Claudia Blake, author of "The Joy of Mindful Sex: Be in the Moment and Enrich Your Lovemaking" discusses what can hold a woman back from enjoying great sex. She writes, "fundamentally, sex is about enjoying our bodies and, if we're making love with someone else, enjoying a connection to them. If that's what's happened for us, if we've had a nice time, then for us that was great sex. It might not look like the great sex we read about in magazines, or even like the last great sex we had, but all we really need is to remember that greatness is about our own experience, not about some fixed definition."
Commitmentnow.com: Why do you think 52 percent of Americans say they are unsatisfied with their sex life?
Claudia Blake: That's a saddening figure, but in a way, asking why 52 per cent aren't happy is the wrong question. Everyone is different, and the reasons for being dissatisfied are going to be unique to each person. Some of us know what we want but don't know how to ask for it; some of us don't know how to uncover what we want; some of us are alone and feel we can't be sexually content without a partner; some of us are with a partner but afraid that they'll reject us if we're too honest about who, sexually, we really are.
We need to connect back with ourselves to find out what would satisfy us, and to find the confidence to seek that satisfaction.
One thing that definitely doesn't help, though, is that we live in a culture of perfectionism. The ideal body leans down at us from every billboard; magazines are full of quizzes on how you could be more exciting than you are; we divide sex into the normal and the abnormal and can be brutal to those we put in the 'abnormal' category.
With so much judgment everywhere we look, it's terribly difficult to keep from worrying when we get into the bedroom - and if we're worried about what's wrong with us, it's hard to enjoy ourselves.
We may stay in a rut simply because we're afraid, deep down, that we don't deserve any better, that good sex is for thinner, or younger, or wittier, or handsomer, or better people than our poor selves.
All of it's nonsense. Sex is about experience, and experience comes from within. We need to learn how to come back to our bodies and let go of all the stress - though that's easy to say. Doing it requires a different way of being with ourselves.
Commitmentnow.com: What holds many back from enjoying great sex?
Claudia: I think the simplest answer is that we tend to have the wrong idea about what 'great sex' is. We think of it in terms of endless potency from the man, multiple orgasms from the woman, fifty-one different raunchy positions for penetration and a whole checklist of things we can tick to somehow quantify things enough that we feel we've proved something - which is a daunting prospect for anyone!
But fundamentally, sex is about enjoying our bodies and, if we're making love with someone else, enjoying a connection to them. If that's what's happened for us, if we've had a nice time, then for us that was great sex.
It might not look like the great sex we read about in magazines, or even like the last great sex we had, but all we really need is to remember that greatness is about our own experience, not about some fixed definition.
Commitmentnow.com: If a couple tends to be on 'autopilot' when they make love, how can they escape this 'going through the motions' type of sex and experience something more wondrous and pleasurable?
Claudia: Mindfulness is the answer here. We spend a lot of our lives on autopilot both in and out of the bedroom, and while we shouldn't pressure ourselves about that, bringing our awareness back to the moment is tremendously enriching.
Put simply, mindfulness is a peaceful, non-judgemental perception of what's happening right now: we pay attention to what we hear, feel, smell and see just as it is. This doesn't mean, of course, that we can't say if we'd like to do something different: with sex, being aware of our feelings means respecting and responding to them rather than being so 'non-judgemental' that we never pipe up.
But the thing is, even the ordinary is extraordinary when we're fully aware of it: it's a wild and beautiful world we live in.
Mindfulness helps us experience ourselves and present in it, and that makes everything more wondrous - and sex is no exception.
Commitmentnow.com: How is being in the moment directly related to pleasurable lovemaking?
Claudia: Being in the moment relates to lovemaking because, simply, we enjoy a pleasurable sensation the more we notice it. When we think back over our best ever sexual experiences, what they often have in common is that we were enjoying ourselves so much that we weren't thinking of anything but what we were doing. That was a moment of mindfulness: our attention was completely absorbed in the present moment.
But we don't need to expect sex to be so dazzling that it forces us it be present: we can be present whenever we choose - and that's when sex becomes its most rewarding.
Commitmentnow.com: If we have some hatred and disdain for our body, what can we do to improve our body image and feel accepting of sexual pleasure?
Claudia: The first thing is not to blame ourselves for feeling bad about our bodies: in this world we live in, everybody's a casualty to some extent. It's easy to develop a kind of secondary perfectionism in which we dislike our bodies for being imperfect, and then dislike both our bodies and our minds for disliking ourselves in the first place, which can go round and round until we're thoroughly miserable.
So the thing to do is forget about body 'image'. It's not about how we see ourselves; it's about how we feel ourselves.
When we're mindful of our bodies as we ourselves experience them, not as some cold-eyed other might see them, there's no place for judgments. We are what we are and feel what we feel, and what we truly are and feel is never inadequate.
Commitmentnow.com: For those who see sexual pleasure as an enemy, something to be ashamed of, how can we change our perception so that sex is seen and experienced as a natural and good part of life?
