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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.

What Our Patients Have to Say

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Testimonial by S.S., age 54

Heather is the best! I saw her today for terrible hip/groin pain. I was so impressed with the safety measures in place and felt completely safe . Thanks for the healing hands.

S.S., age 54

Testimonial by A.B.

Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
-- A.B.

Testimonial by A.W., age 32

I wanted to let you know that my pelvic floor held strong and gave me no trouble whatsoever in my trail race this morning (12 miles)! In a way, I felt like I ran better than ever because my core feels so rock solid from all the exercises you have me doing. That was especially valuable on the technical downhill - I just flew down the trail because I had confidence in my balance and form. Thank you for helping me get back to doing what I love.

-- A.W., age 32
(completed Post-partum Renewal Program using the InTone biofeedback/stim unit)

Testimonial by M.M.

My husband and I were married for 5 years and unable to have intercourse, but I never knew why. After numerous awful experiences at doctor’s offices (where many doctors told me I “just needed to relax”), a surgery that didn’t fix the problem, and a year of owning dilators that didn’t get me anywhere, someone finally referred me to Heather for Physical Therapy. I finally had answers and information from someone who knew exactly what I was dealing with!

Read more: Testimonial by M.M.

Testimonial by Amanda W.

Heather's unique physical therapy program literally changed my life! After years of struggling with vaginismus, a condition that made it impossible for me to have intercourse and very difficult to use tampons without pain, a gynecologist referred me to Heather. I was nervous for my first appointment, but Heather's professional and friendly demeanor put me at ease. She did a great job explaining each technique she was using to help my muscles relax. Heather uses a combination of internal and external stretches and exercises to relax the pelvic floor and build muscle strength. Her specially developed home program helped me quickly recover from an issue that seemed insurmountable before meeting Heather. She was optimistic about my progress and incredibly encouraging. Less than 6 months after my first session, I was able to have pain-free sex for the first time in my life! If you are suffering from vaginismus or any other pelvic floor issues, I highly recommend making an appointment with Heather and reading her book!

-- Amanda W., 2/15/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Jamie M.

I have been going to see Heather for a while now, and I can't tell you enough how much she has improved my quality of life. Heather specializes in issues like pelvic floor, but I see her for other orthopedic issues.

I have a lot of chronic joint pain and dysfunction issues (back, hips, neck) that require that have ongoing physical therapy maintenance. The effects of my problem joints/areas overlap and interconnect with each other in complex ways, so helping me requires really having a complete understanding of the entire skeletal and muscular system. Pain does not always appear where the problem actually is, the human body is a twisty, many-layered puzzle. I have an exercise program I do at home and I am very functional, but there are just something things I need a PT to help me out with.

Read more: Testimonial by Jamie M.

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