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Mindful : August 2019
ing novice meditators with experienced meditators, participants had areas of their brain scanned with functional mag netic reso- nance imaging under two different conditions. In one condition, the participants were given instructions to focus mindfully on their moment-by-moment sensa- tions and during moments of distraction to gently guide their attention back to the present moment. In the other condition, the participants were presented with words and told to figure out what a presented word meant for them, to judge themselves for what they were feeling, and to allow themselves to get caught up in the contents of their thoughts. There were distinct differences in brain activation when partici- pants engaged in mindful- ness and when they allowed themselves to get caught up in their thoughts. There were other inter- esting findings from this study. The group that had participated in an eight- week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program showed reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with emotions, suggesting that one of the ways mindfulness is effec- tive is through reducing emotional activation associ- ated with body sensations. Thus, when one experi- ences the sensations of pain, for example, mindful- ness reduces the tendency to feel emotions such as sadness, anger, and despair in response to that pain. Furthermore, when the meditators were distracted, they maintained awareness of their body, whereas those untrained in mindfulness did not. The researchers postulated that even in stressful conditions, experi- enced meditators maintain an awareness of what is hap- pening in their body at all times. And the more daily mindfulness that partici- pants practiced, the more they could maintain this state of body awareness. How might this be rel- evant to women with low sexual desire? The research shows that women low in interoceptive awareness are more likely to have clinical symptoms such as depression, poor self- image, and symptoms of an eating disorder, and training in mindfulness improves each of these conditions. They are also more likely to judge themselves nega- tively, which impedes sexual desire. Furthermore, we have evidence that, in general, women’s concordance between their self-reported and physical sexual response is low, and that training in mindfulness significantly increases the degree of mind-to- body communication and improves self-reported interoceptive awareness. In turn, improvements in women’s interoceptive awareness predict improve- ments in their levels of sexual desire and reduc- tions in their feelings of sex-related distress. The take-home message is this: Mindfulness teaches women to become more aware of their internal bodily sensations, includ- ing sexual sensations, and this may improve their motivations for sex and increase their tendency to notice sexual arousal and have that arousal trigger sexual desire. Could it really be this simple—that teaching women to tune in to their body, to the signs that their body is already producing, and making them aware of these sensations can be enough to trigger sexual desire? I offer a tentative “yes” to this question. Why tentative? Because awareness of internal bodily sensations is only one of potentially many different ways that mindfulness exerts its beneficial effects on sexual desire. Without a doubt, when we pay attention to the body in a kind, compassionate, nonjudgmental, and present-oriented way, it offers us a new way of being in the world. And that new way of being might just be critical for the sexual satisfaction that so many women crave. ● From the book Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire, © 2018, by Lori A. Brotto. Published in April, 2018 by Greystone Books Ltd. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Mindfulness teaches women to become more aware of their internal bodily sensations, including sexual sensations. August 2019 mindful 65 sexuality