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8 Steps Connect to Your Body
I’m not going to lie, I was excited when I first heard rumblings that we would have to shelter in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Between my natural introverted tendencies and feeling way behind on my to-do list, the idea of being forced to stay home sounded dreamy. I was excited to cancel my social plans, clean my house, catch up on sleep, and get cracking on all of those projects I’ve been wanting to do for months.
I’m currently in week four of the quarantine and my warm fuzzies have fizzled out. I’m feeling restless, stressed about work, sad about the general state of humanity, and irritated with my husband for looking at me the wrong way. Also, I only cleaned half of my house and didn’t finish any of those projects I planned to dive into. (I’m assuming I’m not alone here.)
You probably prepared for the quarantine by stocking up on supplies, recipes, and entertainment ideas. But did you pause to consider how you would tend to your mental health?
If you struggle with anxiety or depression, you’re probably feeling your usual symptoms really strongly at this point in the quarantine. The same is true for relationship distress. If you and your partner had unresolved issues going into the shelter in place, you’re definitely going to notice them now!
Restlessness, sadness, grief, overwhelm, stress, anger, hopelessness, fear… many of us are feeling some combination of these heavy emotions as we sit at home, uncertain of when or how this will end.
It’s also hard to see my social media feed inundated with jokes about how many baby showers I’m going to have to attend in nine months. The message is clear --- most people are at home having hot, passionate sex right now! What are youdoing?!
I’m sure there are some folks who are enjoying sexy time while stuck at home, but I want to assure you that is not true for everyone. It is very hard to feel sexual desire when we are stressed, anxious, depressed, or experiencing conflict with our partner. This is especially true if you experienced low desire prior to the quarantine!
If you’re feeling disconnected from your body and resistant to the idea of sexual intimacy right now, it is okay. You are normal. Your responses are normal. Your body is normal. This is a challenging time and we need to meet ourselves with gentleness and compassion.
It is also true that we don’t have to be victims of our circumstances. Our reactions to this unfolding trauma are normal, but we do have the ability to take care of ourselves in a way that softens our challenging emotions and opens us up to more pleasurable experiences. You might find that desire is waiting for you on the other side.
How exactly do you do this? Feeling anything other than anxiety, depression, and low desire might feel impossible in this moment. It’s normal to feel hopeless when we’re overwhelmed by suffering - but remember, you are not helpless. I invite you to follow these eight steps with curiosity and openness to discovering new experiences in your mind, heart, and body.
Step 1. Develop a mindfulness practice to soothe your difficult emotions
Are you familiar with mindfulness? Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to your moment-to-moment experiences without judging or criticizing. We tend to get stuck in thoughts about the future or ruminations about the past. Thinking about the past or future instead of existing in the present moment are a sure-fire way to get stuck in anxiety and depression. Also, it makes accessing sexual desire next to impossible. Being calmly rooted in the present moment is the first step towards alleviating emotional distress and learning to tune in to pleasurable sensations in the body. I recommend checking out the mindfulness apps Headspace or Calm. They both offer daily courses that help you develop your own mindfulness practice.
Step 2. Focus on non-sexual pleasure
When we feel stressed, our minds become preoccupied with how unpleasant we feel. We’re aware of our worry, our sadness, and our physical discomfort. Our minds tell us that everything is bad right now. We get stuck in a self-perpetuating loop of negativity! The truth is that pleasure is always accessible to you. The easiest way to interrupt your negative spiral is to force yourself to focus (using those handy mindfulness skills!) on non-sexual pleasure. You can do this by connecting to your five senses. What is something in your space that feels pleasant to touch? Can you put on some music that you enjoy listening to? Can you make a cup of hot tea and savor the flavor as you sip? Can pause, take three deep breaths, and engage in a full body stretch? These are all pleasurable experiences that will help alleviate your worry and sadness and engage your physical body in pleasurable sensations. You can check out my webinar Accessing Pleasure in the Midst of a Pandemic if you’d like more support with this important step.
Step 3. Move your body
I know you know exercise is important. We all know that! But how many of us are actually prioritizing exercise right now? It’s hard! My gym is closed, my house is small, and it’s cold outside. All signs are pointing towards staying warmly bundled on my couch. While this sounds lovely in theory, we know that physical stagnation exacerbates anxiety and depression. Also, nothing makes you feel less sexy than eating snacks while binge watching t.v. in your sweatpants. Get off that couch and move your body! Find a live online yoga class or YouTube recording to provide guidance. If that feels like too much, try doing a full body stretch routine once an hour. Then reward yourself with a little treat. There’s no shame in bribing ourselves with treats.
Step 4. Eat good food
Okay, this might seem contrary to my last comment about rewarding yourself with treats! Let’s not forget to eat well balanced meals at least twice a day. As the hours meld together and we’re not sure if it’s morning or night, it can be easy to start skipping meals or resorting to eating lots of processed foods. Again, this is going to make you feel yucky in your body and sluggish in your mind. If we are moving our bodies and eating healthy food, it’s going to be much easier to maintain our mental health and access our sexual desire.
