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  • Gabrielle Nata

Are You a Spectator In Your Own Bedroom?

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

During sex, do you ever worry about what your body looks like, even getting completely distracted by trying to position yourself in a more flattering way?

Or do you ever get distracted, worrying about your performance or whether your partner is enjoying themselves?

Or maybe you're just distracted by work, life, or the kids. If so, you're not alone.

Spectatoring -- When You Stop Experiencing Sex and Start Performing It.

What is Spectatoring?

Masters and Johnson coined the term, Spectatoring, in 1970 to describe when an individual begins to evaluate the way they look or their performance during sex.

It is as if you step out of your body with a clipboard in hand, to ensure you are putting on a flawlessly choreographed performance.

What's wrong with that? You want to make sure your partner is enjoying themselves, you're saying the right thing, and you look good - Heaven forbid your partner see your stomach rolls, that pimple on your butt, or your genuine “O” face¹, right...?

Not quite.

The problem with "putting on a performance" or worrying about all those things is that your mind is occupied with that instead of experiencing the moment with your partner and tuning into your own pleasure.

How Can It Effect You and Your Relationships?

Its effect can vary depending on the person or the situation, but spectatoring can make sex less enjoyable and even prevent you from orgasming. If you're not enjoying sex you may notice a decrease in libido or begin avoiding sex if it feels like a chore.

Maybe you're thinking it doesn't affect you because your libido is fine or you don't find yourself having trouble orgasming because you have Ol' faithful, that perfect position and rhythm that never fails to get you there. Unfortunately, Ol' faithful can sometimes become so faithful that we can go on autopilot.

Spectatoring robs you from savoring every ounce of pleasure an experience has to offer.

The bedroom is not the only place we may be spectatoring. Often, the same stress and insecurities that hinder our sex lives, hinder other parts of our lives too. An example of this could be eating. Of course, you eat. You have to eat, but are you allowing yourself to truly experience your food and savor every bite?

We live in a society where we are constantly on the go, moving from one thing to the next, and food becomes another task on our to-do list. We decide to eat while working instead of taking a lunch break or maybe we only get a couple of hours a night to decompress so we eat while we watch our favorite Netflix show, the list goes on. Sometimes we're so in our head we can't even remember what we've eaten

So, yeah, you could be having sex and even orgasming, but not all orgasms are equal, just like not all meals are equal.

So, How Do You Get Out Of Your Head, When You Get Into Bed?

Mindful Sex.

Mindfulness is the practice of consciously bringing your attention to the present moment, with no evaluation or judgment. It is consciously experiencing how the moment is affecting each of your senses. The concept of mindfulness originated in India as a Hindu yogic practice.

The western practice of mindfulness is more similar to the Buddhist practice of Sati, a core principle of Buddhism. Sati means “moment to moment awareness of present events” and “remembering to be aware of something”. Mindfulness has been a helpful therapeutic practice in many settings, one being sex therapy.

There is a reason it is referred to as practicing mindfulness. It's a continual practice to be aware of your thoughts and consciously be present in a moment and allow thoughts to pass instead of allowing them to sweep you away from the moment.

Practicing mindfulness during sex keeps you present with your partner by clearing your mind and focusing on all the sensations you're experiencing instead of you thoughts. When a thought or distraction crosses your mind, do not think you've failed or dive into the thought. Just acknowledge you're having the thought, let it pass with no judgement, and then refocus into your sensations.

Exercises to Help Practice Mindful Sex

Sensate Focus is a great exercise to do with your partner that shows you how to practice mindful sex, but also how to create intimacy without penetration.

Solo and Mutual Masturbation two great exercises for mindful sex. Below, I have detailed step by step how you and your partner can use mutual masturbation to practice mindful sex and combat spectatoring.

Before approaching mutual mindful masturbation I believe it is first important for you and your partner to practice solo mindful masturbation. It's important for you and your partner to both be comfortable with your bodies and masturbating by yourselves, before trying it together.

Mutual Masturbation, What Is It and How To Do It Mindfully?

Mutual Masturbation is when both partners masturbate in the presence of each other. This can help couples practice experiencing pleasure without spectatoring, as well as create intimacy.

Setting up:

  • For this to be the most relaxing and enjoyable experience possible, you will want to agree on on a time that allows for the least amount of distractions, with phones on do not disturb, work put away, TVs off, and kids in bed.

  • Creating a relaxing atmosphere by dimming the lights, lighting candles, playing relaxing music, etc. can also help minimize distractions and tune out the world.

