests), but other times we meditate and then float to mindful sex. Even the best sex can get habitual, and before we started this routine, I found that my body was just waiting until it was time to go to bed, instead of focusing on the actual sex part. But when I meditate beforehand, I loosen up the tense areas where I hold my stress (my legs and shoulders), think about how we're both breathing, and most importantly, focus on what we're actually doing together. Sometimes, when I do the meditations that are specifically for relationships, it coaches me to think about all the traits that I like and appreciate about my partner, which I'm sure we could all use from time to time.
The central theme of many of these meditations is mindfulness — or deliberately paying attention to your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations — so it makes sense that these habits could improve your sex life, too. One study from Brown University found that women who took a 12-week meditation course were able to get aroused faster from sexual stimuli, possibly because they had increased awareness of their thoughts. Better sex might seem like another vague, unobtainable benefit of meditation, but it actually makes a ton of sense why it helps.
"Having open awareness of your own body can make you more aroused," says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a psychologist who specialises in mindfulness and relationships. If you usually let your mind wander during sex to whether or not you're going to orgasm or when the last time you cleaned the sheets was, making mental notes of what your partner is doing in the moment can bring you back to reality, Dr. Greenberg says. For me, my partner and I can sometimes be guilty of literally "going through the motions" during sex, because we know what works. Meditation makes me think about what I should do next in the moment, instead of just falling back into our usual choreography, so I'm more willing to try different things outside of my comfort zone.
Plus, mindfulness is inherently relational, and it affects how you behave and deal with people, says B Grace Bullock, PhD, a psychologist and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success. How you relate to your partner has a lot to do with how you relate to yourself, Dr. Bullock says. "If we can't control the role stress plays in our life, the effects of stress will bleed over into our relationships," Dr. Bullock says. And as much as I'd like to say that all my daily worries go away when I hit the sheets, that's just not true, and that's definitely not my partner's fault. That's why meditating before I know we're going to have sex helps me notice and accept that I'm stressed in the moment, and allows me to approach our time together without all of the baggage I've accumulated throughout the day.
Meditation might not be your thing (or your partner's thing), and that's okay. You can't convince someone to be mindful, but you can show your partner how to do it just by being mindful yourself, Dr. Bullock says. "[Mindfulness] needs to be generated from the person, but I do believe we are mindful by example," she says. And as simple as downloading a meditation app sounds, you also can't just press a button and expect your sexual problems to be solved, which my partner and I might be guilty of thinking — Dr. Bullock says that meditation has to be a practice.
That said, practice doesn't have to be perfect. If listening to daily meditations isn't going to happen for you, Dr. Bullock says you could try developing some mindful skills in your day-to-day life that could transfer into the bedroom. A good place to start is by putting your phone away when you're at dinner with your partner, and see if you're able to listen and respond better. If there's a specific conflict that you and your partner are trying to work through, it could be helpful to journal mindfully about what thoughts come up for you, Dr. Greenberg says. "You could also practice a mindful conversation where you focus on listening to your partner, and trying to be open and accepting to what they're feeling," Dr. Greenberg says.
At the end of the day, meditating worked for me and my partner because it was appealing to us, so it may not work for every couple out there trying to reconnect sexually. But hey, given all of the potential benefits of meditation, like reduced stress and anxiety, the worst-case scenario is that you and your partner try meditating and end up taking a five-minute power nap instead. There's no real evidence that a nap can help your sex life, but at least you'll already be in bed.