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Mindful : June 2013
June 2013 mindful 57 for anxiety to eat away at the edges of our awareness (and enjoyment). From playing pornographic films in our brains, evaluating our ow n sexual performance, worrying about the kids, or wondering what our butt looks like, there is ample opportunity to zone out. And sometimes, the distractions come from outside—this is especially true for parents of young children. My wife and I both fret that our son will wake up in the night and try to find mommy and daddy while we’re hav ing special mommy and daddy time. That kind of conditioning is partially why new parents can fall into the dreaded no-sex pattern. Or we can start to associate sex with premature ejaculation or breaking con- doms or not being happy about our bod- ies. When it becomes a source of anxiety, sex easily becomes more trouble than it’s worth, with the inevitable consequences that brings to our relationship. The problem is we’re wired to look out for threats—like, say, a lover ma king a sarcastic comment or a toddler bursting into the room. This is a trait psycholo- gists call “negativity bias,” which means that bad things make a bigger impression on our brains than good things. “That can happen with sexual experi- ence,” says Lucas. Negativity bias can arise from experiences with sexual violence, and resea rchers are finding mindfulness to be an effective treatment for abuse survivors. Mindfulness training helps, says Lucas, because “you’re more empowered when you know what ’s happening in your body and mind. If you notice when you’re distracted, then you can keep coming back; you can tell the difference and be more present.” Think like a zebra If you’re a zebra a nd a lion at tacks, stress ma kes sense. When we feel threatened, our bodies secrete adrenaline and other hormones to deal with short-term physi- cal crises. Evolution bequeathed us this stress response so we could escape lions, and it’s great for that. It’s not so great for erections, though. Because when we’re running from lions, erections are kind of silly. That’s just not the time for pleasurable reproductive activities. And no woman is foolish enough to get preoccupied with her clitoris during a time of crisis. This much we know. Trouble is, that sa me stress response kicks in when we’re faced with everyday worries, from traffic jams to utility bills to tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation. And we stink at turning off those worries when we enter the bedroom. The zebra doesn’t have that problem. When he’s not running from the lion, he’s pretty carefree. There’s no such thing as performance anxiety when you’re a zebra. That ’s why the zebra may have a better sex life than we do. While we’re sitting around worrying about job evaluations, there are zebras out there having special mommy and daddy time. We need to get a grip. Daily stress is a sex killer. In 21st-century America, it’s also pervasive, possibly inevitable. So how can we deal with the pressure and think more like zebras? Reducing stress with the help of daily doses of mindfulness meditation can help. Christine Car ter, author of Raising Happiness, suggests a few techniques: • Make a list of all the things that make you stressed so you can deal with them. • Change your routine a nd make plans that take the stress out of your day. • Prioritize your own health a nd happiness. Many studies suggest that cultivating compassion a nd forgiveness also reduces stress. This especially applies to our inti- mate relationships, where we can stress ourselves out over the wrong word or a sidelong glance or rolling eyes. “ When we trust somebody intimately, we’re opening ourselves up to pain because we are unprotected a nd they’re seeing us naked, physically and emotion- ally,” says Fred Luskin, who writes and teaches about forgiveness. Lots of men, especially, can’t deal with that—being vulnerable—a nd the result is boner- killing stress. Luskin’s advice? Instead of stressing about how the ruling inamorata in your life may or may not have done you wrong, devote a bit more time to looking for her awesome qualities and work on accepting the things that make her as screwed-up as you are. → While we worry, there are zebras out there having special mommy and daddy time.