Feelings of stress and anxiety are common, and can impact our sexual functioning so we are less able to have the type of sex we would like (read more about this here).
Fortunately there are many things we can do to relax ourselves and optimise our feelings of arousal, which will help our bodies function sexually. Here are our top tips:
Before approaching any sexual activity or the tasks below, first think about how you could feel more relaxed. If you are stressed after a long day at work, or feeling frustrated with your partner, it is unlikely that you will feel relaxed enough to have the type of sex you might want.
Try some activities that help you unwind – this could be anything, but commonly people report having a bath/shower, listening to music, or watching television to be helpful.
Increasing connection to the present moment
So often in sexual situations, we can find ourselves distracted, worried or thinking about other things. This shift in attention away from the sexual experience itself can often happen quickly (and is often outside of our conscious awareness). However not being present in sexual situations can make it far more difficult to connect to things that might build arousal for us, and leave us struggling to maximise the chances that our bodies will respond as consistently as we might want them to.
See here for more tips on how to increase our connection to the present moment and maximise arousal.
Knowing what turns you on
Having a clear idea of what turns us on can help us communicate our needs in a sexual situation, and make sure we are having the type of sex that is most likely to increase our sexual function. Sometimes we refer to this as our Conditions for Good Sex.
Think about times when you have enjoyed sex, and make a list of things that turned you on. If you haven’t had many positive experiences with sex, try to think of things you have thought about, seen or read about, that might turn you on. Try to be specific: think about types/areas of touch, sexual positions/acts, environment, time of day etc. The next exercise can help if you’re feeling unsure.
It’s important for us to know what conditions we need to have enjoyable sex. Read more here.
Exploring your body
The aim of this exercise is to better understand what turns you on by touching your body.
Self-touch: : You do not need to feel aroused before or during this exercise, although if arousal builds this is also ok. Spend time touching your body and try to generate a range of sensations through different forms of touch. This can include any part of your body and does not need to include genitals if you do not want it to. Focus on paying attention to the sensations that feel good. If you become highly aroused, e.g. get an erection or become lubricated, that is ok, but the aim of this exercise is not to reach a particular goal. It is not about becoming aroused or reaching orgasm, and it is not about any form of sexual act. Instead the focus in you learning more about what you enjoy in touch across your body, and noticing more the sensations and feelings that might help you to feel relaxed or open to further sensual experiences. There is no right or wrong with this, but it can help to build confidence and knowledge around what works for your body and allow you to develop a sense of the types of sensations and areas of your body you feel might need to be privileged in order to help build feelings of relaxation and arousal in the longer term.
Exploring with a partner: Once you feel comfortable exploring your own body, you might choose to try some exploration with a partner. The exercise is exactly the same as above, but instead ask your partner to touch your body and genitals. You can also touch your partner’s body. The aim is the same – to focus on the sensations, touch and positions that work for you. It can be useful to do some planning ahead to make sure you both get the most out of the exercise:
- Have a conversation about how you feel about the exercise: it might feel awkward or uncomfortable, and it’s important to discuss any issues you may have with completing the tasks. It’s normal to have some disagreements, and having an open discussion and thinking of ways to make the task feel easier will help.
- Plan how often you will do the exercise: the more practice, the more you will get out of the tasks. But don’t overload yourself – practicing twice a week is a good place to start!
- Don’t rush: Talk to your partner about the parts of sex you feel most nervous about, and reach agreement on how to build up to it at the right pace. E.g. starting with your partner touching your back instead of your genitals.
- Make other plans: Make sure you have other time together that is enjoyable and intimate, where you can express affection without having sex or completing these exercises.