Pleasure and sexual health in times of Covid-19.
The theme for this year’s World Sexual Health Day was ‘Sexual Pleasure in Times of COVID-19'. The fact that pleasure is being talked about in the realm of sexual health, which is usually so focused on STIs and reproduction, makes a statement about how the world is finally recognising pleasure as a significant part of sexual health!
Through the tough times that 2020 has served up for us so far, we have all been finding small glimmers of hope and cheer to help us cope. At Smile Makers, we think one of those glimmers is how the pandemic has pushed us to be aware of sexual pleasure, more so than ever before, as a key contributor to our overall wellbeing.
If there’s one thing this year needs, it’s more positive vibes – and we’re ready with our pleasure-positive minds to bring you some!
What is sexual pleasure?
We’ve already taken a look at WHO’s definition of sexual health, but what about sexual pleasure? The World Association for Sexual Health acknowledges in its Declaration of Sexual Pleasure that
‘Sexual pleasure is the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from shared or solitary erotic experiences, including thoughts, fantasies, dreams, emotions, and feelings.’
So, it’s more than just physical acts of sex. Exploring our sexuality, opening both our minds and our bodies to sexual pleasure, cultivates joy! When we experience sexual pleasure, our body releases a party bag full of hormones to make us feel good; these hormones counteract the impact of cortisol, the stress hormone (a really big party pooper). Better sleep, stress release, pain relief, immunity boost, happier mood; these are just some of the health benefits of sexual pleasure. Hence why sexual wellbeing should be considered alongside mental, physical and emotional wellbeing – now, during uncertain times, and always.
Are we less sexually active in 2020?
During the pandemic, the matter of love, dating and sex has been on a lot of our minds. Whether we’re in a long-term relationship or single and ready to socially-distance-mingle, there’s no denying that Covid-19 has made us open-up about our perspectives on sexuality.
The team at Manrepeller asked their community to reflect on how they are experiencing love right now. From their survey, 48% of people reported having less sex than they were pre-pandemic. There’s two takes on this to consider; firstly, under lockdown and social-distance guidelines many people aren’t meeting potential partners. Secondly, the assumption here is that ‘sex’ means with a partner. As we know, sex isn’t only sex when we have a teammate or when it’s penetrative. Solo sexual habits and masturbation routines shouldn’t be forgotten!
An online study by Kinsey Institute ‘Changes in Solo and Partnered Sex Behaviors During COVID-19' took other sexual behaviours into account for their survey, including response categories like; masturbated by yourself, watched erotica, used a vibrator cuddled with a romantic partner. Overall, 50% of Americans reported a change, most commonly a decrease in sexual behaviour. Such negative changes during a crucial time to bolster and protect our wellbeing suggests how unaware we are of the positive impact of sexual pleasure.
Reframing pleasure and sex.
Acknowledging such changes in sexuality, and vice versa, understanding how changes in other areas of our lives affect our sex lives will heighten our awareness of sexual wellbeing. Seeing how everything is intertwined will give space for better focused and inclusion in the wider wellness infrastructure.
Another study carried out by Kinsey Institute further expanded on the factors that might help people better navigate their sexual pleasure during pandemic situations, even when sexual desire is lessened. Researcher Justin Lehmiller suggests that ‘people are creating new and unique opportunities to pursue sexual fulfilment...many of them seeing the current circumstances as an opportunity to expand their sexual repertoires and try something new’. Sexting, sharing sexual fantasies and trying different positions were some of the new things that 17% of respondents reported adding to their sex lives.
Corona virus might be challenging our sexual health with a negative impact on our sex drive, BUT it is also providing an opportunity to expand our perception of how sexual pleasure can be experienced and to try new things.
At Smile Makers we have seen more;
- More people buying vibrators
- More visits on our blog including our erotica section
- Increased sign ups to our online course Vulva Talks
- Spontaneous submissions of entire erotic stories
We may not be ‘doing’ sex as much, but it looks like we are eager to explore our sexual curiosities. We are taking the new-found time to read and learn; educating ourselves on our sexuality and pleasure anatomy. We are validating our own fantasies, and thinking about them more confidently. We are finding new ways to treat ourselves by mixing up our pleasure tools. We are taking steps to feel sexually empowered, and empowerment is oh-so satisfying!
All of this shows that even during times of despair, we’re keen to find ways to cope in order to overcome or combat feelings of stress. Seeking out creative approaches for sexual pleasure, especially with such widespread social restrictions and perhaps more time on our hands, allows us to bring joy back into our daily lives.
Sexual pleasure as a coping mechanism.
2020 has been quite something. We are facing some of the biggest pressures on our mental health, and heightened concerned for our physical; and we’re having to adapt fast. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with stress, uncertainty, worry and loneliness. Giving ourselves time and space to explore sexual pleasure, either solo or partnered, can alleviate some of those anxious feelings and help us cope a bit better.
Healthy coping mechanisms often include mindfulness, creativity, communicating and exercising – er, we can connect all of these things to our sexuality, too. See how sexual pleasure really is linked to our overall wellbeing!
5 ways to find sexual pleasure in your everyday life.
1. Fantasies & erotica.
Studies have shown that more people are exploring their sexy imaginations. Whether you fancy sharing your favourite fantasies with a partner, or hearing sweet nothings whispered in your ears with some audio erotica; follow your curiosities.
2. Cuddling & kissing.
One of the biggest increases in sexual behaviour has been people cuddling, holding hands and kissing more. These affectionate intimacies can release cuddle hormones such as serotonin which help us relax and boost our mood.
3. Sexting & talking.
Want to try something new? More and more people are showing a desire to try phone sex or sexting, especially with shelter in place, quarantines and lockdown orders now common circumstances. Sexual connections aren’t all about touch; we can get feel good vibes from putting our imagination into words!
We know that female masturbation is good for our health, and now is the time to truly consider it as part of your self-care routine, too. Showing ourselves some self-loving will take us out of our heads for a while, and allow us to discover our bodies. Mutual masturbation can be a great way to reignite sexual desire if you’re in a relationship, and also works for long-distanced lovers – see sexting above!
More vibrators have been sold than ever before, and although that may not align with the decrease in overall sexual behaviour changes, it does suggest that people are looking to revitalise their pleasure vibes! Take time into your own hands, literally, with sex toys with a difference. Our tongue vibrator was a bestseller last month; perhaps it’s all the making up for lost oral sex it can do, or the soft touch on erogenous zones that remind us of our pleasure potential.