Solitary Sex: How Self Pleasure Will Get You Through Sheltering Alone
We have entered week whatever and a year (yes, the official count) of lockdown, and it may be starting to get to you. If you are sheltering alone this time may feel surprisingly stressful. And if you are extra irritable or feeling lonelier than expected, you are not crazy! There are basic, biological reasons behind this.
Fortunately, there are also fixes for this; some better than others. Advertising for a quarantine partner via flyer in your local park (true story!) is probably not the best way. But hacking your own biology can be. And the best, most fun, and safest way to do that is – Sex!
“But wait!”- you may be asking – “How can I have SEX when I am alone?!”
Well, I’m here to remind you sex is any activity for the purpose of erotic pleasure, with yourself or (a) partner(s). Sex can be solitary. And I will explain how solo sex can counter the effects of sheltering alone and provide tips to make it work optimally for you.
To start, let’s look at why you may feel cranky. Humans are hardwired social critters, built to seek out and feel rewarded by social contact. There is an area in the brain (the ventral tegmental area, or VTA if you want to sound fancy) that releases dopamine, the it-feels-good-do-more-of-that chemical, when hit with oxytocin. And oxytocin is released by many social cues: it is a chemical associated with social actions and contributes to improved mood. One of the most common triggers for its’ release is touch. This means, when you are alone with less touch for a while, you may have less VTA/dopamine action. But solo sex can reboot the system, increase your well-being, and even leave you excited by your own company again in part by increasing your oxytocin and dopamine.
This works equally well for humans of all sexes and identities. The only requirement is: to do this right, you must commit to treating yourself as well as you would treat a lover. Wait until you have time and set the scene. Use your favorite place in the house, preferably one with a comfortable bed or couch and a mirror. Make sure you set a sexy mood, whatever that means to you, and that the room is warm enough to get naked, because you will. What you wear doesn’t matter, as long as it makes you happy. And it can help to have a sensual snack and some body lotion, too.
Start by standing in front of the mirror. Appreciate yourself: remind yourself you are surviving these crazy times. Acknowledge the power of your body: it is the instrument that connects you to the world and now it will make you feel better. Take a few deep breaths. Then feed yourself the snack, appreciating the taste and texture. Undress yourself and make it playful. Focus on the feeling of your hands removing the clothing and your skin once it is exposed. Observe yourself in the mirror as you shed your clothes. Do not critique yourself! Treat yourself kindly, focusing on positive, sexy thoughts. Try to be open and accepting of yourself.
The next step is important! Massage yourself slowly, using your hands, and lotion if you have it, on every bit of skin you can reach. Make this sensual: focus on the feeling of rubbing yourself as well as how your skin and muscles react when stroked and stimulated. Take your time!
When, and only when, you have rubbed until your body feels relaxed yet sensitized, it’s time for sex. But don’t just flop back and rub one out. Instead, have fiery, fun, full-on sex. If you have a favorite fantasy or kink, play it out through enactment, positioning, or the use of props. Even if you don’t, reflect on what you like about partnered sex and involve those touches or body areas. Then go at it. Lose yourself to fantasy and sensation. Build tension. Go for your orgasm!
Lastly, while basking in the afterglow, appreciate what an amazing lover and great company you are.
“Hold on… this sounds hokey. How will pretending to have sex help me?” I can hear you thinking.
And my answer is – in so many ways! I reiterate – Sex. Can. Be. With. Yourself. And while this may be a new way of engaging with yourself, this is not pretending. Also, this particular sex act is designed to incorporate a bunch of different health techniques and biological system activations that improve mood and counter feelings of isolation and stress.
The first is a modified cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) technique. You are practicing positive thoughts (or cognitions) about yourself as a sexy companion and relating to (or behaving toward) yourself as enjoyable company. This supports positive feelings about yourself and keeping your own company, while also decreasing sensations of loneliness.
The next is mindfulness. You are focusing your awareness to your body in the present moment and you are guiding your thoughts to be non-judgemental and accepting through both the sensual and sexual parts of the exercise. This is practicing mindfulness which is proven to reduces stress, decrease feelings of loneliness, and support improved health.
Another is a simple biological activation. The massage portion of the exercise provides you the touch trigger to release oxytocin to get that VTA/dopamine action. You are creating your own social contact and reward.
Yet another is harnessing the power of the brain. The brain is a one trick pony – it becomes habituated to associations and keeps repeating them. Your brain has likely been conditioned to think of sex as social contact. So by conceptualizing this act as sex and playing it out, your brain experiences sex and you reap the social benefits.
Lastly, you are having sex. And sex, and particularly orgasm, is a proven way to practice self-care and improve your health, both physical and mental.
It’s amazing so much self-care and powerful health supporting activities can be packed into one fun, sexy exercise, isn’t it? So give it a shot. Try being your own lover and using solo sex. At the very least, you won’t violate social distancing by fighting with others to post your quarantine-partner-needed-flyer on the most popular lamp post, and you will have a fun story for your next virtual happy hour.
With all my wishes for you to be well, be healthy, be sexy, and be in good company – your own!
Elisabeth Gordon, M.D. is a NYC based Psychiatrist specializing in sexual health and medicine. She runs a sex positive, straight/vanilla/kink/poly/LGBTQ affirming private practice focused on improving sexual and overall health with integrative treatment. In addition, Dr. Gordon is a passionate human sexuality educator and author. She is on faculty at NYU School of Medicine and works extensively as a guest lecturer and consult at hospitals, universities, and schools. Her writing and talks focus on the importance of sex ed, as well as providing tips and resources for achieving a happy, pleasurable, and satisfying sex life to improve health at every level.