Maybe you're dating and feeling less than desirable. Or you're partnered up and battling a barely there sex drive. Whatever the case, spending the past 18 months in captivity (and sweatpants) has probably sapped your sexual confidence. You’ve lost your spark. Your sauce. Your zhush. But dammit, it’s time to rekindle that flame.
For tips on recouping your sexual identity amid the chaos of 2021, I spoke to Dr. Kate Balestrieri, psychologist, sex therapist, founder of Modern Intimacy, and House of Wise's resident sex expert. Apparently, getting your groove back isn't just about bubble baths and tropical trips (though they certainly don't hurt). Keep reading for impactful ways to tap into your sexuality, from the inside out.
First, consider how you’ve changed over the last year and a half.
Between economic instability, ongoing social unrest, and a war on reproductive rights, most people feel an overall sense of loss. And according to Dr. Balestrieri, it's normal to be disconnected from your sexuality during traumatic times. (So, give yourself a break.)
"Remember that sex is not a compartmentalized part of us. It is an integrated part of us," she says. "When there are a lot of environmental stressors, it can be challenging to let that part of us feel alive, so we quiet it down." She suggests taking time to grieve the past and reflect on the ways you’ve evolved. "Life as we know it is different forever, and your relationship to sex may be very different now than it was before the pandemic. That's important."
Keep your conversations curious (and of course, honest).
"Whenever there's turmoil in the world, and especially if somebody holds an identity that is impacted by that turmoil, it can influence their ability to be sexual and their implicit sense of safety — not just in their relationship, but in the world in general. That can really quell arousal," says Dr. Balestreri.
If you’re part of a couple, Dr. Balestrieri recommends getting real with each other. "'What are our safety needs today compared to before [the pandemic]? How have we grown stronger? Where have we grown apart? How can I be a better partner for you, and vice versa?'" she says. "If there is a person with a vagina in the relationship: 'How are you feeling about what's going on in the world right now, related to women's reproductive rights? How can I support you? How does it influence your interest in sex, if at all?' I do think it's really important to get curious with each other about how your views on the world have changed."
Create vibrancy in your routine.
Quarantine gave our lives the Groundhog Day treatment. And while sensuality looks different for everyone, Dr. Balestrieri insists that "creating opportunities for vibrancy in life" is key to getting out of a rut and reconnecting with yourself sexually. I ask for examples (for a friend).
"For some, that could be making a meal with more expensive ingredients or popping that really nice bottle of red wine that they've been saving, and enjoying the time with themselves," she tells me. "A rich experience for others might look like meditating for 5 to 10 minutes a day and giving yourself time to breathe and being open to your own body. It might mean absorbing the last weeks of warm sun and running outside, and just giving yourself a little bit of buoyancy."
Adding richness to your life is more about romance than finance, but the payoff will be huge for your sex life.
Take yourself on sexual play dates.
It’s always good to get alone time, and Dr. Balestrieri suggests single people schedule regular “sexual dates” with themselves. Best part? They require little planning and no pants.
"One of the really simple things you can do is play with sensation," she says. "Not wearing underwear around the house is a really interesting way to feel air on your vulva. It can bring a different grouping of sensations and new awareness to that part of your body, and create sensory vibrancy."
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Having a positive relationship with your genitals is essential to sexual confidence and health, so Dr. Balestrieri also recommends using products specific to your vulva.
"Think about a toy or arousal serum that you want to break out. Spend time in the shower just being intentional with how you clean yourself. What do you notice? What are you doing to get to know your body?" she says. "That’s something you never have to leave home to do."
Prioritize yourself in the process.
"There is a male gaze that almost everyone has been organized within because of our patriarchal society," explains Dr. Balestrieri. "For so many people, the standard of beauty, of pleasure, of experience, is unconsciously centered around, 'Am I going to be valued in this way?' And the last year and a half has had an impact on how we feel about autonomy and permission and comfort." Whether single or coupled, it’s important to construct what you find sexy and why. Your wants should be a focal point of that conversation, she says.
"I think a telling question to ask yourself is, 'How did I learn how to be sexy, and what does that mean to me really?' For example, a woman says, 'I’ve wanted to shave my head forever, but I feel like if I do I won't be attractive anymore.' Maybe she finds it really powerful, and it represents rebellion, all kinds of good trouble, or just freedom from having to spend an hour on her hair every day. It feels sexy because now she can exercise or read a book instead. So, if everyone around you celebrated the changes you made, how would you define sexy?"
According to Dr. Balestrieri, staying connected to your sexuality is also a way to advocate for yourself, especially in trying sociopolitical times. "Find ways to curate power," she says. "It can be easy to go into a state of helplessness, and that's when we see an even bigger disconnection from our sexuality." And once you’ve determined your values, make sure your lover is on the same page.
"Before the pandemic, we may have taken our own values for granted. Maybe it was easier to be around people who didn’t share them," Dr. Balestrieri says. "But we should be asking our sexual partners, 'Do you share my ideological values? And if not, why the f*ck am I here?'"Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova from Pexels