Claudia: It's a shame that we often get so twisted up about sexual morality, because in itself, sexual morality is a good thing. It's wrong to take advantage of people, or to betray our promises, or to use sex to hurt someone, and these are all moral issues: it's good when we avoid real wrongdoing. Like any part of life, sex has a moral dimension, and that's as it should be.
Sometimes, though, our morals can get pushed too far, and we end up thinking of sex - in itself as natural and innocent an action as eating - as wrong in itself. For someone who feels that way, I think that running away from the idea of morality altogether isn't going to work. What's better is to sit with ourselves for a while and think about what our beliefs actually are - and then to make some resolutions.
If we believe sex should only happen within a committed relationship, or that casual sex is all right as long as we're honest with our partners, or that sex is no good to us without love ... well, those are all perfectly reasonable conclusions.
Individuals will vary to some extent, but everyone will agree on the big issues, and by thinking it through we can draw up a code of conduct that satisfies us.
If we can then stick to it, it becomes easier to separate appropriate remorse, which we feel when we break our own code, from free-floating guilt, which is more about anxiety than about genuine morals. Once we have some distinction between healthy remorse and unhealthy guilt, relaxing away the anxiety becomes easier, because we know that we have at least stood by our real principles.
Commitmentnow.com: If a man or a woman has performance anxiety, what do you suggest they do to relax?
Claudia: When it comes to performance anxiety, the usual root problem is that we've got some fixed idea of what our 'performance' ought to be able to produce. In reality, if we don't produce it but a good time is had by all nevertheless, who cares?
So part of relaxing is letting go of the idea that sex has to be this way or that. The only thing sex needs to be is consensual and mutually enjoyed.
Commitmentnow.com: Can you share with us some exercises on exploring sexual fantasies and getting to better know the erotic self?
Claudia: A good way to start is with a sensuous meditation that settles you in your own body. Seat yourself comfortably, close your eyes, and focus for a while on your breathing. Let your mind settle on nothing more than the sensation, the sounds, the smell, the feel of being where you are right now; if thoughts come into your mind, let them go and gently return your attention to yourself.
After you've relaxed into this, turn your focus to the sensual parts of your body. Rest your attention on your genitals, your lips, your nipples, whatever parts of you feel most erotic. Don't do anything except just experience them: what you're doing is feeling the outlines of your sexual body. This is a simple meditation, but as a foundation for being present in your own sexy self, it can be wonderful.
Sexual fantasies can have a complicated relationship with mindfulness. If you're trying a non-sexual meditation, a sexual fantasy that creeps in is going be a distraction; on the other hand, nobody has a sex life that doesn't involve fantasy. Properly viewed, fantasy is a vital guide to understanding what your sexual self, that gorgeous, vibrant inner being, is like.
When you consider your fantasies, try to feel what common threads tie them together. Do you long to feel powerful and invulnerable? Playful and innocent? Possessed and overwhelmed? There is no bad answer to this question: only answers that do or don't sound the depths of your passions. Once you have made friends with your fantasies, you have a marvelous foundation for knowing who, in the bedroom, you really are.
Commitmentnow.com: What suggestions do you have for creating a sacred space for sex?
Claudia: A sacred space should be comfortable and enticing: clean sheets, scented candles, nice lighting and reduced clutter can all contribute. It can also help to have certain dedicated objects that you only set out when you're putting the room in 'sacred' mode: not necessarily 'traditional' erotic objects, but something that evokes, for you, the sexual self you're choosing to explore.
There are no mistakes about where to have sex, as long as where you choose feels comfortable for you and doesn't intrude upon the privacy of others. As long as we're happy and respecting of other people, anywhere is the right place.
Commitmentnow.com: How can we fully appreciate our partner during sex and make them feel that they are appreciated and beloved by us?
Claudia: When it comes to sex, a good rule to remember is this: we can make love to each others' emotions as much as to each others' bodies.
Appreciation is a precious gift, and one that we can never give too much of. The balance to this is that we need to be honest - and real honesty can be a scary proposition. When we're secure in our own experience and confident of ourselves, it becomes much easier to invite someone else in.
Commitmentnow.com: How does great sex remind us of who we really are? And how can it strengthen our relationship?
Claudia: It's not so much that sex reminds us of who we really are; it's more that we can experience who we really are whatever we're doing, and that includes sex. It's a way of combining two good things to make something really great.
And the more of ourselves we can bring into the sexual side of a relationship, the better lovers can understand each other.
Lovemaking can be a profound way to affirm someone, and the more present they are in that moment, the more of them we can affirm.
Sex takes place within the context of a relationship, and there's a whole lot of other elements that are equally important - if you aren't communicating and being kind to each other outside the bedroom, sex is not the cure-all - but as a way to break down barriers, show each other our secret selves and just take delight in delighting each other, it's a wonderful foundation.
To purchase "The Joy of Mindful Sex" click here.
About the Author: Claudia Blake is the author of two novels and a number of works on popular culture. She has a special interest in meditation and has trained as a masseur. She lives in London.