Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways

Sexual Arousal and Mindfulness are Linked in Complex Ways


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.” – Gina Silverstein


Problems with sex are very common, but, with the exception of male erectile dysfunction, driven by the pharmaceutical industry, it is rarely discussed and there is little research. While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common, it is a topic that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to discuss. Women suffer from sexual dysfunction more than men with 43% of women and 31% of men reporting some degree of difficulty. These problems have major impacts on people’s lives and deserve greater research attention.


Problems with sex with women can involve reduced sex drive, difficulty becoming aroused, vaginal dryness, lack of orgasm and decreased sexual satisfaction. Sexual function in women involves many different systems in the body, including physical, psychological and hormonal factors. So, although, female sexual dysfunction is often caused by physical/medical problems, it is also frequently due to psychological issues. This implies that it many cases female sexual problems may be treated with therapies that are effective in working with psychological problems.


Mindfulness trainings have been shown to improve a variety of psychological issues including emotion regulationstress responsestraumafear and worryanxiety, and depression, and self-esteem. Mindfulness training has also been found useful in treating sexual problems. But there is little empirical research. So, it makes sense to further investigate the relationship of mindfulness with female sexual arousal.


In today’s Research News article “Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Dickinson and colleagues recruited women between the ages of 20 to 35 for a study on sexuality and stress hormones and measured them for mindfulness. They watched landscape photographs and rated their liking of the photographs and then provided salivary samples to assess oxytocin and cortisol. Oxytocin levels are a marker of sexual arousal. They then listened to 1.5-minute stories that were either neutral or erotic and provided salivary samples. They also rated their sexual arousal after each story. They then performed a breath focused meditation for 15 minutes and provided a third salivary sample. After a 15-minute quiet period they provided a fourth sample.


They found that the higher the women scored on mindfulness, particularly the describing facet, the higher their levels of reported arousal in response to the erotic stories. They also found that oxytocin levels did not significantly increase in response to the erotic stories, decreased significantly in response to mindful breathing, and increased during recovery. They further found that women high in the mindfulness facet of non-judging internal experience and women who were quicker in detecting mind wandering during meditation had significantly greater decreases in oxytocin during meditation. In addition, women who were quick in detecting mind wandering and women who reported large increases in sexual arousal while listening to the erotic stories had greater decreases in oxytocin while meditating.


These are complex results. They suggest that in women mindfulness, subjective sexual arousal, and endocrine markers of sexual arousal are all linked in complex ways. They also suggest that women who are high in mindfulness are more sexually responsive to erotic stimuli. This may suggest that mindfulness training may be effective in increasing women’s ability to be sexually aroused. Future research should investigate whether mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for women who have difficulty with sexual arousal.


“among women who have sexual difficulties, mindfulness not only improves their desire but improves their overall sexual satisfaction, too.” – Tracy Clark-Flory


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Dickenson JA, Alley J and Diamond LM (2019) Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Mindfulness Are Associated With Subjective and Oxytocinergic Responses to Sexual Arousal. Front. Psychol. 10:1101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01101


Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, and in the present moment – has consistently been shown to enhance women’s sexual arousal. As a first step toward understanding potential neuroendocrine underpinnings of mindfulness and sexual arousal, we examined whether individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine (i.e., oxytocin) responses to mindful breathing were associated with individual differences in subjective and neuroendocrine responses to sexual arousal. To achieve this aim, 61 lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women completed a questionnaire assessing dispositional mindfulness, underwent an arousal task while continuously rating their sexual arousal and a mindful breathing task, after which participants reported on their ability to detect attentional shifts, and provided salivary samples after each assessment. Results indicated that women who were quicker to detect attentional shifts and women who reported greater sexual arousability reported larger changes (decreases) in oxytocin in response to mindful breathing and were the only women to report increases in oxytocin in response to the sexual arousal induction. Results further indicated that individuals who report greater subjective responsiveness to mindfulness and sexual arousal appear to have an oxytocinergic system that is also more responsive to both arousal and to mindfulness. These results make a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of attentional processes in sexual arousal, and warrant future examination of oxytocin as a potential neuroendocrine mechanism underlying the link between mindfulness and sexual arousal.


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