Are You Anxious About Having Sex Again? These Expert Tips Can Help
After more than a year of isolating, wearing masks, and social distancing, even a high five can feel like an intimate act. So, the idea of having sex with a new person can seem like complete sensory overload—and not in the good, toe-curling kind of way. "I have seen an increase in anxiety around partnered sex since the pandemic started," Heather Irobunda, MD, board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and Rae Wellness partner, tells HelloGiggles. "Partnered sex requires intimacy, exchange of bodily fluids, and being less than six feet away from another person." All things that, per the CDC guidelines, many single people have been steadily avoiding.
According to a recent survey of 1,100 single people in the U.S. and the U.K., 46% of respondents said they'd been having less sex during the pandemic, and 55% said they chose to be celibate during all or part of the pandemic. Even though vaccinations are making conditions safer and there's been a lot of conversation about a horny, "Shot Girl Summer," the idea of getting in bed with a new person can still bring a lot of anxiety.
In addition to the lingering fear of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19), Dr. Irobunda says she's also noticed that people are anxious "about showing their bodies to other people" again. Many people on Twitter are also worrying that they "forgot how to have sex" altogether. So, fears and anxieties around sex are rather common and completely normal right now—but you don't have to let them ruin your chance to have a good time. We asked Dr. Irobunda and Marla Renee Stewart, MA—sexologist and sexpert for the sexual wellness brand Lovers—for advice on how to ease sexual anxiety in both the body and mind.
No matter how long your off season has been, the below tips can help you feel more comfortable and confident when you're getting it on again.
How to ease anxiety about having sex again:
1. Be patient with yourself.
Having anxiety around sex is completely normal, especially right now, and it doesn't make you any less of a sexual person. Instead of pressuring yourself to be immediately comfortable having partnered sex again, Stewart suggests granting yourself some "radical acceptance." Remind yourself that not only is it okay if you're feeling anxious about sex, but it's also okay if it takes a while for sex to start feeling good or even normal again.
"Give yourself some grace to understand that it might not go as great as you like, and that's okay," Stewart says. "Having that understanding can relieve some of that pressure."
It's also important to acknowledge and address anxiety rather than ignore it because anxiety can have a direct affect on the experience of sex. "[Anxiety] can shut down a person's ability to get aroused and to have an orgasm," Stewart says. "It also can take you out of your body and into your mind, which means that you might have a hard time being present and enjoying the moment." Some of the below practices can help you to avoid this.
2. Practice breathwork.
Stewart is a big proponent of breathwork as a means to reduce overall anxiety and get more in touch with both your body and mind. "Taking your time with your breath, centering yourself and helping yourself to relax are great ways to ease anxiety," she says. From counting your breath to breathing like the ocean tides, the seven breathing exercises found here can be a great way to calm down your nervous system.
3. Say daily affirmations.
Amidst pervasive body shaming, toxic diet culture, and societal pressures to fit specific beauty standards, it can be a challenge to feel comfortable, confident, and sexy in your body all the time. However, you can take control over the voice in your own head and work to replace harmful narratives with more gentle and loving messages.
"I believe that people should invest their time and energy into saying positive affirmations every day to increase their confidence in their body and in their sexuality," Stewart says. "Saying things every day out loud like 'I am incredibly sexy and my body is beautiful' is a great way to change your brain chemistry."
4. Set the scene for sex (with yourself).
Before getting back into having sex with another person, make sure to spend some quality time investing in self-pleasure. "Masturbation can help people ease their anxiety around partnered sex because it allows a person to explore their own bodies," Dr. Irobunda says. "It allows them to firmly get to know what kinds of touch and sensations they enjoy." The more knowledgeable you are about your own body and needs, the better you'll be able to communicate that with another person, which can make sex more enjoyable for everyone involved.
When you're getting ready to masturbate, try indulging in romance as if you were getting it on with someone else. Stewart recommends setting the scene with a lavender candle or taking a warm shower or bath before to help your body relax and get in the mood.
5. Take safety precautions.
If your anxiety around having partnered sex again is largely rooted in the fear of contracting or transmitting coronavirus, taking safety precautions can help put your mind at ease. As Dr. Irobunda explains, this might mean taking tests before having sex, making sure that both partners are symptom-free from coronavirus, getting vaccinated, or washing your hands before sex. Having those conversations and checking those boxes with a potential sexual partner can ease any initial fears around getting physically intimate.
6. Check in with your partner.
Communication is always a great way to ensure better sex for those involved—and it's especially important when you're working through added pressures or anxieties. Dr. Irobunda recommends checking in before sex to give you and your partner a chance to discuss any fears and establish boundaries. Then, keep that dialogue going during sex. "Ask your partner if they are enjoying certain gestures or touches," she adds. Even if the intimacy is feeling awkward, it's better to bring that to light and try to make adjustments, rather than suffering in silence.
7. Reflect on good sexual experiences from the past.
No matter how out of practice you may feel, chances are you didn't simply forget how to have sex. Reflecting back on past sexual experiences that were positive can help put you back in touch with your sexuality. You can also do the same for a partner who you've had sex with in the past, Stewart says. "If you have a partner who is anxious about having partnered sex, give them reassurance that you are into them and talk about your previous experiences with them to help them remember what sex was like and how fun and pleasurable the experience was," she says.
As you work through sexual anxiety with yourself and future sexual partners, just remember that you are not alone. "Many people have sexual anxiety, and we are in a unique time right now," Dr. Irobunda says. "Many of us are emerging from over a year of spending a lot of time by ourselves so it is important to give yourself some grace and ease into the sex life that you want."
In other words, "Shot Girl Summer" can officially be yours—just on your own time and at your own pace.