Eros & Psyche: The Role of the Mind in Sexual Satisfaction

Eros & Psyche: The Role of the Mind in Sexual Satisfaction

By: Gwen Walsh

Diving deeper

Historically, sexual function and satisfaction have been conceptualized as physical phenomena. On the other hand, you may have heard that “the brain is the biggest sex organ.” 

Sexual satisfaction is more a constellation of factors than a single star outshining the others. In academia, we call this the “biopsychosocial model”: integrating the equally important influences of biological, psychological, and sociological factors of human well-being.

As social creatures, we influence and are influenced by many factors of sexual satisfaction. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory suggests that we learn by observing and emulating others’ behaviors. We are shaped by our environments, and our personalities and behaviors shape our environments in return. For example, someone may have grown up in a sex-negative household, but that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to a life of sex-negativity. Their motivation to find sexual confidence can shape them into a sexually confident person, and sharing their journey may even help others become more sexually confident as well.


Read: Shedding sexual shame after really bad sex ed

This reciprocal determinism means that it is equally as important to have empathy for ourselves and others, while also remembering that it is possible to make shifts in our sexual lives. 

Regardless of one’s physical abilities, relationship status, or other considerations of one’s sexual life, many aspects of mental eroticism can contribute to sexual satisfaction. While writing an exhaustive list of the brain’s capabilities is a near-impossible task, let’s explore a few of the most prominent aspects of our sexual psyches.

Sexual self-schemas

Sexual self-schemas are the ways we think about our sexual selves, and they may be one of the most influential factors of sexual satisfaction. Similar to Bandura’s social learning theory, our sexual self schemas are formed by past experience, inform our sexual present, and guide our future intimate lives. 

Studies on sexual self-schemas use self-identifying adjectives that fit into a scale of one’s sexual “personality,” such as passionate/romantic, open/direct, and embarrassed/conservative. A study found that women with a more positive view of their sexual self tended to have more positive emotions (including feelings of love and arousal) during sexual encounters than those with a negative self-view. These findings are consistent with men, but research has yet to explore sexual self-schemas in trans and non-binary individuals.


How to love your naked body: a field guide

This doesn’t mean we all need to adopt the same sexual attitudes and identities. Rather, these findings indicate that we can decide how we want to feel about our sexual selves, make desired changes in our self-views, and improve our sexual present and future as a result. Whether you are confidently celibate, joyfully kinky, or something else entirely, authenticity in your unique sexual identity is your north star.

Emotional intimacy and communication 

One of the cornerstones of sexual satisfaction is emotional intimacy: knowing ourselves, knowing others, and communicating our thoughts, feelings, and emotions effectively. This may sound daunting, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are deep relationships with yourself and others.

Start by exploring your likes, dislikes, and desires (sexually and non-sexually), and share whatever you feel comfortable disclosing with your partner or close friends. Explore with games like “Where Do We Begin?” or sexual inventories like the Yes, No, Maybe list. Engage with your creativity and play through writing, art, exploring new places and activities, or whatever feels inspiring to you. Emotional intimacy is a closeness, comfort, and connectedness with yourself and others that transcends sexual bounds and applies to all areas of your life. 


Exploring Intimacy: A comprehensive guide to vulva stimulation

Self-disclosure is a major aspect of open communication and a significant indicator of relationship and sexual satisfaction. A study on women with vulvodynia (a chronic vulvar pain condition) found that empathic responses (such as empathy, responsiveness, understanding, caring, and validation) and open communication (such as self-disclosure) were the most significant predictors of greater sexual satisfaction and lower sexual distress (Bois et al., 2016).

Emotional intimacy has a place in dynamics of all kinds: single, monogamous, poly, platonic, and more. Be curious about yourself and your partner(s). Practice advocating for yourself, and encourage others to do the same. Communicating your needs, boundaries, emotions, and ideas in and out of intimate encounters can bolster your confidence in yourself and in all of your relationships.

Much like sex, emotional intimacy is a journey, not a destination. We never fully know ourselves, let alone our partners. We are always growing, changing, and discovering, and the more we exercise our emotional intimacy muscles, the more fulfilling our intimate (and overall) lives can be.

Sexual Fantasies 

Exploring and communicating fantasies is a part of intimate communication that can bolster creativity, variety, and closeness in relationships. In a study on sexual fantasies among Italians, 82% of participants found that self-disclosing their sexual fantasies to their partners improved their relationship (Giunti et al., 2022).

