Sex, Stress, and Covid-19

Hello Everyone! I hope all of you are doing well during this global quarantine and finding ways to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Last week, I found myself having a hard time level-setting my emotions around what to make about COVID-19. It was hard to adjust to what I was hearing from the news, friends, family, and clients. I did not know how serious to take the outbreak. Was this going to be something that would blow over in a couple of days, or would it last for a month a two? Well, I think we all know the answer to that. Like most people, with the immense amount of news that I was exposing myself to, I found that my anxiety began to rise as well. As someone who considers himself to be a good regulator of his emotions, I quickly noticed this change in my anxiety levels and began to incorporate some strategies. Today, I wanted to share some of the strategies I have been using to help myself throughout this crisis, as well as other tips I have heard from colleagues of mine that I think would be helpful. Also, as someone who practices sex positive therapy, I wanted to take some time to share some thoughts on what to do regarding physical intimacy and expressing overall sexuality as we continue to navigate COVID-19.

One of the concepts I have been explaining to my clients is that the anxiety that we are all feeling right now is completely normal and a natural response to what we are being exposed to with the Coronavirus. When we feel threatened as humans, our sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” response, kicks in to protect us. So when you find out that a deadly disease is sweeping the nation with no vaccine created and no real plan in place, I can almost guarantee you will be feeling anxious about it. My point in saying this is for you not to beat yourself up when you are feeling scared or anxious. My point is to remind you to continue to implement the self-care techniques you have found to be helpful when feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression. Below are some self-care tips I have put together for those who are looking for some help, or maybe a few new ideas:

1) Keeping your routine is essential. It is common to not feel in control when a situation like this one occurs. Right now, we are constantly bombarded with so much information and hearing so many different things, that we can feel helpless to do anything. One of the simplest things you can do is continue your daily routine. What were you doing before COVID-19? How were your handling your stress then? Remembering to do the simplest tasks can have the greatest impact on your mood. Getting up, brushing your teeth, and starting your day one step at a time. Has your work or home life changed in some way? Probably, but that does not have to mean that your self-care routine has to change. Getting dressed for your day and showering are two actions that you can continue to do to help bring control back into your life.

2) When it comes to the news coverage that is being presented by the media, do your best to limit this. One of the best pieces of information I heard was from NPR a few week ago when this was all starting. One of the radio hosts made it a point to tell listeners to limit our news intake if we were feeling that it was causing us to feel more sad and anxious. I absolutely loved this and remember telling everyone about it. This is so crucial in a time like this. When you think about it, negativity is like a leach that can latch onto you and drain your energy until you have none left. When you are consistently exposing yourself to all of the details about the Coronavirus, you are allowing this energy into your life. Do yourself a favor and only choose reliable and valid news outlets and limit your exposure to once or twice a day. For myself, I listen to NPR for about 45 minutes in the morning and then I try to listen to our Governor, Mike DeWine, and his staff provide updates in the afternoon. That is it. When it comes to social media, I want you to take the same approach. You are in charge of what you put in your life. Instead of falling down a Twitter #rabbithole, find healthier, more positive people to follow. In fact, there is a website called Positive.News and all it is are positive news stories. Do yourself a favor and check it out sooner rather than later!

3) As we know, social distancing is important and one of the main ways we as a global population are going to kill the spread of this disease. One of the best ways we can stay in touch with friends and family are through virtual hangout platforms like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. If you are an extrovert like me, this is a guaranteed way to stay connected. Hell, do a “virtual happy hour” with loved ones and make an evening out of it. Just don’t drink a bottle of Prosecco like I did last week, or you are in for a rough night.

(Getty Images/Margaret Flatley)

4) One of the areas I know I have been slacking on is physical activity and nutrition. With gyms, spas, and yoga studios shutting down, this has made it more difficult for everyone to continue to stay on their physical fitness journies. Now, if this is something that is important to you, then I recommend finding a way to add it back into your routine. There are many ways to do this with online physical fitness classes, virtual yoga, fun dancing challenges, and much more. But if physical fitness is not a priority to you, then there is no need to start now. For me personally, I found that with the panic of everyone buying frozen food, I went out and bought frozen pizzas and other frozen food items. This is not something I typically do, but I became swept up in the panic because of COVID-19. Thankfully, I was able to find myself getting back into my rhythm and if I have to buy frozen food, there are healthier options for me to choose from.

