What watching children can teach us about pleasure

Observe children playing outdoors. Whether together or alone, they are totally engaged and at one with the moment they are experiencing.  They let their emotions flow through them without filter. Passion, laughter and frustration move like water through a crack and change within the blink of an eye, returning to the enjoyment of the activity before them.

Next time you watch children playing in this way, recall how you used to be like this too. And recall what changed. While things like biological aging, illness and life’s ups and downs have an effect on our well being, so to do our responses to these inevitable hurdles. Watching children experience multiple emotions within one game, yet still remain engaged in their pursuit of pleasure is something most adults struggle with. We get distracted, judge our emotions as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ and engage in internal chatter that takes us out of the moment. Especially when it comes to sex.

Most of our waking hours are spent thinking about everything except what we are doing. We are thinking about the future, the past, that thing that someone said, the project that needs to be completed or the list of errands that need attending before the weekend. The truth is we are rewarded for thinking this way, so we persist with it. Such thinking emboldens career advancement, pay rises, social approval and acquisition of material gains. It helps households run smoothly and makes sure the party is a success. But in the process of all the planning, we neglect playtime, we neglect pleasure and that translates in ‘adult language’ to, we forget about sex and when we do it, we forget to pay attention to what we are doing.

Research shows that we are never happier within ourselves than we are when we are ‘present’, no matter the activity. Being present simply means we are paying attention to the activity at hand, even if we do not especially like it.

Now, to be clear I am not suggesting that anyone have sex or endure touch they do not enjoy. On the contrary, I am an advocate of talking about pleasure as much as possible and participating in engaged consent at all costs. But I am certainly suggesting that paying attention to what we are doing, especially during erotic play, gives us richer opportunities to feel what we are feeling, perhaps describe it and then even change it if helpful (through reflection and discussion) all by simply being present.

Where kids and mindfulness meet, we find better sex

Sadly, a very western phenomenon is the tendency to long for what we do not have, then when we have it, become anxious that we will lose it. So whether your sex life is satisfying or not, we are all still at the mercy of being in a perpetual state of anxiety about it, simply because we do not slow down enough to enjoy it for what it is. We are not present.

The alternative is to recognize that feelings, including sexual pleasure, come and go, and when we are attentive to what we are doing, we are in a better position to be able to savor it and enjoy it, rather than judging it as being good, bad, right, wrong or worrying that it will in fact soon be gone.

When watching children playing they are never thinking “Oh, this is going to end in an hour” then spend the rest of playtime moping about it. They instead pay no attention to time and simply indulge whole-heartedly in the experience; as if their lives depended on it.

Imagine if we approached sex with the same kind of adoration and reverence for pleasure as children approach play. No pathologizing. No judgment. Just pure, unadulterated attention. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘mindfulness’.

Be your own sex therapist

It’s easy to get caught up in a spiral of descending doubt and shame focusing only on you; your inadequacy, your shame about your shame and your other critical thoughts about your otherwise human feelings. It makes sense. After all, we are the filter through which we experience our lives. As a consequence however, we easily get thrown off course, especially when sex is involved: because someone doesn’t come, loses their erection, didn’t say that I was attractive or didn’t initiate, and so we spend a lot of time ruminating on what isn’t happening and dwelling on unpleasant feelings, rather than what is happening and how great it is or could be if we paid attention to what other feelings or sensations are present than just the critical thoughts.

As important as sex is, and as important as we are, our lives are relatively short – and some could even say somewhat meaningless. Our capacity for physical activity diminishes rapidly and everything can seem more important than pleasure, that is, unless we stop and pay attention to it for the duration of time we have on the planet. It helps in these situations to adopt a sense of humor and imagine yourself as a character in a book or a movie. Get a little distance from the seriousness of your life and focus less on the emotions and more on the narrative that is unfolding.

  • If you could rewrite your own story, what would you change?
  • What would you like to amplify and what would you like to experience less of?

Rather than getting lost in critical thoughts and dwelling on unpleasant emotions, focus on observation. Watch yourself with a little detachment and see how much pressure is alleviated when you give yourself permission to take yourself less seriously.

Prepare for connection

Breathe deeply and focus on your exhale to reduce the jitters and anxiety associated with physical tension. Bring your attention to being rather than doing.

Approach sex like a meditation but instead of paying attention to your breath, pay attention to what you can feel; sensation in your body. Pay attention to what you can feel in your fingers if you are touching another’s body. The more centered you are as you engage in sex, the easier it will be for you to remain present and in harmony with the experience. Toning the reflexes of the mind in this way assists with toning your sexological knowledge, allowing you to feel more relaxed and less reactive in sex if anything is less than perfect.

And finally, from the pen of the great Leonard Cohen:



Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.