At first glance, mindfulness techniques and erections might not seem to have very much in common. After all, one involves working towards a state of inner calm and relaxation, while the other requires sexual stimulation and arousal. However, the two states have more in common than you might think.

It is estimated that over 40% of men will experience problems with getting or maintaining an erection (known by the medical term erectile dysfunction, or ED for short) by the time they reach middle age and beyond. However, ED is becoming an increasingly common problem for younger men as well.

For men under the age of 40, ED is more likely to be caused by a psychological or emotional problem than a physical one. This could be any mental health condition such as stress, depression, anxiety, poor body image, or low self esteem, resulting in a low sex drive and reduced sexual performance.

When ED is the result of stress, anxiety, or performance anxiety around having sex with a partner, some researchers believe that relaxation techniques such as mindfulness can have a positive effect. Mindfulness is based on ancient Buddhist practices, but modern day methods are not based on any particular religious or spiritual beliefs.

Rather, they are about learning to focus on the present moment, and filter out distractions or worries about the future, or memories from past experiences. It’s about letting yourself experience your bodily and mental sensations without hurry or judgement.

These techniques can be useful during foreplay to help you focus on your own and your partner’s senses, such as touch, sight, smell, and sound. For example, you might pay careful attention to the softness of your partner’s skin, or the changing rhythms of their breathing.

This can be especially useful for men who are anxious around sex, and feel judged on their sexual performance. Sometimes, this can happen after a disappointing sexual encounter where a man may feel they have let a partner down. The memory resurfaces next time they attempt to have sex, no matter if their partner was understanding about the incident.

In other cases, a man might feel suppressed guilt or shame around having sex, maybe if they have been brought up with strict religious or cultural expectations, or if they are cheating on a long term partner.

Other causes of performance anxiety may be due to a poor or unrealistic body image. Doctors report that male body dysmorphia is on the rise, thought to be driven by unattainable body shapes and standards of grooming displayed by the stars of reality TV and film. Other problems might occur after an illness that has led to changes in body size or shape.

When we are in a state of high anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and blood is redirected to the heart and muscles, a state designed to aid ‘fight or flight.’

By learning to bring the body into a state of relaxation and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, more blood is able to flow to the non essential organs of the body, including the penis. This in turn helps anxious men to overcome ED.

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