5) Some other practices that can have a positive impact are meditation and mindfulness. The reason for this relies partially on deep breathing. When we engage in deep breathing, we are reducing our cortisol levels by releasing acetylcholine and oxytocin. These are our self-soothing chemicals. There are many different forms of meditation and mindfulness. From loving-kindness and gratitude meditations to stress reduction mindfulness activities, there is a reason why these practices work. Make it a point to engage in these practices every four to five hours and feel your body respond to them. Some great apps you can download include Simple Mind, Insight Timer, and Calm. Check out this link for a fun deep breathing GIF.

The above list is not exhaustive whatsoever. We know that there are many ways to take care of ourselves. But I wanted to switch gears and talk a little bit about physical intimacy and sexuality during this time period. As a sex positive therapist, I want to note that there are many ways to continue to engage your sexuality during this time of social distancing. I think it is important to use this time to explore your own individual desires, wants, and needs as a person. One of the areas of struggle I have noticed with friends and clients come from those who are not in a committed relationship with a partner/partners. Individuals who may identify as single and who like to go out and engage in casual sex. People who like to use apps like Grindr or Tinder to meet people. I want to point out here that there are many ways of still engaging in desires during this time of social distancing. We want to limit our in-person contact with one another, but that not does mean we can’t explore other avenues of intimacy. Below is a list I put together of some ways to continue to engage with yourself and others:

1) Solo sex, or masturbation, is a great way to engage yourself during this time period. Physical intimacy is not all about partnered play. Masturbation is a key component of intimacy because it helps us tune into what our desires are and what we find arousing. Mindful masturbation is a great way to do this. This involves not engaging with porn or erotica, but more so engaging with your body and taking note of what you are feeling. Use this time to explore yourself. There are a variety of sensate-focuses therapy techniques that one can do. Simply start by touching various parts of your body and be mindful of what that feels like for yourself. From there, the skies the limit. You can do this with your partner as well. The end goal does not have to be penetration, but simply exploring each other’s bodies and taking in the overall experience.

2) There are several ways you can engage with others while having solo sex. Have we all forgotten about phone sex? Talking with other people on the phone engages our auditory senses and can provide us with what feels like a more authentic experience with a person because it is happening in “real-time.” You can also accomplish this through video as well. Apps like FaceTime and Snapchat can help engage you and others in an experience that may feel more natural than just watching porn or using your imagination. If you are up for it, why not try webcamming? Use this time to explore areas of your sexuality that you have been putting on the backburner.

3) You can also engage in wearing articles of clothing designed for sensuality like lingerie or other forms of erotic underwear (e.g. jockstraps, thongs, g-string, c-string, mankini, etc.). We can feel so rushed in our everyday lives when we are not under quarantine and never give ourselves time to play with dressing-up. Now is the time to do it! Bust these pieces out of the closet and put them to use. I think your partner (s) wouldn’t mind.

4) Give yourself personal time away from your partner. Whether or not you live alone and are dating, live together, or have kids, it is important to make sure that you have your own space away from others. Private space allows us to maintain our energy levels and reminds us that we are important. Make sure you are prioritizing your needs during this time so that you can continue to be a help to your friends, family, and loved ones. Private time is also important because it will keep up the status quo of not seeing your partner every hour of the day. With everyone potentially being trapped under one roof, it can begin to feel crowded.

5) Lastly, if you are feeling a dip is desire or arousal, or are finding that you are having a hard time staying erect or having difficulty reaching orgasm, this is totally natural right now. Think about it, our anxiety is tied to our desire and arousal. When we are feeling more stressed, some of us may see some side effects when it comes to physical intimacy. Do not beat yourself up! Acknowledge it with yourself and your partner and continue moving forward. If you want more tips on increasing arousal and intimacy, check out my list of 30 Ways to Increase Physical Intimacy on my website. If the problem persists, talk to a professional and see what else can be done.

As I wrap up, I wanted to point out that what we are experiencing right now with the panic and increased anxiety around the Coronavirus is temporary, not permanent. This is not our future, but a hurdle that we have to navigate for the time being. If we continue to do our part, then we will beat this virus and put it behind us. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it and remember to take care of yourself.