How Focusing on the Positive Can Lead to Better Sex – A Guest Post by Dr. Madeleine Castellanos

Dissatisfied with your sex life? I know how it can go. Maybe you find yourself wanting sex a little bit less with every day that goes by. Or maybe sex just doesn’t feel as good lately. Maybe you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction (ED) or some other sexual issue. Maybe you’re experiencing some combination of all of these. It’s easy to fall into that downward spiral of what seems to be chronically bad sex. Here, I share with you how to turn it all around.

How Focusing on the Positive Can Lead to Better Sex

Where it All Goes Downhill

In our lives in general—but especially when it comes to sexuality—our brains are set up to look for problems in our environment so that we can solve those problems ahead of time. If we experienced a problem the last time we had sex, we immediately think we’ll encounter the same problem next time. So we try to think of what we can do ahead of time in order to make sex a success. And as a result, we just end up having all of these negative thoughts. And then what happens?

Our brains release stress hormones into our system. And obviously, the stress response is not good for sex. In fact, in trying to work out our “problems” efficiently, our brain begins to make negative associations with the thing we’re thinking about. In this case, we develop negative associations around sex.

For example, at the beginning of a relationship, things feel easy. The dopamine is flowing. We’re punch drunk in love. Our partner can do no wrong. Once that wears off, however, all of the things that didn’t seem to bother us before because our brain was awash in dopamine now piss us off. If we allow that to become the focus of our thinking, we start to make negative associations around our relationship. The long laundry list of negative stuff presented to us by our brain makes it difficult to think of any of the positive stuff that exists in our relationship.

Why You Should Think Positive

Having positive thoughts leads to a more positive outlook. If you can shift the focus of your attention on something that’s positive about a specific experience, rather than something that’s negative, you start associating that activity with positive thoughts and feelings.

How can we apply this concept to sex? Arousal happens when we’re mentally relaxed. If there are things happening in our environment that are stressful, and that cause us to feel anxiety or fear, we’re not going to be able to allow arousal to proceed in the way it needs to. Our brain will be too caught up in problem solving. What we need to do is to learn how to focus on our positive thoughts about sex. This will help us avoid getting caught up in this negative cycle.

In addition, when you focus on what you like and enjoy about sex, you can actually figure out a way to enhance or increase those aspects of your sex life.

How Can You Shift Your Entire Mindset?

If you’re used to focusing on everything that’s wrong with your sex life, it’s difficult to change those habits. When clients come to me, they often have a long list of things that are not going well for them. And while it is initially important to identify these issues, their situation won’t improve by only focusing on what’s not working.

Instead, you need to shift that focus toward what works, and figure out how to increase that in your life. What do you like? What positive thoughts do you have about your partner? What turns you on? All of that is what’s going to help you. Pairing those positive thoughts with positive experiences reinforces that loop of attention-desire-action-pleasure .

And as you intentionally shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive thoughts, you create new habits. While this change happens much faster in childhood and adolescence, we can still change what our brain looks like as adults. Everything we focus our attention on… the brain makes space for that. The more you practice something, the more your brain actually devotes physical real estate to that activity.

Okay. Sounds Easy Enough. What’s the Catch?

It can be easy to fall into the mindset that negative things are happening to us, and that we have no control over them. This can be a very big obstacle in shifting from negative to positive thinking. If you don’t take responsibility for the things that happen to you, you don’t change anything, because you don’t think you can. Unless you can step out of that viewpoint, nothing will change because no one else is coming to save you.

If this mindset is one of the things that’s holding you back, know that you’re not alone. This is a common problem among people stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts. It can help to list out the ways in which making a positive change will benefit you. And then? You’ll likely have to experience success in order to internalize and believe it.

So start small. For example, I used to always let the dirty dishes to pile up in the sink until, eventually, I was stuck in this terrible cycle. I felt terrible and guilty about the fact that nothing was clean. But I could find nothing pleasurable in the process of cleaning dishes. But eventually, I found that if I looked in the sink after I’d washed the dishes and saw it empty and clean and sparkly, I could allow myself to enjoy that moment and realize Wow, I really like it like this. Next, knowing that I was doing something I wanted to do allowed me to enjoy the pleasure of the warm water and the soap bubbles.  And with a little bit of practice, I got myself to a place where I actually wanted to wash the dishes. This was a direct result of using a focus on the positive to motivate me and change my mindset.

Another tactic is to work on mindfulness, and here’s why. Imagine you’re a young guy with ED, which is an issue that’s firmly rooted in anxiety. You’re making out with your partner, and your partner reaches down and—bam!—you’re already worried. You’re worried that what has happened before will inevitably happen again. This thought process takes you out of the moment and into the future. You’re already imagining everything that can go wrong, which takes you away from the pleasure of the moment.

To combat this pattern, I like to prescribe mindfulness meditation. Even if you can devote just three minutes a day to this, you’ll see results. And all you have to do is focus on your breath.

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes or allow for a soft gaze. And begin to focus on your breath. How long are your inhales and exhales? Where do you feel the breath most as it moves through your body? In the rise and fall of your belly and your chest? In the expansion and contraction of your lower abdomen? At the back of your throat? At the tip of your nose? What aspect of the breath appeals to you?

If you find yourself distracted by thoughts, it’s okay. It happens to everyone. Pat yourself on the back for being mindful enough to notice it, and then gently guide your focus back to your breath. In this way, you learn that you are not your thoughts. You are just a person who happens to have thoughts.

With practice, you can increase your ability to catch yourself when you get caught up in your thoughts, whether during your mindfulness meditation sessions or during sex. When you begin to apply this to sex, you’ll find it easier to bring yourself back to the moment. You’ll be able to focus on what you really, really like, which will only serve to enhance your arousal.

And that’s the key: to focus on increasing the positive, rather than minimalizing the negative.

 

Written by: Dr. Madeleine Castellanos

A psychiatrist specializing in sex therapy with couples and individuals, Madeleine Castellanos, M.D. is committed to helping others learn about their own sexuality and how to achieve physical and emotional balance in their sex lives. In her private practice she provides sex therapy for couples and individuals who want to address a sexual dysfunction, sexual difficulties, or just improve their sex lives. In addition to sex therapy, she provides hormone replacement and functional medicine consultations. She is a member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, and the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health.

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