Whether you’re undergoing, or have completed treatment and figuring out the new normal, a fundamental part of life that is almost always overlooked is sexual health. Clinical sexologist, Catriona Boffard, explains how mindfulness can improve this area of your life.
With the diagnosis and treatment of cancer comes changes in the body. Including how you feel about your body. That means that your experience of sex is exceedingly likely to change as well.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness originates from Buddhism and has been around for centuries. Though, it has gained a lot of traction in the last few decades, particularly for the treatment of chronic pain, depression and anxiety.
It is considered any conscious activity that brings your awareness into the present moment, with no judgement, curiosity and openness to the experience. What this means is that you are paying attention to exactly what you are experiencing right now, without thinking about what it could mean or might have meant.
Mindfulness can take any form, including deep breathing; mindful colouring in; mindful walking; scanning your body to become aware of present sensations; yoga; or noticing things according to your five senses, to name but a few.
The practise of mindfulness has been found to improve cognitive functioning when undergoing chemotherapy, and assists with one’s coping skills in relation to negative thoughts, bodily sensations and feelings1.
How does mindfulness improve sexual experience?
First and foremost, mindfulness helps to decrease distressing emotions, such as anxiety or anger. Staying in the moment is not easy. Especially when you are trying to adjust to changes in your body caused by chemotherapy.
Mindfulness teaches you to accept these changes and be with your thoughts rather than resist them, which ultimately allows you to engage in the pleasure and sensuality of being sexual.
Instead of being worried about how you look and what your partner might be thinking, utilising mindfulness can help you stay in the moment and simply enjoy the intimacy created with your partner.
By implementing mindfulness as a daily practise, the positive impact will be evident in numerous areas of your lives, not just sex and intimacy. The fatigue, sleep disruption and low mood that is often associated with recovery has also been found to improve when mindfulness is employed1.
Many survivors’ quality of life is impacted greatly by fatigue. This, in particular, can affect the desire and interest in sex. It also interferes with your readiness for sex and your ability to enjoy a sexual experience.
Include the whole body
When you think of your body and sex, you most often think of just the breasts and genitals. But sex is about so much more than this. Mindfulness helps you focus on different sensations you experience when you include the whole body in any type of sensual experiences.
Unfortunately, certain treatments can lead to hypersensitivity or numbness in certain areas. By using mindfulness, you can focus on other sensations that feel good on other areas of your body.
Also, you may be guilty of having a very performance-orientated approach to sex. One that requires you to want it, get aroused, and hopefully reach orgasm. But mindfulness teaches you to shift your view to a pleasure-orientated one. This is where it is about the journey and not the destination. Mindfulness helps you gain pleasure from sex and physical intimacy, even when there have been physical changes in your body.
When beginning your journey of practising mindfulness, I recommend that you start small. Begin with five to 10 minutes a day, using a guided-meditation video, or an app like Headspace. Your mind will wander, that’s completely normal! It is simply about bringing your awareness back to the present moment and being compassionate towards yourself for wandering.
References: 1. Johns et al,. 2015
MEET OUR EXPERT – Catriona Boffard
Catriona Boffard is an internationally recognised clinical sexologist. She is an expert in sexuality and intimacy, with an interest in helping couples re-establish sexual intimacy, and empowering women to explore their sexuality.