Everything in our lives impacts our sexuality.
It is not possible to separate body parts and treat one body part without thinking of the others. Genitals do not just function on their own! There is a mind-body connection that is imperative to consider when we discuss issues related to sexual function. High levels of stress hormones can diminish the body’s ability to become aroused. And, the pandemic is creating stress for many people. So, how do you cultivate resilience during the pandemic to stay intimately connected to yourself and your partner and have good, quality sex and intimacy?
5 ways to have good sex and intimacy during a global pandemic.
Limit the news.
One of the ways we experience stress is through hypervigilance. The amygdala area of the brain is always on the look out for danger. Once the amygdala perceives a threat it sends a signal to the body to release cortisol and adrenaline. This is a good thing! It has enabled our species to survive and has gotten us out of some hairy situations. And, we do not want the amygdala to be firing messages to the body all the time. Because increased levels of stress hormones can negatively affect many systems of the body we want to have a good, healthy balance. We need to be in our parasympathetic – rest and repair – nervous system to maintain homeostasis in a stressful world. Watching a lot of scary news can disturb the balance and throw us out of wack creating an internal environment that is not conducive to healthy sexuality.
The importance of social engagement. Hang out with friends online. Join a support group.
Dr. Stephen Porgas, author of The Polyvagal Theory describes the social engagement system and how important it is to have face to face engagement to help inhibit our fight or flight systems. Porgas recommends social engagement in the form of play to regulate the nervous system.
San Francisco Bay Area therapist, Margaret Goodwin, LMFT of the Bay Area Gestalt Institute says, “We are hard wired as relational beings. This pandemic has either interrupted our natural desire to be in different levels of contact with each other or over emphasized it. Normally, we have varying levels of contact with people: intimate contact, peripheral contact, familial contact. Right now, our contact is distorted. So, self care means building ways to restore our varying needs for connection with each other.”
This is a good time to engage with friends on Zoom and play games, have dance parties and keep topics light and positive. It may also be a good time to join a support group that centers on topics related to self-care and resilience. I have been honored to do sex Q&As with communities in London and NYC hosted by friends. It has been a fun and interactive way to stay connected. I also lead women’s sensual empowerment circles where I have found a great way to stay connected to other women. Through scheduling time for play and support online you can stay socially engaged and keep your body and mind healthy.
Discharge energy through exercise.
In studies related to trauma by Dr. Peter Levine author of the book Waking the Tiger he has found that animals naturally shake stress out of their bodies to come back to a state of relaxation quickly. You can see this in your dog as they shake it out after a scary encounter with another animal. Unfortunately, humans do not enable the “shake it out” response and often just sit with the stress until it becomes toxic in the body. You may relate!
Exercise is a great way to shake it out especially exercise that is fun and engages socially with others. I love dance for this very reason, however, there are lots of fun and interactive classes available online. It’s also a wonderful practice to run, hike, get out into nature, or, if you are not physically able to do higher cardio activity some gentle and restorative yoga is very nurturing for the body.
Daily Mindfulness Meditation.
I encourage all my clients to begin a mindfulness meditation practice to foster a strong mind-body connection. By quieting the mind and tapping into body awareness you can become a better lover. And, not only can you become a better lover but you can remain calm and relaxed during stressful events. In his ground breaking book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses his Mindful Based Stress Reduction approach which advocates for a strong mindfulness practice to build resilience during hardship. MRIs taken after mindfulness meditation shows that the grey matter in the amydala can become smaller which may explain the calming effects of this meditation practice.
For this reason, cultivating a mindfulness meditation practice even for just a few minutes a day may help manage pandemic stress and keep sex hormones balanced. I have also developed a mindful masturbation practice for clients who are struggling to detach from thoughts during sex. This practice done during their solo-sex time can help reduce stress related thoughts and increase positive levels of body awareness. After doing this practice clients have reported more relaxation and connection during partner based sex.
Create spatial containers. Work, eating, sexy time, sleep.
One of the key features of my work with couples is sharing the importance of creating context for successful intimate encounters. There is nothing less sexy than a bedroom where sex hasn’t happened in months or where the floor is littered with children’s toys. Similarly, it is difficult to get into a sexy frame of mind in a space that reminds you of deadlines and long hours of demanding work. Therefore, it is important now more than ever to maintain spatial containers for various activities. Work in one location, eat in another, sleep in another and, create a space just for sexy time. Clients of mine will recognize this as what I call The Nest. The Nest is a space that is created just for doing HomePlay activities with each other. HomePlay is intimate, connecting, sensual activities that bring you closer together to foster good, quality lovemaking.
Remember, the amygdala is always looking for danger. If you have had conflict of any kind at home while you are sheltering in place then create a new space using soft lighting, pillows, soft sheets, blankets and relaxing music to signal to your brain that this is a place where relaxation can occur. In this space you can engage in some connecting exercises: spooning, eye gazing, sharing Gratitudes and giving each other massages. Set your timer for even 15 minutes to start and do this a couple times during the week. It can be hard to get out of the stressful day and into relaxation if it’s a new practice. Start out slowly and build up to it. Before you know it you will look forward to getting into The Nest! And eventually, good connected lovemaking will improve.
There are no limits to what self-care can look like during the pandemic.
I have shared just a few things that you can do to decrease your stress levels during the pandemic. There is no end to the creativity you can harness during this time. Learning a new activity, making sure to get lots of Vitamin D in the form of a supplement or time in the sun, watching comedies, looking in the mirror and saying, “I love you” every day, starting a journal… the list goes on and on. What else can you think of that will help you maintain a state of homeostasis during this time? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please use the comment section below to share with us some of the things you are doing to take care of yourself during this time. You can also ask a question or comment on this blog post.
I look forward to staying connected with you all. As always, I invite you to schedule a consultation call with me to discuss sex & intimacy coaching.
All the best!