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“Effects of a Mindfulness Task on Women’s Sexual Response” by Velten et al.

Purpose of the Study

One of the peculiar characteristics of female sexuality is the independence of women’s emotional, behavioral, and physiological responses to sexual stimuli. Female sexual response is not a monolith, uniform phenomenon; in fact, it is possible to break it down to at least two major components. The genital sexual response is primarily neurovascular in nature and manifests itself as increased blood flow to a person’s sexual organs (Velten et al., 2018). However, sexual experience is not strictly physical, which is why the second component, referred to as subjective, plays a no less important role. An individual processes sexual experiences mentally and psychologically as well, and it is their mind that signals their readiness for a sexual act (Velten et al., 2018). Research shows that the two processes – genital and subjective responses – are not perfectly aligned. Interestingly enough, it is women who show the most variation in the relationship between genital and mental arousal. While some women experience both processes simultaneously, others report low or even negative concordance.

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Velten et al. (2018) argue that there is still little understanding of the causes of sexual discordance in women. The researchers speculate that this phenomenon is likely to be one of the contributors to female sexual dissatisfaction. Statistically, 40% of adult women experienced at least some sexual difficulties within the last year. Indeed, connecting body and mind may be a challenging task that, as hypothesized by Velten et al. (2018), can be facilitated through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice stemming from Buddhist meditative traditions defined as “present-moment, nonjudgmental awareness” and a focus on the now (Velten et al., 2018, p. 778). Thus, the main purpose of the present study was to measure the effects of a laboratory-based mindfulness exercise compared to a visualization exercise on the subjective and genital sexual response (H1). The second hypothesis was the influence of the said exercises on sexual concordance in women. The second research purpose was to pinpoint the association between different aspects of mindfulness and female sexual response.

Description of the Procedures

For their study, Velten et al. (2018) recruited 41 women that met their eligibility criteria. The majority resided in British Columbia, Canada; they were 19 years old and older, native English speakers or fluent in English, not pregnant or breastfeeding. Velten et al. (2019) excluded women who were not sexually active, menopausal, had an ongoing mental condition or were on medication that could interfere with their sex drive. The genital response was measured using a vaginal photoplethysmograph that participants inserted themselves after a quick instruction. The subjective dimension of sexual arousal was evaluated through self-reports, where participants were asked to describe the intensity of their internal and external experiences. For their comfort, their armchairs were equipped with optic mouses where they could report their state from 7 (highest sexual arousal) to -2 (turned off) in one click. Lastly, women were offered the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire that covered aspects such as observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experience, and non-reactivity to inner experience.

First, women viewed a short nature documentary followed by a pornographic film showing a heterosexual couple going through foreplay, mutual oral sex, and penile-vaginal intercourse. The chosen film was visually pleasing, did not contain any depiction of violence, and was highly rated by other women. After the first viewing, women received an audio mindfulness or visualization intervention, encouraging them to focus on the present. The intervention was followed by yet another viewing of a pornographic film of the same duration. In the subsequent data analysis, subjective sexual arousal (SSA) and vaginal pulse amplitude (VPA) were used as dependent and interventions as independent variables. Apart from that, SSA and VPA were investigated for collinearity to determine the level of concordance.

Discussion of the Results of the Study

The study’s findings confirmed Hypothesis 1 that indeed, mindfulness practice has the potential to influence female sexual response. It appeared that compared to the visualization task, the mindfulness task was a greater predictor of increased subjective sexual arousal. Mindfulness was also associated with a better concordance between SSA and VPA. Velten et al. (2018) conclude that these findings are consistent with the existing body of research. Indeed, focusing on the now and being in the moment can help women improve their subjective perception of sexual arousal. Similarly, other researchers found that mindfulness was superior to simple relaxation when used for eliminating distractions during one’s sexual response cycle. However, attention regulation was out of the scope of the present article, making its relationship to mindfulness speculative at this point.

Interestingly enough, Velten et al. (2018) found that women who listened to a mindfulness audio task in between the viewings demonstrated lower genital arousal. In contrast, participants who were offered a visualization exercise showed a higher vaginal pulse amplitude. Velten et al. (2018) argue that as much as this finding does not support their initial hypothesis, there might be a logical explanation for such a discrepancy. It might be that putting an excessive focus on one’s body during the mindfulness exercise served as an inhibition to escalating sexual desire.

Velten et al. (2018) report some quite counterintuitive but curious findings regarding the effect of different facets of trait mindfulness on sexual response. It was found that four out of five facets (observing, acting with awareness, non-judging, and non-reactivity) negatively correlated with the genital arousal in women. On top of that, non-judging was a negative predictor for subjective sexual response. As explained by Velten et al. (2018), it is possible that non-mindful women are able to make better judgment about their physical responses. They label sensations as desirable or undesirable with more ease and know which of them should be amplified or stopped altogether for a better experience.

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Reflection on the Chosen Article

The female sexual response used to be misunderstood and misinterpreted in scientific circles. For a long time, the female sex drive was benchmarked against its male counterpart and seemed inadequate due to its differences. However, these differences should not be denounced nor overlooked: instead, there is a need for greater acceptance and understanding. Men and women need to amplify their strengths and offer compassion to bridge the gaps and improve their sexual experiences.

Undoubtedly, females seem to be somewhat more complex sexual beings than males with pronounced diversity in their sexual response. Sexual discordance, as a phenomenon that is more present in women than men, must be a major source of frustration for everyone involved. The present article and its findings, though not always supporting the initial hypotheses, are empowering to women. Velten et al. (2018) show that discordance can be addressed through a conscious effort by teaching oneself to focus on the right sensations and block out distractions. On the other hand, however, the study results suggest that too much mental attention to one’s sexual response may inhibit physical arousal, which compromises the effectiveness of the proposed techniques. If anything, the chosen article tells a lot about the duality of human sexuality. It is a spontaneous, intuitive, and unsupervised experience that might still need some work and calibration to make it pleasant for both partners.


Velten, J., Margraf, J., Chivers, M. L., & Brotto, L. A. (2018). Effects of a mindfulness task on women’s sexual response. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(6), 747-757. Web.

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