In the past few months, my body has come to feel like an extra sack of skin and flab and ache that I am forced to carry around against my will.
With the pressure and anxiety of the pandemic, I’ve been stress-eating Cheetos and Frosted Flakes, feeling my clothing grow ever tighter. With my yoga studio closed, I’ve become disconnected from my usual practice, only moving my body when I teach. With the constant presence of my husband and daughter as we shelter-in-place together—my daughter climbing on me, grasping at my body, showering me in hugs and kisses in an attempt to stave off her loneliness—I am suffocating. I don’t want to be touched anymore. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to have this body.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has become detached from her body’s potential for pleasure. While it’s perfectly acceptable to create boundaries and to take a break from touch, it would be a shame to stay trapped in that space indefinitely.
If you’re eager to reconnect with your own body, there are a number of apps and exercises that can help you. Here are just a few:
Let’s start with what’s possible outside of the bedroom. In A Dirty Word, my reported memoir about how I reclaimed my sexuality, I devoted an entire chapter to yoga. This was not just because the practice made my butt look good in leggings (which was a huge boon to my self-esteem). Rather, it was because the practice of yoga—particularly with its focus on yoking movement to breath, and on learning to listen more closely to the body—allowed me to develop greater body awareness. Developing this skill got me out of my head, and it also helped move me out of a period in my life in which I was experiencing pain during penetrative intercourse.
Yoga may not be the practice for you. Maybe you prefer pilates. Or you love to run. Or you get a rush each time you go to spin class. No matter what, begin to approach these exercises as a form of movement meditation and it will soon become easier to tune into what your body needs—and also what it wants.
Nearly a decade ago, I went to a launch party for Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep, a guided meditation CD by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson that was similar to yoga nidra (yogic sleep, which also incorporates a body scan meditation). Where yoga nidra is meant to bring one into a deep state of relaxation, however, ananda nidra is designed to “awaken ecstasy.” The guided meditations led the listener to focus on pleasurable images and sensations in order to develop a greater awareness of the body, and of the things that might bring it pleasure.
These days, such guided meditations are even more accessible thanks to a new crop of phone apps. The Lover app, for example, contains guided meditations in both audio and video formats that enable you to reconnect with your body and your sensuality. The 9-minute “Accepting Pleasure—The Body Tour” helps you create a pleasure map of the body. If you only have 5 minutes, you can listen to “Being Present for Pleasure,” which is intended to get you out of your head and into your body. The app’s library is filled with exercises like these that allow you to focus in on a specific aspect of your sex life, even when your time is limited.
Sensate focus is a sex therapy technique that was developed in the 1960s by the research team of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson. They created a series of exercises in which non-demand touching was used to focus on sensations in the body, and on self-pleasure versus sexual arousal. This was supposed to eliminate the pressures of performance anxiety. As clients touched themselves (or were touched by a partner), they were instructed to notice details like temperature, pressure, and texture. The hope was that, eventually, they would be able to pinpoint the types of touch that were most pleasurable to them.
This couple exercise has since been adapted into similar exercises you can do on your own. Books like the classic Becoming Orgasmic, for one, contain explicit instructions for experimenting with various forms of self-stimulation. It distinguishes between differences in pressure, stroke, and rhythm, as you explore your entire body. Readers are also encouraged to try sex toys and read erotic literature on their quest to tap into their sensuality.
Speaking of erotic literature, these sensual stories have also made their way to our smartphones. Apps, like Dipsea, Ferly, and Audiodesires, allow you to plug in your headphones and enjoy a vast library of erotic stories. Sometimes, even though I don’t want to be touched, I still want to get off. I enjoy apps like these because they allow the reality of my stuck-at-home life to fade away into the background so I can become lost in some fantasy or another. From cowboys to the couple next door to getting caught in the midst of getting busy, it’s easy to find a story that works for you, whatever your turn-on.
Sex toys and erotica aside, any form of masturbation—self-stimulation for the purpose of sexual arousal—can help you reconnect to your sexual self.
Once you’ve moved through your non-demand touch exercises and feel ready to take things further, masturbation can be the bridge to a renewed desire for physical intimacy with your partner(s).
Yes, our bodies can use a break sometimes. But don’t deprive yourself of the soothing powers of touch for too long!