Being Mindful During Sex: Find-the-Smell Activity

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil, LSWTherapist

Posted by: Shannon Oliver-O'Neil
LSWTherapist
267-428-2610

Many women and men struggle with being mindful during partnered sex. Difficulty staying engaged, or mindfulness, during sex can make sex less enjoyable, or even cause avoidance of sexual encounters. To address this issue, let’s first break down some root causes and their connection to mindfulness. In her book Come as You Are,  Dr. Emily Nagoski lays out the ways our desire functions. Each of us has a spectrum of excitation and a spectrum of inhibition.These systems operate independently of each other - it’s possible to have a responsive excitation system, and unresponsive inhibition system, or doubly unresponsive system, etc.  You can imagine them like a gas pedal, and brake pedal for your sexual desire. Pressing the gas pedal, or excitation system, “revs up the engine”. Pressing the brake pedal, or inhibition system, slows down your desire. If you have a responsive excitation system (aka, a heavy foot on the gas pedal), it takes fewer pieces of information for our brains to decide “oh yes, it would be nice to have sex now.” For many folks who struggle with being mindful during sex, their issue is an overly responsive inhibition system (aka, a heavy foot on the brake pedal). For these folks, it takes fewer pieces of information for their brains to decide “oh nope, now is not a great time to have sex.” A draft, or the phone ringing could mean the end of desire as the inhibition system fires up and slams on the brakes. Being more mindful can help you take your foot “off the brake”.

Many folks find that their primary sexual inhibitors come from internal stimuli (i.e. thoughts and feelings) versus external stimuli (i.e. a ringing cell phone). This means that their thoughts and feelings can cause their inhibition system to fire up, and pull them out of their desire. For these people feeling anxious, or having thoughts about what else they should be doing, or how they should look, or what they should be doing can you take you out of the moment and inhibit their arousal. In order to help men and women stay engaged during sex, it’s equally if not more important to take our feet off the brake pedal, than it is to slam our foot on the gas. Mindfulness helps with this.

Find-the-Smell is an exercise designed to help you be more mindful during sex. It allows you to take your foot of the brake pedal and manage your internal inhibitors. “Find-the-Smell” will help you stay grounded and connected to your partner while focusing in on pleasurable sensations. In this exercise, you’ll use smell, but it can easily be adapted to incorporate other senses. “Find-the-Smell” may make you feel silly, engaged or vulnerable. Give yourself and your partner permission to laugh.

Find-the-Smell
Pick 3 items from your kitchen or bathroom that have strong smells (i.e., coffee beans, lavender oil, or a lemon are all great examples- things that won’t irritate the skin or your partner’s nose.)

Rub each item onto a separate spot on your body. Try to spread them out. Example: under your chin, to the side of your right arm pit, on the bottom of your left foot, etc. The intent is to spread the three individual scents across your body so they won’t obscure each other. You may want to wash your hands after applying to ensure the scents only land where you intended them to.


Invite your partner to explore your body with their nose. Tell them what three smells they are looking for, set a timer, and see how long it takes them to find the smell.

Switch roles and see if you can beat your partner’s’ time.


When each of you has had a turn as the scent seeker, discuss the following reflections questions together. Remember to use “I-language”, and avoid blaming or shaming your partner.

    • What does my skin smell like to you? What do you find comforting about it? Sexy?
    • What areas of your body felt uncomfortable to be sniffed? Why? Here’s what it was like for me to smell those areas ______
    • What areas felt erotic when sniffed? Why? Here’s what it was like for me to smell those spots ______
      What’s an early memory you have of feeling embarrassed by how your body smells?
    • What’s an early memory you have of loving the way your body smells?

Activities where your brain has a task during physical intimacy can help decrease distracted-ness during sex - the energy and attention that’s usually spent wandering or feeling anxious can be channeled into the task at hand. You can create variations of this exercise using any of the five senses - hiding tastes around your body, or temperatures/textures, etc.

When you find yourself feeling distracted by internal inhibitors during sex, think back to this exercise and use your senses to keep yourself grounded and engaged during sex.

If you and your partner want more support building intimacy, or found that discussing the included reflection questions was difficult, make an appointment with a sex therapist today.