Start by exploring your fantasies: what intrigues you, romantically and sexually? You might find inspiration in erotic audio, visuals, or literature, as well as non-erotic media. When exploring your fantasies, consider which you may want to share with your partner, which you may want to keep for yourself, which you may want to enact, and which you’d like to remain a fantasy. 


Need some inspiration? 25 sex tips for 25 days

You may also want to consider the desire underscoring your fantasy. Do you fantasize about rope play because it’s something you’ve never tried before, or because you want to feel held? Does your impact fantasy stem from the thrill of a power dynamic, or the excitement of intense sensations? Emphasizing the desire behind your fantasies can make it easier for your partner to understand (and be excited by!) your fantasies.

Spirituality and religiosity

Some factors, such as religiosity, can have a dual effect on sexual satisfaction by either sanctifying or shaming one’s sexuality.

While religion was not a significant factor in women’s sexual satisfaction in one study, spirituality was. Two aspects of spirituality, freedom and connectedness, were strong predictors of sexual satisfaction (Smith & Horne, 2008). Assessing one’s spiritual connection may be even more significant for queer folks: according to previous research, queer individuals often value spirituality more than religiosity. The negative relationship between religiosity and sexuality may stem from internalization of negative religious messages about sexuality, impacting other aspects of one’s sexuality including sexual self-schemas.

The concept of connectedness as a contributing factor to sexual satisfaction focuses on an “individual’s personal connection to a spiritual being, which supports the relationship between spirituality and sexual satisfaction. It may be that a strong sense of spirituality, regardless of religious commitment or involvement, provides an individual with the capacity for spiritual connection” (Smith & Horne, 2008). This capacity for connectedness with a spiritual being could also translate to greater connectedness with other human beings, reflecting emotional intimacy as a predictor of greater sexual satisfaction.

Others Factors of Sexual Satisfaction

Factors of mental sexual satisfaction can seem as vast as the mind itself. Emotional intelligence, relationship satisfaction, internalized homophobia, attachment style, self-objectification theory, and more can all play roles in our intimate lives. I encourage you to continue exploring your sexual interiority in whatever ways feel fulfilling: journaling, reading, communicating with partner(s), trying new toys and fantasies, creative writing, etc.

Intimacy is not relegated to the bedroom; it is an essential part of play, creativity, curiosity, connectedness, and joy in our lives as a whole. I encourage you to see intimacy as a concept interwoven into all aspects of your life, and to enjoy the feelings of closeness and connection as often, and as fully, as you can.


Gwen is a sex educator, tarot reader, Clinical Psychology graduate student, and research assistant at Columbia University. She has nearly a decade of experience as a sexuality & spirituality educator, and her international clientele includes individuals, couples, nonprofits, and corporate clients such as L’Oreal, Durex, and K-Y.

You can visit Gwens website here and instagram here.



Related Reading

Dancing Through the Pain of Vaginismus by Arielle Egozi

It's Not Just You: Queer Sex Can Be Bad, Too

How to Soothe & Prevent Pain During & After Sex 

5 Ways to Practice Self Care for Free

 Stuff You Should Know: Sex & Aftercare



Andersen, B. L., & Cyranowski, J. M. (1994). Women's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(6), 1079–1100.

Bandura, A. (1978). The self system in reciprocal determinism. American Psychologist, 33(4), 344–358.

Andersen, B. L., Cyranowski, J. M., & Espindle, D. (1999). Men's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(4), 645–661.

Haavio-Mannila, E., & Kontula, O. (1997). Correlates of Increased Sexual Satisfaction. 

Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26(4), 399–419. 

Bois, K., Bergeron, S., Rosen, N., Mayrand, M.-H., Brassard, A., & Sadikaj, G. (2016). 

Intimacy, sexual satisfaction, and sexual distress in vulvodynia couples: An observational study. Health Psychology, 35(6), 531–540.

Giunti, D. D., Antonelli, D. P., Olmi, D. A., Salvatori, D. G., Amoroso, D. M., Fantacci, D. 

F., & Lehmiller, J. (2022). Tell me what you want: A painting on Italian sexual fantasies. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(11).

Brandy L. Smith PhD & Sharon G. Horne (2008) What's Faith Got to Do with It?, Women & Therapy, 31:1, 73-87, DOI: 10.1300/02703140802145243

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.