When Life Doesn’t Feel Sexy
It’s the end of 2020 and we are still in the midst of a global pandemic.
While stress, uncertainty, and instability is a turn-on for some, it can cause a serious disinterest in sex for others. If you are finding yourself feeling less aroused (or just plan annoyed) when it comes to sex during COVID19, know that you are not alone.
The next few blog posts will be all about dealing with Sex and Worry during stressful times like the COVID19 pandemic.
Let me know what you think…
While some people can use stress or worry as a catalyst for connection or intimacy, some people have a hard time being intimate when there is a lot on their minds. This makes sense when you think about the autonomic nervous system.
This is the part of the nervous system that controls unconscious processes like breathing, digestion, heart rate, and temperature regulation. The sympathetic nervous system gets activated when we worry (we may experience fight or flight in these moments).
When we worry, our nervous system focuses on keeping us safe, which may, or may not include being intimate with another person.
Experiencing intimacy is actually a combination of two sides of the autonomic nervous system which includes the need to feel safe enough to let your guard down.If worry and stress are preventing you from engaging sexually, that is an expected and normal response to something that is unexpected and abnormal in our experience.
Remember Fight, Flight, Fawn, and Freeze from biology class?These are responses from our nervous system to keep us alive. Our nervous system constantly and unconsciously scans the environment for signs that we are safe, in danger, or that our lives are threatened.
If a threat is detected, these responses get activated. In our COVID19 world, threats might take the form of:
● Seeing people in masks
● Reading the news online
● Seeing a triggering social media post
● Worrying that a loved one is sick
● Getting news that you’ve been furloughed
● Finding out that you don’t qualify for unemployment
Our bodies may then respond to the threat and that response may be at odds with having wonderful sex with your partner.
You may see that your responses look like:
● Feeling irritable
● Having a short fuse or a quick temper
● Increasing conflict
● Wanting to leave your home
● Feeling trapped
● Seeking Distraction
● Engaging in an activity that you don’t want to engage in because it pleases someone else
● Putting others needs before your own
When these mechanisms don’t work to ease the stressor, your body might feel a shut down and you might experience:
● Sleeping all day
● Not engaging
I hope understanding these mechanisms can help explain why sexual intimacy and enjoyment can be difficult in times of great and prolonged stress.
Check out Stephen Porges website for more in depth information about the polyvagal system: www.stephenporges.com
This change in sexual desire or interest can bring up issues in your relationship because people have the tendency to take these changes personally. Sex can bring up a lot of insecurity especially if it is unclear why there has been a change.
One of my favorite ways to explain differences in sexual desire is the Dual Control Model. This model was developed by Dr. John Bancroft and Dr. Erick Janssen of the Kinsey Institute and explored beautifully by Emily Nagoski in her book, Come as You Are.
The idea is that people have sexual accelerators (things that get them interested in sex) and brakes (things that turn them off to sex). Everyone’s accelerators and brakes have different levels of sensitivity.
For example, a person with a sensitive brake might stop being interested in sex with just the slightest activation of their brakes. Or someone else might need a lot of their accelerator in order to feel open to being sexually intimate.
In Come As You Are, there is a wonderful quiz you can take to determine your specific accelerators and brakes, and to see where your sensitivities lie.
For now, make a list of the things that make you wantto have sex.
Here are some examples:
● Feeling safe
● Sexy music
● A certain smell
● Hearing certain words or phrases
● Hearing other people having sex
● Watching a sexually explicit movie scene
● A fantasy in your head
● Feeling loved
Now make a list of all of the things that make youNOT want to have sex.
Here are some examples:
● Feeling worried
● Noticing a messy home
● A certain smell
● Being upset
● Being busy
● Certain words or phrases
● Having a bad day
Share these with your partner and work together to minimize the brakes and slowly increase the accelerators.
For example, if feeling worried and having a messy house are brakes, and dancing and candles are accelerators… do some of the exercises in this book to decrease your worry and spend the day cleaning the house. At night, light some candles and enjoy dancing together which will optimize your ability to explore intimacy together!
Stay Tuned for tools and exercises you can use with a partner or alone!