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Why Kinky Sex Could Make You More Mindful

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Mindfulness is trending for a reason: The practice of staying present has been shown to have major health benefits, from helping you lose weight to easing a headache. Meditation has even made its way into your HIIT classes. But while you probably think of mindfulness as something you do on a yoga mat, what if we said that it also has a rightful place between the sheets? According to a new study, getting freaky can deliver major mindfulness benefits.

Researchers from Northern Illinois University specifically looked at BDSM-style sexual encounters—the 50 Shades of Grey kind of consensual sex sessions that involve bondage, discipline/dominance, submission/sadism, handcuffs, whips, and everything in between. According to Brad Sagarin, Ph.D., the lead author on the study who researches alternative types of sex, BDSM practitioners often anecdotally report entering a "flow state" of mindfulness, which is similar to the mindset athletes report when they're in the zone, or the feeling you may experience during a particularly focused warrior II. "Flow is an enjoyable and pleasurable state that people get into when they are performing an activity that requires a high level of skill," says Sagarin. "It's a state in which the rest of the world kind of fades away and somebody is concentrating very intensely only on what they are doing."

To test the potential of sex to create a flow state, the research team recruited seven couples and randomly assigned one partner to be the "top" (the person who gives the orders) and one to be the "bottom" (the partner who obeys). The researchers then observed them having sex (yep, brave participants!), noting the types of activities that occurred while measuring the mood, stress level, feelings of closeness, cortisol levels, testosterone levels, and "flow state" experience (measured by a standardized survey) of each participant. They found that the "flow state" phenomenon during this kind of sex is real—all people reported better moods, showed lower levels of stress, and scored highly on the flow state scale.

While Sagarin and his team only looked at BDSM-style sexual encounters, the findings might have implications for those with less adventurous sex lives, he says. "The mindful attention that people give to each other in the context of the BDSM scene has applications in other kinds of sexual interactions. If people are really focused on each other and the positive experience of their partner, we might see similar kinds of effects," he says. In other words, focusing on being totally in the moment next time you're getting busy could be a new way to bring mindfulness into your life without ever placing a toe on a yoga mat or meditation pillow.

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