Step 5. Engage in small doses of healthy mental escape
Many of us cope with anxiety and depression by tuning out. Thanks to Netflix, mental and emotional avoidance have become easier than ever! I don’t think this a bad thing, but as people much wiser than me like to say, all good things in moderation. Mental escape is a wonderful tool available to us when we need relief from overwhelming emotions, but this is only helpful if we’re escaping in moderation. So if you need a break, take it! Watch a thirty minute episode of a funny show, take a bubble bath and read your smutty romance novel, allow yourself to daydream while you’re doing the laundry. Enjoy the pleasure that accompanies mental escape. When you’re ready, return to the difficult emotions you’re feeling in the moment (mindfulness, remember?) with gentleness and compassion. Try a guided self-compassion meditation if you want to give yourself a little extra love.
Step 6. Schedule time to share non-sexual touch with your partner and yourself
At this point in the process, I hope you’re beginning to feel some relief from your depression and anxiety symptoms. You’re taking good care of your mind and body and are working hard to moderate your emotional avoidance so you can meet your actual experience with gentleness and compassion. Now we can begin to turn our attention more directly to your experience of low sexual desire.
When we’re feeling disconnected from desire, it’s important that we not try to push ourselves into a sexual experience before we feel ready. I recommend starting the process by scheduling time to share non-sexual touch with your partner and with yourself. Some examples of non-sexual touch include gentle massage, snuggling on the couch, taking a (non-sexualized) shower together, or slowly applying lotion to your own body. It’s important that you both feel confident that this touch will not lead to anything sexual. This is a no-sex-allowed touch experience! Use your mindfulness and pleasure skills to tune in to the warmth, comfort, and sensual pleasure you feel when experiencing non-sexual touch. I recommend scheduling this time at least twice per week. Your body needs a strong foundation of non-sexual pleasurable experiences in order to begin stoking the fire of desire inside of your mind and body.
Step 7. Create sexual scenarios in your mind using sexual fantasies
Remember that healthy mental escape we talked about earlier? It’s time to try on a different type of healthy mental escape in the form of sexual fantasy. Our brains are our largest sex organ, and they love it when we fantasize! Think of fantasy as the kindling that starts the fire of sexual desire. You can engage in a sexual fantasy without feeling any sense of sexual desire. In fact, fantasy precedes desire for many women! Need a little help to get the sexy gears turning in your mind? If you like your sexy scenes mixed in with a great story, check out the first season of Outlander on Netflix or read the first Outlander novel. If you like short stories, you can read one of the many erotic short stories on the Rosy app. If you prefer visual pornography, I recommend visiting feminist Erika Lust’s website or you can watch her TedTalk about porn here. Whatever you fancy, give yourself permission to surrender to the power of fantasy!
Step 8. Schedule time for self-pleasure
Yep, it’s time to talk about masturbation. The next step to engaging your desire during stressful times is to prioritize your pleasure by scheduling private time to explore and enjoy your body. This can be challenging during a quarantine if you have other people living in your home, so creativity is required! Many people find the shower a space and time when they have a reliable degree of privacy. Start with a 3-5 minute meditation to soothe your mind and ground yourself in the present moment. Now transition your mind to a sexual fantasy that makes you feel warm and entertained. Next, use your hand or a sex toy to gently and slowly explore your body with the intention of creating pleasurable sensations. If you feel shy or unsure of how to bring yourself sexual pleasure, check out the female pleasure tutorial site OMGYes.com for evidence-based tips and techniques. (Get $10 off with this link: www.omgyes.com/rosy)
There you have it! You might feel overwhelmed reading this in one sitting, but remember that these steps are progressive and will unfold over time.
You’re fighting a hard battle right now. Managing your anxiety and depression in the midst of a global crisis is not easy. Your sexuality might feel totally unimportant to you given the magnitude of other stressors in your life. I believe that these reactions are normal and your struggles are so very understandable.
I also believe that pleasure is available to you in all moments. I believe that sexuality is a gift and a tool you can use to reduce stress and increase pleasure. Do you need to be sexual right now? Absolutely not. But sexuality is available and waiting for you should you choose to explore it.
More than anything, I hope these tips will help you soothe your anxious mind and lift your sad spirits. It is okay to struggle right now, but you don’t have to drown in your suffering. Feel your feelings, and then come up for air. If you don’t have a therapist already, find one! You can see your therapist via online sessions from the comfort of your sofa. Get the support you need to make it through this challenging time… and don’t forget to do things that feel good along the way.
Maegan Megginson, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and founder of The Center for Couples & Sex Therapy, is a relationship and sexuality expert who specializes in helping couples in low-to-no sex relationships find their way back to each other through pleasure, eroticism, and deep emotional connection.