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Mindfulness Is More Than A Mindset

From bullet journals to hot yoga, and five minute breathing exercises to weekend meditation retreats, mindfulness is the hashtag-goals wellness buzzword of the moment… and rightly so. It’s hard to argue with all the documented health benefits of being fully present in your activities and relationships.

But is mindfulness a magic cure for painful sex? That’s what many of my patients have been told by well-meaning friends, partners, and even medical practitioners and professional counselors. And I’ll tell you what I tell them:

The pain isn’t in your head; it’s in your muscles. It’s in your nervous system. It’s a complex interplay of the two in many cases.

What makes me so confident of that? I trust the science behind women’s physical therapy – decades of documented research that proves the pain has treatable, physical causes, not to mention the thousands of women I’ve personally treated who are now having pain free sex.

But I’m an equal opportunity champion of science; and of course, I want my patients to have every tool at their disposal on the journey to recovery. So I took a look recently at the scientific research exploring the effects of mindfulness on painful sex.

The first takeaway? We need a lot more research. According to a recent article in the Journal Of Sexual Medicine, the scientific community has been studying the effects of mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) on a wide variety of physical and psychological conditions for more than thirty years. In all that time, only fifteen articles have been published about the link between MBT and sexual dysfunction; and just four of those studies focused on treatment of painful intercourse.

Those studies – which also included patient education about sexual pleasure and physical pain, pelvic floor therapy, muscle relaxation therapy, and more – concluded that the mindfulness-based therapies, while promising, “did not make a significant change in a reduction of pain during sexual activities.”

That’s a relief to my patients who have spent years struggling with shame surrounding a mind over matter failure to ‘just get over it’. But the same research offers some good news about the mindfulness practices included in the studies. Participants (as many as fifty percent in one study) reported significant reduction of “distress linked to sexual activity and sensitivity to pain”. And those aren’t the only documented benefits.

How Mindfulness-Based Therapy Can Help With Painful Sex

  • Improved general functioning despite pain
  • Improved recognition of negative pain-related thoughts
  • Improved self-esteem and self assurance
  • Improved relationship with partners
  • Reduction in anxiety about sexual activity
  • Minor increase in sexual desire, satisfaction, and orgasm

No amount of mindfulness alone can cure pain with a physical cause; and I’ve seen firsthand how the stress generated by that myth does more harm than good to women suffering from painful sex. But mindfulness-based therapy can play an important and effective role in a holistic, medically sound approach to treating painful sex.

However you practice mindfulness, that’s one more good reason to add it to your overall health and wellness routine.

Jaderek I., Lew-Starowicz M.  2019.  A Systematic Review On Mindfulness Meditation-Based Interventions For Sexual Dysfunctions. J Sex Med 16:10  1581-1596.

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