A Dose of Desire Amid COVID-19.
“Ugh. Really? Get off of me! I’m not interested. Can’t you see what’s happening around us? How can you even think about sex at a time like this,” are thoughts when your partner starts to show sexual interest. Desire amid the coronavirus is tough. So many demands are placed on you. The kids constantly needing to be entertained. The guilt that you’ve come to rely more on more on screens to do the entertaining. You’re away from the office where everything was easily accessible. Or, worse, you’ve been laid off or fear that you might be because business has slowed.
You look into the pantry, realizing that all of the supplies quickly vanish when everyone’s home 24-7, “Shit, now I have to go to the store! What’s next?!?!” All of this, and my partner wants sex. How can they have sex on the brain with so much going on in the world?
More than 50% of women report that stress, depression, and anxiety decrease sexual interest. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s normal for the female body to say, “Hey, let’s not risk a pregnancy during an uncertain time. So, turn down the desire.” For men–and many women, too–they experience a heightened desire for sexual contact as a means to manage stress. So, let’s take a look at antidotes to to fear and worry.
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. In this time of COVID-19, you’re bombarded with news of the tsunami to come. Because the news is rapidly changing, combined with anxiety around whether the news you’re receiving is legitimate, or maybe you don’t even trust the leadership delivering the news, it all contributes to heightened worry and fear. One thing is certain, the human mind takes fear and worry and turns it into mental masturbation. You see, fear results from taking elements of the past, leap frogging over the present moment, and projecting into a future that doesn’t yet exist. In short, you’re stressed NOW about something that hasn’t yet occurred and doesn’t exist. You’re stressed NOW about no-thing!
Fear and worry has a very negative effect on sexual desire. Naturally, fear focuses your attention on real or imagined threats; everything else becomes secondary. Yet, most of the things we fear are unlikely to ever happen. Don’t take my word for it, just look at your own experience. I’m certain that you’ll find that you’ve feared way more things that never actually happened.
Step into the Present Moment
In this moment, right now, right where you are, look around your space and ask yourself a very powerful question, “As I take a deep breath and settle into the now-moment, what is there that’s actually wrong?”
You likely found that there’s nothing that’s actually wrong. You’re fine in this moment. Your partner is fine in this moment. Your children are fine in this moment. You’ve got all the food, water and, yes, even enough toilet paper, that you need in THIS moment. We don’t know about the next moment, but in this moment, you’re fine. You actually don’t need anything in this moment. How do I know? Well, if you don’t have it in this moment, you mustn’t need it, right? You don’t need what you don’t have; you’re clearly alive, surviving without it in this moment. Let that knowing sink in. Take another deep breath. Really let that awareness sink in. You’re okay.
Yes, but how can my partner be horny?
I get it; you’re stressed. You’re partner may be, too. Yet, they’re more interested in sex than you. What’s up? I’m sure COVID-19 isn’t the first time that you’ve noticed a sexual desire discrepancy, which often leads to someone complaining that you’re not having enough sex. Let’s put aside “what’s normal” and focus on a little bit of sexology. There are two types of desire: spontaneous and responsive.
Spontaneous Desire is essentially the desire that arises out of mental interest. “I have a thought about sex; therefore, I want to have sex.” Spontaneous desire also happens to be the one we most associate with men (75% of men, 15% of women), and the one that we privilege in our society as being the “best/right/correct/healthy form of desire.” Total bullshit, of course. There’s no “right or best desire.” Still, it’s the
reason that women’s sexual desire is often pathologized. Women’s desire, generally speaking, is less driven by thoughts; it’s more driven by contexts, both internal and external.
Responsive desire arises because a certain context exists that promote sexual interest. For example, conditions like, low stress, feeling emotionally supported by one’s partner, downtime, a clean houses, etc. These are examples of accelerators for desire for a lot of people. Their opposites represent breaks to desire. Here’s an worksheet for identifying which contexts help you’re desire and which interfere with desire from Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of Come as You Are: Sexy-Context-Worksheets
If you’ve identified your breaks, definitely communicate them to your partner. It’s a team effort to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to reduce the pressure on the breaks as much as possible and reroute attention to applying pressure to the accelerators of desire. Dr. Nagoski offers the following exercise to help you let the foot off the break: TURNING-OFF-THE-OFFS-WORKSHEETS
Pleasure is a Stress Reliever
All too often, people make sex a performance. Do they like this? Do they like that? Will I keep an erection? Will they have an orgasm? All of this adds stress and gets in the way of experiencing pleasure.
Sex is ultimately about pleasure. Whose? YOURS! Sex is a method for accessing the now-moment by bringing your awareness to your current bodily experiences. Sex is inherently a self-interested experience. (If it’s not pleasurable, stop! But, don’t stop pursuing pleasure.)
Partnered-sex, of course, includes someone else. However, I still want you to focus on your pleasure. The pressure here. The touch there. The lick here. The suck there. By bringing your awareness to the now-sensations, the mental masturbation that results in fear and worry recede. Sure, they may come back into awareness for a second, but you’ve got something new to focus on–your pleasure.
In short, pleasure is a way to short-circuit stress.
Orgasms Boost Immunity
Oh, I got so caught up writing about pleasure that I nearly forgot about the affect of orgasms on immunity. Evidence suggests that orgasms help to balance cortisol, which is our stress hormone, as well as affect neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. In fact, an orgasm is the largest means of a non-drug blast of dopamine. More, orgasms seem to boost white-blood count, which help you to fight infection.
So, in short, whether partnered or alone, you have permission to enjoy an orgasm!
We are fundamentally social animals. We thrive to be in community. More, we are susceptible to threats to our community, be that our home, our city, state, nation or the world. You, like me, have a mind that wants to focus on preparing for the worst. But, there’s a cost–doing so means that we’ve not enjoyed the present. Sexual pleasure is a pursuit that has been with us since the very beginning. It’s a way
that we’ve been able to traverse many pandemics across time. Sexual pleasure allows us to connect to that core part of ourselves that wants to quiet the mind, enjoy the sensual experience of human touch, and deepen the relationship with self and another. When we’ve given this away to fear of a tomorrow that’s not now, we’ve robbed ourselves of the happiness that awaits us, right here, right now, in this
BONUS: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Still needing help to relax. There are a lot of strategies that you might find helpful, including gentle exercises, like yoga; as well as meditation or visualization; engaging in helpful, low stress hobbies such as art. Another invaluable skill is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR involves the paradoxical experience of tensing muscles in order to experience a relaxed state. Try it with me now. Take your hand and make a fist. Squeeze tightly and hold for a few seconds. Squeeze. Squeeze. And, relax. Let your hand go limp. What do you notice? Likely you’ll notice a shift in sensation.
PMR has long been used as a tool in inducing relaxed state. I’ve recorded a PMR session that you can follow and rehearse. Complete this daily. It’s a date with yourself. A well deserved date!
For additional information about desire, accelerators and breaks, check out Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, PhD.