  • It is also a good idea for you and your partner to decide how long you would like this session to be and setting a timer. This takes the pressure off. Neither of you will need to feel stressed about being the ones that end it or feel pressured to masturbate in order for it to be end. Some couples, also agree on a safe word that will signal to their partner that they are uncomfortable or need a time-out. If this is your first experience with doing something like this, start out with 5-10 minutes and see how you feel.

  • It's important to remember that the goal of this is not to orgasm, but focus on your senses and noting how the sensations are increasing your pleasure.

  • Gather any items that you would normally use when solo masturbating. If the use of any toys or props help create a more pleasurable experience by yourself, do not be afraid to use them. It's also a good idea for both of you to have lube and towels or tissue easily accessible to keep the experience comfortable.

Be Comfortable:

  • This can be done in any position you are comfortable in, but a great starting position is lying side by side on the bed. Being next too each other instead of in front of each other helps it feel less like a performance.

  • If you or your partner struggle with spectatoring in regards to body image or are just not quite comfortable yet with your body, it might be a good idea to try the exercise under the covers for the first few times and gradually work toward showing more as you feel comfortable.

  • Your partner look at you while your pleasuring yourself or you may want to look at your partner as they pleasure themselves. This is not an evaluation or judgement, so try. to make sure what ever sounds you make or things you do are for your own pleasure, not there's. Use this to learn how their presence affects your pleasure and allow yourself to get curious about how your partner experiences pleasure.

Begin Pleasuring Yourself:

  • It is perfectly normal if you feel a little awkward masturbating for the first time or just by doing this exercise. If you begin feeling a little uncomfortable, but feel safe and want to continue, then close your eyes and try to focus on your own pleasure. Noticing each of the physical sensations you're experiencing as touch your body.

    • Focus on the way your hand or toys feels on your body.

    • Notice any feeling of heat in your body or if you feel flush.

    • Notice the sweat begin to bead up and how it feels as it rolls down your body.

    • Notice your breath at is it begins to quicken.

    • As the pleasure builds, notice the parts of your body that you are tensing and begging to be released.

    • Focus on any images that may be in your mind building your arousal. Noting all the little details and how it makes your body feel.

Notice Your Partner:

  • If you feel comfortable, open your eyes and notice your partner. Allow yourself to feel curious about your partner's experience.

    • Notice the way their body moves and how different techniques or touch affects that movement.

    • Notice any body parts they may be tensing up.

    • Notice how they touch themselves.

    • Notices any noises they make as they touch themselves.

Notice The Way You Partner's Pleasure Affects Yours:

  • Having your partner masturbate in your presence is incredibly intimate and can make you feel extremely connected. You transform this from an individual experience into coupled experience by paying attention to how your partner's pleasure is affecting you.

    • Notice what you sexy about your partner.

    • When your partner does ______ notice how it makes you feel.

    • Notice when your arousal increased when your partner ______.

  • Once you have done this one or two times and if you're feeling comfortable you can build on that coupled experience by increasing the connection between you. try to mirror your partner by matching their rhythms, speeding up when they speed up or slowing down when they slow down.

    • Notice how mirroring your partner affects your arousal and pleasure.

If You're Just Not Feeling It:

  • Mutual masturbation is a very intimate and vulnerable experience. It can take a few sessions to begin feeling comfortable with it. Be patient and kind to yourself. Be proud of yourself for being vulnerable enough to try it.

  • End the session in the way in which you agreed upon during the set up.

  • Talk to your partner about your experience. This is a very vulnerable experience for both you and your partner. To avoid any emotional injury, it is essential for there to be open communication between you and your partner.

Connecting and Reflecting With Your Partner:

  • Once you and your partner have completed the exercise, connect with your partner by cuddling each other, drinking some water, or by helping each other clean up any mess you made!

  • While you're connecting, reflect on the experience with your partner, discussing what it was like for you. Share with each other...

    • What you learned about yourself,

    • What you learned about your partner.

    • What surprised you.

    • What you thought was sexy.

    • What you didn't like.

    • Wether or not you would like to do it again and what you're excited about doing or would like to try next time.

    • What you thought was fun.

    • What made you feel sexy.


Mutual masturbation can be a fun, exciting, vulnerable, and intimate experience to share with your partner. It's completely understandable to feel uncomfortable the first few times.

If you can allow yourself to to push past the awkwardness (while listening to your bodies safety cues) it can be incredibly rewarding to invite each other into such a sacred space and share in each other's pleasure.

¹ The face you make when you orgasm. There are some people who get nervous that their facial expression will be unattractive to their partner and try to control it.

Note: If you would like to move toward a healthier, more pleasurable sex life, but you find yourself overwhelmed by sexual anxieties, body insecurities, or anything else that could be the cause of spectatoring, a licensed mental health counselor or AASECT certified sex therapist can help


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