Taming the Untamed Stallion: Working With Clients Who Have Negative Thoughts About Sex

Jul 9
This month, I thought I would share some thoughts and insights on negative thinking about sex. Over the years, many clients have come to me with this problem. It’s more common than people think. Mindfulness, which is a focus of my work, can help with this issue.

One of my clients, Jessica (not her real name), explained that during masturbation she has to either watch porn or think of something other than what is happening in her body. With partner sex, she is focused on her partner. She said that she feels easily distracted and frustrated, and is especially angry and frustrated when she can’t orgasm. A heterosexual woman, she will watch lesbian porn and get turned on, but then will think about how the women in the films are more attractive than she is. Jessica is regularly flooded with negative thoughts during partner and solo sex - “I’m not attractive”, “I hate that I can’t orgasm”, “I don’t want to focus on my own body.” 

Many people live within the thoughts in their mind, as if they were reality. These thoughts can take on a life of their own, becoming synonymous with reality. The types of thoughts that we have impact and shape our physical sensations and emotions. When we have thoughts that are based in fear or anxiety, and they occur on repeat, this increases our physical sensations and emotions of fear and anxiety. When these thoughts become habitual and a regular occurrence they can become a more fixed relationship we have with our experience.

On the other hand, our thinking, cognitive abilities, and intellect are powerful tools that are not only necessary for survival but also delightful. The human ability to create new ideas fuels innovation and progression. Delighting in a world of fantasy or dreams can be delicious. Knowing how to use thoughts, having personal control over thoughts, and feeling some freedom from them is the key to having a good relationship with the power of thought. 

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Mindfulness of Thoughts

In developing mindfulness of thoughts, we create space between ourselves and the thought. It’s useful to understand this as a concept, but what’s most helpful is to actually experience it. Experiencing it occurs when we can observe a thought and label it in our minds as “thinking, thinking” or “thoughts, thoughts.” When we do this, we are simultaneously the observer and the thought - we are the observer noticing the thought. It is in that time that we are not our thoughts, but we observe that they are part of us. This is mindfulness of thoughts. Mindfulness takes practice. 

It may be useful to consider that one aspect of mindfulness is truly being in the present moment. Many thoughts exist in the future - what we want to happen or what we fear will happen. Similarly, many thoughts are reliving events or experiences from the past. Mindfulness offers us a way to observe the nature of the content of our thoughts. It allows us to see that when we’re thinking of the future or the past, we’re not fully in the present. When we observe the content of our thoughts, we are fully present in each moment and in this space lies our freedom to enjoy experiences, especially sexual pleasure. 

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Dave shared with me that he’s never been a big fan of receiving oral sex and has difficulty staying aroused when his current partner tries to give him oral sex. In a previous relationship, his partner didn’t want to give him oral sex and he developed the thought that: “It’s selfish to receive oral sex” - and he absorbed this belief. He told me that he would want to try oral sex more often if there was a response, but reported that “when it stays limp, it’s not a great feeling for either of us.” Dave further reported feeling uncomfortable being the object of sexual attention and is worried about maintaining an erection while it’s happening. 

As Tara Brach says “thoughts are real, but not true.” We understand this when we can observe our thoughts and enter a state of mindfulness. When we do this we can see that a thought is just that - a product of the thinking mind which makes it feel real, but not something that is actually occurring outside of our minds. They are not a true representation of reality. Don’t believe everything you think. 
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The Nature of Thoughts and Sexual Distress and Dysfunction

The types of thoughts we have and how mindful of them we are can work against sexual arousal and response. 

Beliefs are the result of previous experience and early life experiences. They develop through the education we receive about sex, social influences, and past sexual experiences. Dysfunctional sexual beliefs often activate a maladaptive schema. Dysfunctional beliefs occur a lot in individuals who experience sexual distress or dysfunction. For example, “I’m afraid that I won’t stay hard” or “It’s going to hurt to have sex.” These beliefs often lead to schemas such as “I’m afraid that I won’t stay hard, therefore, I’m a failure,” or “It’s going to hurt to have sex, therefore, sex is not enjoyable.” 

Some negative thoughts occur automatically in sexual situations and lead to negative emotions. The types of negative thoughts can be about yourself, about your partner, or about the relationship. For example, if a woman had an automatic negative thought about her body (“I’m fat”), or a man has an automatic negative thought about performance (“I can’t stop myself from cuming”), or an individual has a negative thought about their partner (“They are going to leave me”), they’re more likely to have a disruption in sexual arousal and response and lead to negative emotions - specifically anxiety.  

As you can imagine, a negative world view, associated beliefs and automatic thoughts can hijack a sexual experience. Research has shown that individuals who have this constellation of negative thoughts and underlying beliefs tend to focus on them rather than sexual cues, for example, sensations of pleasure. In this way, negative thoughts distract from the body’s natural response to sexual situations and stimulation. When you focus on thoughts related to performance or fear, you’ll be less likely to be present in the moment of a sexual situation. Rather than being mindful of what is occuring during a sexual experience, you are viewing from a distance, stuck in a stream of negative thoughts.

Using Mindfulness To Improve Sexual Pleasure

Being able to identify the dysfunctional sexual beliefs, distorted thinking, and automatic negative thoughts that accompany sexual experiences - and learning where they originate - is key to disrupting cycles of sexual distress and dysfunction. When I’m working with clients like Jessica or Dave, we learn together what their negative thoughts about sex are through a psychosexual assessment process. In my master course, From Sexual Distress to Sexual Satisfaction, you can learn about what your negative thoughts are through a series of assessments, guided exercises and meditations, and journaling reflection worksheets. Using mindfulness to breathe space between yourself and your negative thoughts, inviting them to be present but not take over as the main event, allows you to focus on the natural sensations of pleasure that will enhance your sexual response. 

One of the things I enjoy most about being a therapist is when I’ve worked with a client long enough that they have their cognitive distortions, worried mind, and/or run-away consuming thoughts managed and they are back in control. They often ask me, “Now what?” I always reply: “Whatever you want to create!” 

Often when we become released from suffering, we open up to a world of possibility. If the mind can create so many destructive thoughts that lead to suffering, imagine what it can create when it is open to conjure up possibilities - and then what those possibilities feel like in our body and emotions. The mind is a powerful and beautiful tool, often an untamed stallion, that when trained can become a domesticated friend. 

I hope this post has been helpful. Feel free to reach out to me at kimberly@mendeducation.com with any questions, or to schedule a consultation. 

Until next time,
Kim
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