New study shows how mindfulness could help women who are feeling sexually disconnected

New research suggests that mindfulness-based psychotherapy could help women who are feeling “sexually disconnected.”

The study of 79 women, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found mindfulness skills increased the ability to detect physical sensations related to sex. Women who underwent four sessions of mindfulness-based sex therapy reported improved agreement between their self-reported sexual arousal and their psychophysiological sexual response. The therapy combined psychoeducation, sex therapy, and mindfulness training.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Lori A. Brotto of the University of British Columbia. Read her responses below.

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Brotto: We have been studying mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for about 12 years in different samples of women with sex-related concerns. We have consistently found it to be helpful for improving sexual desire, but also for reducing sexual distress, depression and anxiety. We don’t know, however, exactly HOW mindfulness works to improve sexual functioning, but we have many theories/hypotheses. Here, we wondered whether mindfulness was associated with increased sexual arousal concordance.

Sexual arousal concordance is the amount of agreement between a person’s physiological sexual response and their self-reported sexual arousal as they are exposed to sexual stimuli. In general, women have low concordance (i.e., strong physiological arousal in the presence of low self-reported arousal). We wondered whether mindfulness led to increases in concordance and found this to be supported.

What should the average person take away from your study?

That mindfulness improves sexual desire, and it likely does so by aligning a woman’s subjective sexual arousal with her physical sexual arousal during sexual activity. Rather than the mind being turned off, distracted, worried, or neutral, mindfulness encourages women to tune into their physical responses so that mind and body are concordant. This likely directly contributed to them having more sexual desire.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Sexual arousal was measured in the lab, not the at-home naturalistic environment. Because the researcher was next door, it is possible that women limited their self-reported responses. However, it may also be that they were more honest in the lab where pressures of performance with a partner, worries, or memories of past negative sexual experiences were not arising.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mindfulness is a powerful tool and has been shown for many years to improve quality of life, mood, anxiety, stress, and a host of physiological functions. We now have solid evidence that it improves sexual response in women, and aligns women’s body and mind during erotic stimulation.

The study, “Mindfulness-Based Sex Therapy Improves Genital-Subjective Arousal Concordance in Women With Sexual Desire/Arousal Difficulties,” was co-authored by Meredith L. Chivers, Roanne D. Millman and Arianne Albert.