Solo and partnered playtime can offer a bounty of benefits. In addition to boosting your mood, improving your skin, increasing self-confidence, and feeling delicious AF, sex reduces stress — which might be the best reason to get in touch with yourself (or someone else) during Stress Awareness Month.
Although those with high levels of stress and anxiety are already well aware of what they're dealing with, April is the time of year that mental health and wellness professionals remind us to practice a little self-care. In between navigating work, relationships, and the 24 hour onslaught of world news and social media, it can feel like there is little space left for calm, so stress-busting masters suggest meditation, yoga, and mindfulness as an antidote. Sex is less frequently cited as a great, cheap way to zap the cycle of anxious thoughts and stress headaches that can take down even the most chill folks, but it is yet another transformative method to get out of your head and into your body.
Clinical Sexologist Rena McDaniel, MEd tells Bustle four effective and fun ways to diminish stress levels and increase your pleasure quotient during Stress Awareness Month — and throughout the year:
1Get In Touch With Yourself
"Solo sex is a good way of getting in touch with your senses during times of stress," McDaniel tells Bustle. And according to the 2017 Millennial Sex Survey by SKYN, 91 percent of folks masturbate, so almost all of us are well-acquainted with self-pleasure.
"Often folks view solo sex as a consolation prize when they can't have partnered sex and rush through it to the perceived finish line of orgasm. However, slowing down and tuning into what our bodies like and respond to provides a great space for self-care and tapping into pleasure even in the midst of stressful times," she says. McDaniel also suggests incorporating toys and lube into your practice to enhance the experience and maximize your stress reduction potential.
2Embrace Responsive Desire
Responsive desire happens when you put yourself in a stimulating situation to see how your body responds. This is ideal for those times when you're in mega stress crisis mode and feeling anything but sexy, explains McDaniel.
"The trick is to intentionally make sure you are doing things and putting yourself in contexts that you find sexy and pay close attention to how your body responds. You may not feel like you are horny before letting yourself lie in the sun on that blanket with your sweetie with your favorite foods and favorite music, but the chances are that once your body responds, you actually won't be thinking about whether that desire is 'spontaneous' or 'responsive.'"
3Flex Your Erotic Muscle
Practice makes perfect, and this theory applies just as much to your knitting or dancing game as it does to your sensual imagination. But since most of us aren't allowed to watch erotic movies midday at work, there are more stealthy ways to get into the mood.
"If you are in a place where it's not ok to engage with erotic material that is NSFW, you still have options for working your erotic muscle," she says. "If you have some measure of privacy, this is an excellent opportunity to read some erotica. A fake book covers work wonders. It's also an excellent opportunity to get your sexting game on. That eggplant emoji is great at getting your blood going. If you don't have privacy or access to your phone, then focus on finding pleasure in your five senses. Can you smell, taste, feel, see, hear something that you find immensely pleasurable and tap into that?"
4Take The Pressure Off
"For many folks who have been struggling with sex or relationships due to stress or past trauma, sex can feel like the opposite of relaxing," McDaniel explains. However, there are ways to begin to transform your relationship with sex.
"If someone has significant triggers related to unwanted sexual experiences, it's best to work with a therapist to support you in developing some healthy coping skills," she says. For those that don't have triggers related to trauma, however, simple mindset shifts can decrease stress and anxiety during partnered sex.
"Changing the goal of sex from orgasm to pleasure and connection helps us slow down and enjoy the ride," McDaniel concludes. And the more you engage in sex with the goal of focusing on sensation and relaxation, the more likely you are to notice a decrease in your daily stress levels. Who doesn't want that?