The pandemic subjected people to longer dry spells. Single or partnered, people had lesser sex and it is still the case in the post-pandemic world. “Increased social anxiety and depression due to lack of physical contact, prolonged uncertainty and grief have led to an increase in cortisol levels, impacting body image, and fear of exploring or experiencing intimacy,” says Dr Sakshi Tickoo, occupational therapist, sexuality counsellor and author. Increased sensitivity and education about sex within younger audiences has also led to clarity on what they need and want in their sexual and intimate relationships with self and others, leading to longer dry spells. Additionally, dry spells in relationships can be caused by financial matters, health, jobs, relationship dissatisfaction, and common milestones like having kids or a health condition (back pain or pregnancy). But how exactly does a sexless time in your life affect you? Here’s us pondering on a few essential questions you might be curious about.
Is It Absolutely Necessary To Have Sex?
“We are intrinsically sexual beings, born already programmed to seek sexual connection. Even babies in the womb touch their own genitals because it feels good and what feels good gets the attention of our brain,” explains Pallavi Barnwal, a certified intimacy coach. But sex, in the traditional sense involving penetration, isn’t the golden standard. Many believe that sex is an activity that only involves genitals and some friction. Pallavi informs us of an anecdote shared by a gay catholic priest in the documentary A Sexplanation. “There are two ideas about sex. SEX in the capital letters includes physical activities like making out, oral sex, kissing, penetration, and all other things that people do not want their partner to do with other people outside the relationship. But sex in the lowercase is bigger than genitals or friction.”
So, while sex is essential- it is both a physical and an emotional experience – emotional intimacy, closeness, desire, vulnerability, fear, and awkwardness are all aspects of one’s sexuality. Even the act of falling in love involves these emotions. An interaction with a potential romantic interest imparts a momentary glow on your skin; that’s why you blush! This feel-good glow is a generalised and soft sexual energy that’s potentially present in our everyday lives. Even forming deep, authentic connections outside of a relationship can make you feel sexually satiated. This is the lowercase sex – spiritual energy exchange. For instance, asexuals experience sexual energy beyond their genitals and friction.
How Do Dry Spells Affect Your Mind?
A dry spell affects people in various degrees. Some can have inner resilience while others have a nervous system that is more sensitive than usual. Factors like quality of life and level of sexual desire also matter; some people have a biological higher sex drive than others. Pallavi explains, “Human beings have specific emotions to meet their core needs. Also called as core emotional systems, the essentials include seeking, fear, rage, panic, grief, lust, care, and play. When any one of the core emotional systems get out of balance, our mind is affected.” In the context of sexuality, the primary emotion is lust. When the ‘lust system’ is overactive, you may show some form of out-of-control, inappropriate, or harmful sexual behaviour. For instance, one might get over-involved with pornography.
Pallavi emphasises the essential nature of orgasms for the mind. “Neuroscience studies indicate that the brain is so widely and strongly activated by orgasm, infusing nearly all regions with oxygen, that orgasm may serve as the best possible stimulation for the brain,” she explains. An inability or lack of this release robs people of a crucial way to destress and keep their bodies, emotions, and brains regulated and in sync. Both over-functioning and under-functioning of the emotional systems can result in problems like anxiety, depression, emotional shutdown, loss of motivation, and a stubborn lack of joy or happiness. When these systems are balanced, people feel flexible, nimble, and open to the enjoyments of life.
How Do Dry Spells Affect Your Body?
That’s about the mind, but what about the body? It’s similar to the mind – lack of sex can present bodily complications individual to a person. We’ve also established that sex acts like an exercise for physical and emotional health. Dr Sakshi explains, “If someone had an active sexual life including both solo or partnered sex, having a longer dry spell may have significant changes in their body.” The responses include increased stress levels, lower quality of sleep, skin hunger (desire to have skin-to-skin contact), and a drop in spontaneous desire and arousal levels. Additionally, a lack of adequate physical activity during a dry spell can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, thereby reducing the quality of orgasms. It can also have an impact on prostate health and take one longer than usual to get aroused. “For women and people with vaginas, a dry spell and lack of physical activity can lead to vaginal dryness and tightening of the vaginal canal, which can cause pain and discomfort during penetration,” Dr Sakshi reveals. It can also affect libido, but these are reversible once the person starts to get back into a pleasure routine.
How Do You Manage Long Dry Spells?
Clearly, dry spells should not be ignored. Fortunately, the world of sex is diverse, a place where you can create your own definitions of an invigorating sexual experience. Plus, sex is just a form of human activity that activates the pleasure centre of the brain via endorphin release. Dr Sakshi explains, “You can hack endorphin release with other ways too, but make sure that whatever you are indulging in is meaningful and done mindfully.” Here’s what you can do –
1. Get Moving: Beware of lethargy, move your body. It does not always have to be hardcore exercises; milder forms of activity count as long as you find ways to enjoy them.
2. Masturbate: Solo sex or using sex toys benefits the body in the same way as partnered sessions. They are especially helpful when one is trying to connect with his body after a long time. It helps to understand what kind of pleasure and sensations the body is craving and improve self-confidence. It can also help in preparing the body for more physically demanding partnered experiences.
3. Practice Breath Work: Take two deep inhales from the nose and one long exhale from the mouth without moving the shoulder while keeping the back straight. This also helps maintain blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels.
4. Activate The Senses: Tend to your sensory needs with a range of activities like aromatherapy, listening to music, finding a visually dark/lightroom, getting a massage, walking outdoors or barefoot on grass, etc.
5. Tingle The Taste Buds: Foods like dark chocolates and even a glass of red wine can trigger the release of endorphins and improve overall mood.
Dry spells in a relationship may require third-party intervention. Pallavi says, “Don’t give up on sex, especially if you’re the partner with a higher sex drive in your relationship. A couple has to restore intimacy since sex is primarily a bonding activity and not merely for reproduction. This restoration often requires the patience and loving persistence of the higher-sex drive partner.” A relationship or marriage lacking non-sexual physical intimacy can even struggle with hugs, kisses, getting naked in front of or sleeping together. Pallavi attributes this to a loss of vulnerability with one’s partner. She recommends creating a non-intimidating zone in the relationship where you can be physical and affectionate without the pressure of having penetrative sex. In heterosexual relationships, the low-desire partner may shy away from not just sex but all forms of physical intimacy activities because of the stress and fear of reaching the finish line. This is where establishing forms of non-sexual intimacy forms a physical bridge to a distant partner. “Sex drive is spontaneous! There is a thought in the mind to have sex, but for a lot of people sex drive is reactive – that is once their body start getting stimulated and pleasure, mind says yes,” concludes Pallavi.
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