There’s no denying that our interest in slow sex, or mindful sex, is on the rise. From sexy audio stories to carefully curated ‘pleasure packages’, there’s a whole new world of thoughtful, creative approaches to sex out there – and for many brands, female pleasure is finally being made the focus.
Slow sex. What do the words mean to you? If it’s dimming the lights, blasting Marvin Gaye and taking the pace of your bedroom activities down a notch, then in this case, you haven’t quite hit the spot.
That’s because, while all of those things could well feature in a session of slower sex, in this instance ‘slow’ refers to mindfulness, not speed.
In the last two decades, our mile-a-minute, tech-driven lives have sent us in search of ‘slow food’ (lovingly prepared seasonal ingredients), ‘slow travel’ (offbeat, eco-friendly journeys) and ‘slow journalism’ (deep-dive features that go beyond the breaking news cycle).
These mindful movements involve fully engaging in the moment and putting more thought into the choices we make as humans. Contrary to its name, mindfulness helps us reconnect with our bodily senses and dislocate from the everyday worries that rattle around in our brains. MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) has even been used by the NHS to treat recurring depression.
How does mindfulness translate to our sex lives, though? Slow sex sounds a bit, well, dull. How do we define the vastness of sex – swift and unhurried, wild and comforting, awkward and joyous – in a ‘slow’ or ‘mindful’ context?
Writer, sex educator and ambassador for sexual wellbeing brand Tenga, Alix Fox, describes mindful sex as follows: “Mindful sex is about being truly in the moment during an erotic experience. It involves being utterly present and focused, and paying attention to all the sensations and emotions flowing through you, without judging yourself for whatever you happen to feel.”
In a world where we devote more time to our screens than our sex lives, mindful sex may seem laughably impractical, but Fox explains that there are multiple benefits.
“Having mindful sex – indeed, practicing mindfulness full stop – can be challenging if you’ve got a lot on your plate, or you’re knackered or anxious. Yet mindful sexual sessions can help us to feel more rested, relaxed, calm and contented. It may sound hippy dippy, but mindful sex is certainly worth putting your mind to.”
While mindful sex is moving into becoming a trend in 2019, it certainly isn’t a new thing. Tantric sex, or tantra, which centres on heightening the senses through mindfulness and connection, is an ancient practice that appears in Hinduism and Buddhism. Fast forward to the 00s and a string of books on tantric or slow sex appeared, published by the likes of couples therapist Diana Richardson, whose 2018 TED Talk on mindful sex has so far racked up almost half a million views.
We’re not only talking about the sensations of the act itself, though. Mindful sex encompasses anything that enhances our sex lives – from apps and websites to books – and that’s where a new wave of brands comes in.
With more women writing and theorising about sex than ever before, and greater numbers of women working and consulting in the sextech industry, a plethora of female-founded brands, publications and collectives have emerged. These range from Dipsea’s sexy audio stories for women, to mindful sex app Ferly, sex education website OMGYes and ‘pleasure package’ subscription service The Sway, via Flo Perry’s sex-positive book How to Have Feminist Sex, to name a handful.
United by a thoughtful and creative approach to sex, their focus is on female pleasure. Perry’s guide to bringing feminism into the bedroom is a great instructional tool for women who want to make more mindful choices about sex. Reliably smart, frank and relatable, it covers everything from masturbation to monogamy, pubes to sending nudes, and is crammed with her playful illustrations.
“I like the idea of more conscious sex,” says Perry. “I think it’s hard, especially for women, to really know what we want from sex. To separate what we want to do, from what is expected of us during sex.”
On the rise of ‘slow sex’, she says: “Not everyone wants to have romantic fireside tantric encounters, some people want to be fingered hard and fast on the back of a bus, and both of those fantasies can be done equally consciously, and full of feminism.”
The rise of audio porn or audio erotica, too, reveals a growing interest in slower, more immersive forms of stimulation. Gina Gutierrez, co-founder of Dipsea, the sexy short story app for women, sees a connection between the numbers of women working in sextech and the slow sex movement.
“While we don’t necessarily think about it as ‘slow sex’, we’re proud to be part of a movement that’s re-imagining sex as mind-first vs. body-first,” she says, adding that the wider societal change is likely down to, “a growing curiosity around, and interest in, serving women in all the ways they uniquely experience sexuality.”
Crafting fantasies through scene-setting and tension-building, Dipsea’s stories can be adjusted according to sexual orientation and explicitness, and listened to solo or with a partner. Based on research that, especially for women, tapping into sexual feelings has a lot to do with mood and context, Dipsea creates scenarios that listeners can envision as they like. As one subscriber puts it, “It leaves room for my own imagination to fill in the blanks”.
Gen de Rohan Willner and Sinead O’Hare, co-founders of The Sway – a subscription service that sends bi-monthly ‘pleasure packages’ full of thoughtful prompts and products discreetly to your door – believe “we are seeing a huge shift in sexual wellbeing as a whole being valued alongside physical health and mental wellbeing, which is fantastic.”
The Sway was born out of that very change in perception. “Sex often took the backseat in our busy lives,” says de Rohan Willner. “Between the yoga, facials and green juices we were purchasing to ‘look after ourselves’, neither of us were lifting a finger to keep our sex lives alive and kicking. That little shift in our minds that sex is also something that needs ‘looking after’ is where The Sway started.”
Education and curation are important to the brand. Unlike other subscription services, each box is themed around a new ‘area’ of pleasure. This promotes exploration and communication while introducing subscribers to new products they may not have otherwise discovered.
Like Gutierrez, de Rohan Willner believes mindful sex is part of a wider zeitgeist in which “women are being more vocal than ever, demanding equality in all aspects of their lives”.
Interestingly, The Sway’s most popular products don’t involve vibration. Instead, orgasm enhancer balms and good old-fashioned lube are forever popular. The founders note that there’s also “a rising interest in massage products – the perfect example of a product that helps spice things up while slowing things down”.
The lack of ‘buzz’ may tie into what Alix Fox coins ‘The NoZap Movement’, referring to women who periodically give up vibrating sex toys, feeling they have become over-reliant on intense stimulation, which can make it harder to appreciate the comparatively delicate sensations of human touch. Similarly, some men may “give up porn and masturbation for a set period of time in an effort to ‘reset’ their mental outlook and physical sensitivity”.
Solo sex is alive and healthy, though, and also ties into the slow sex movement. Research by Tenga reveals that masturbation is starting to be seen as a form of self-care – a view which very much feeds into more mindful attitudes to sex.
The Self Pleasure Report, produced in May this year, revealed that 64% of Brits used masturbation as a form of self-care, with 52% saying it improved their wellbeing. British respondents ranked masturbation as more pleasurable and more stress-relieving than wellness activities like taking a bath or listening to music.
What does all this mean? Cheeringly, we’re thinking and talking about sex in broader, more explorative and progressive ways. Female entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for sextech to catch up to their needs. Ancient taboos about masturbation are beginning to be dismantled. We’re being kinder to our bodies.
Once we forget the idea of mindful sex as a specific kind of candlelit tantric experience, and instead see it as a much-needed shot of thought and imagination for our sex lives, it becomes a whole lot more accessible and, well, sexy.
Could we see people giving up sex toys altogether in favour of mindful sex and tantric practices? As with anything, it’s all about balance. We wouldn’t live on ‘slow food’ alone – sometimes we want a sugary snack – and our sexual appetites are just as diverse. You might want to dip into audio porn one day, and be gratified in an entirely different way the next.
So, while slow sex is on the rise, it remains part of a vast and colourful array of sexual pleasures – and that’s altogether more stimulating.
Images: Getty, Unsplash