Many of us have an inner critic; a little demon who sits on our shoulder and fills our mind with anxieties and self-doubts. ‘I’m not good enough!’, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’, ‘I’m obviously going to fail!’ They can appear from time to time when we’re faced with something new, or something we’ve struggled with in the past.
But what about when they appear during sex? Distracting you from what you want to focus on and criticizing every little thing you’re doing?
Well, that’s what we want to talk about...
If you ever question what you’re doing, doubt your ability or even worry about the size of your thighs during sex, then you may be engaging in spectatoring. It’s nothing new. Although the term was coined by sex researchers in the 60s, it is in fact an age-old problem impacting sexually active couples the world over.
Spectatoring, simply put, means getting stuck in your own head and losing focus during sex rather than connecting with your partner and enjoying the moment. It means becoming distracted by critical internal dialogue - that demon on your shoulder - instead of allowing yourself to relax and focus purely on the feelings and sensations within your body.
During spectator sex you’ll find you are closely monitoring your actions and looking for reactions from your partner to work out how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking. You may even feel like you’re observing the whole thing from the outside and barely involved at all.
And that doesn’t sound like much fun for you or your partner, does it?
If you find yourself regularly spectatoring or struggling to focus during sex, there could be a number of reasons for it.
Perhaps an undesirable sexual experience in the past has led to a lack of confidence or other performance issues. Perhaps body image issues, penis appearance concerns or worries of sexual inadequacy are making it hard for you to relax.
Are you simply struggling to get your head away from work or parenting and into the role of lover? Or do you feel there are other unresolved issues in your relationship that might be getting in the way?
Whatever the cause of your distraction it’s worth getting the support you need to resolve it in order that you can enjoy a better connection and more intimate sexual experiences with your partner.
On a personal level you might feel as though thoughts about how you’re looking or whether you’re performing well prevent you from getting the most out of your sexual experiences. So it will come as no surprise to learn that spectator sex leaves you feeling less satisfied and less likely to have an orgasm. It may lead to performance anxiety, erectile problems in men or avoidance of sexual activity completely.
But of course, sexual difficulties never impact just one side of the relationship. If you’re struggling to engage fully, your partner is likely to be aware of that lack of connection, perhaps noticing that you’re not fully present in the moment. Which means that in time doubts might begin to creep in about their own sexual performance and your relationship as a whole.
Which is why, for a healthy sex life, it’s vital you talk to one another about how you’re feeling and the anxieties you’re faced with. Then look to tackle the problem together.
In order to put an end to spectator sex, as well as other distracting thoughts that are disrupting your sexual activity, you need to stop thinking about outcomes. It's not about looking sexy or reaching climax. Instead focus on the process, the sensation of touch.
And the best way to do that? Mindfulness.
This is something you can practice on a daily basis, finding moments to focus on your breathing and bring your thoughts back to the present. And the more practiced you become at achieving this in-the-moment state during daily activities, the easier it will be for you to achieve this same state during sex.
According to research, mindfulness is effective at improving sexual dysfunctions. In fact, teaching women mindfulness can decrease anxiety and depression while increasing sexual arousal and desire.
Practicing mindfulness during sex allows you to immerse yourself fully and focus only on the physical sensations within your body. If you feel distracting thoughts coming into your mind, simply take a deep breath and let them float away. Accept that these thoughts are natural and let go of them without judgement. Focus on your breath and you’ll find in time interruptions become fewer and farther between.
When sexual issues occur that are born of anxiety, particularly when they’ve been apparent for some time, it’s important to take a step back and remove the feeling or expectation of ‘performance’. Initially it’s not about the pleasures of sex or meeting your partner’s needs. It should be simply about sensations – temperature, pressure and texture – rather than evaluating or judging what’s going on.
Sensate Focus is a sex therapy technique that is about bringing you into the present moment, tuning into your body rather than focusing on what’s happening on the outside. It uses touch exercises to help couples reconnect and explore their sexual desires together at the right pace for them.
Blueheart incorporates mindfulness into sex therapy by using Sensate Focus as its core treatment. It is currently the only online sex therapy app that uses this technique and has been designed by world-leading experts and backed by science.
Remember, sex should be about being with someone. It’s about connection and intimacy, not performance or even giving the other person pleasure. Penis size and cellulite don't come into it when you're enjoying being close to your partner.
If you’re struggling with spectatoring, be reassured that sexual difficulties, body image issues and performance anxieties really can get better with therapy. You can learn to be in the moment and create a pleasurable sexual experience for both you and your partner.
And finally, stay positive. Just because this is the way it is, does not mean it’s the way it will always be.