Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been no shortage of articles bemoaning the sad state of sex in our nation: The Cut called 2020 our “sexless year.” Here at HuffPost, we spoke to singles who had gone more than a year without sex. It’s not just a single person problem; as Glamour pointed out, quarantine sex isn’t happening for your married friends, either.
Now comes further proof of our collective sex slump: According to From Mars, an online health clinic for men, “how to have sex” was 2020’s most-searched-for sex query on Google, with 1,052,550 searches. (If you’re curious, it’s people from Utah who asked the question most.)
You’re probably not too concerned that you forgot the mechanics of sex so we’ll save you the overly detailed WikiHow “how-to” with pictures. But if you’re nervous that your techniques and skills are a little on the rusty side, you’re hardly alone, said Shannon Chavez, a sex therapist in Los Angeles.
“It’s so common that most, if not all, of my clients have mentioned this being a concern,” she told HuffPost.
“The pandemic brought about sudden change and uncertainty that directly impacted how people enjoy and engage in sex ― we were all worried about getting close to people,” she said. “It makes sense that people are nervous about how to get back into it.”
Just like re-entering a restaurant and dining inside again, having sex again is going to take some getting used to.
“It takes time to adjust to new habits, even if it’s old behaviors we’re used to,” Chavez said.
“I’m generally a little awkward and post-COVID I’m even more so, so I’m just worried the vibes will be off [during sex].”
Celeste, a 23-year-old jewelry maker from Pittsburgh, admits she’s a little antsy about the prospect of having sex with someone new once she’s fully vaccinated.
The last time she had sex with someone was six months ago, with her now-ex-boyfriend. Since then, she’s just been in a weird headspace; she wants to do it but she anticipates a lot of hiccups.
“I’m generally a little awkward and post-COVID I’m even more so, so I’m just worried the vibes will be off,” said Celeste, who asked to use only her first name to protect her privacy.
Celeste is due for her second coronavirus shot soon. She’s optimistic her slump will end sooner than later after that.
“I don’t want to obsess about it. I just want it to happen organically,” she said. “I’m not looking on dating apps because they honestly just bum me out but once I start going to bars again, I think it might happen.”
When it does happen ― for Celeste or any of us ― it really doesn’t have to be weird or awkward. Below, sex therapists like Chavez share a few tips on how to get your groove back post-vaccine:
Think of it like riding a bike. Sort of.
When interviewing our panel of experts, we obviously had to ask a classic question: Is sex kind of like riding a bicycle? Once you learn how to do it, you never forget?
“Imagine you haven’t ridden a bike in a year. You’re probably feeling kind of rusty,” he said. “You’re trying to enjoy a leisurely bike ride with your date in the middle of Times Square traffic. You might still be able to ride the bike, but this might be a stressful experience instead of a pleasurable one. This can happen with sex, too.”
When performance anxiety is involved, even if you’re doing everything right logistically, it can feel like you’re screwing up, Play told HuffPost.
“Even if you’ve done something a thousand times, you can feel awkward and stressed,” he said. “Pleasurable experiences are as much about our mental state as they are doing the right moves.”
Play offered another helpful, non-bike analogy: “You still have your dance moves down, so to speak. It’s now about learning to enjoy the dance floor again.”
Masturbate with intention.
If you’ve been masturbating to relieve stress during the pandemic, you may have gotten a little rote or wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am in your approach. As you flirt with getting back out there, try to become more intentional about how you masturbate, said Amy Baldwin, a sex educator and co-host of the “Shameless Sex” podcast.
“Do you know what your body currently likes? If you take the time to learn what is pleasurable for you, it will likely be easier when you intimately engage with others,” she said. “Better yet, you can guide your partner to what makes you feel good. Spend time practicing self-pleasure, replicate that, and then ask for what you’ve learned to partners.”
Put yourself in an erotic state of mind.
Is it even a struggle to get in the mood right now? Prioritize non-sexual eroticism in your life. To do that, famed therapist Esther Perel said she likes to ask her patients to complete this sentence: “I turn myself on when…” Ask yourself that and explore those avenues. Maybe it’s taking a long bath. Maybe it’s reading romance novels. Maybe it’s unplugging from technology and the news cycle for a bit.
Perel also asks her clients to finish another sentence, which usually results in a different set of responses: “I turn myself off when ... I check email before bed; when I worry about the kids; when I stress about work or the state of my finances; when I overeat or don’t exercise; when I don’t take care of myself.”
Cut back on things like that because they sap your energy.
Then of course, it pays to intentionally think sexy thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with making foreplay a solo exercise, said Heather McPherson, a sex therapist and owner of Respark Therapy & Associates in Colorado.
“Let your mind wander to a hot fantasy or even an experience you once had that you enjoyed,” she said. “Intentionally think about closeness and sexual activities and allow yourself to feel anxious, nervous and excited. Accept and validate all the feelings that come up and be patient with yourself.”
Reminding yourself of how good it felt before to touch and be touched and how good it will feel again might help you feel excited to reengage, McPherson said.
Be honest with your partner about being nervous.
Transparency in the bedroom is seriously underrated. If you’re feeling a little anxious about having sex after such a long stretch of time, give your partner a heads-up. Tell them what you’re comfortable doing, what you’re not comfortable doing, and what they can do to put you at ease.
“If you want to take it slow, address that with them,” said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist in Honolulu. “If you want to, create a ‘yes, no, maybe’ list: ‘Yes, I want to have kissing/intercourse.’ ‘No, I do not want to do 69 or use a sex toy.’ ‘Maybe I want to do anal or role play.’”
Don’t be so goal-oriented.
Orgasm doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all. Take your time and don’t focus on orgasm for once. Instead focus on providing pleasure of all kinds to your partner.
“Try not to be goal oriented,” Play said. “Focusing on our genitals doing exactly what we want in that moment or having an orgasm in a timely manner, or any other sexual goal really takes us out of the moment and generally makes sex way less fun.”
Give yourself permission to go sloooow.
There’s nothing wrong with going slower than usual, both in terms of how quickly you have sex with someone new, and how quickly you move through different sexual acts together.
“There are no medals for who has sex the soonest!” Baldwin said.
Remember: Lube is your friend.
Take care of your own body first. Do what you need to do to relax and feel comfortable in your body, Chavez said.
“Don’t be afraid to use resources to boost your pleasure such as toys, lube, or accessories to enhance your sensations and make sex more enjoyable,” she said.
Just have fun. The notion that you can be universally ‘good in bed’ is silly anyway.
A final note: Even if you think you’re a really, really good sex person who does it all the different ways (H/T “30 Rock”), you’re not always going to rock someone’s world ― and that’s entirely OK.
“There’s no such thing as being universally good in bed!” said Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist who teaches online courses. “We are all so unique. What works in bed for one person could completely turn off a different person. You’re never going to get to a point where you’re just amazing in bed and never have to make adjustments for a new partner (or even for an ongoing partner!)”
Look at your sex life as a series of constant readjustments, not just after COVID-19 but in general.
“From that perspective, going a year without sex isn’t really the end of the world,” Marin said.