At this point, we’re unsure if the New Year will bring anything positive—the last two have really done us dirty. Although restrictions have made it difficult for us to dance at concerts and go on international vacations, there’s one thing we can still do: have sex.
Because sex isn’t going anywhere—no matter what variants rear their ugly head in 2022—we might as well learn how to enjoy it to the fullest. This includes exploring your sexual desires, strengthening your self-confidence, and communicating with your partner or partners.
But for many of us, the pandemic has had some seriously damaging effects on our sex drive. For this reason, we’ve enlisted two Vancouver experts to help Georgia Straight readers get their mojo back in the bedroom.
Registered clinical counsellor Sarah Watson started her master’s degree with the intention of becoming a couples therapist. She quickly realized that the topic of sex was frequently discussed, which led her to pursue extensive sex-therapy training. Watson currently works at the Allura Sex Therapy Centre, supporting folks who are experiencing concerns relating to sexuality, body image, trauma, and pleasure.
Jason Winters is a registered psychologist, sex therapist, and director at the West Coast Centre for Sex Therapy in Vancouver. He has PhD in psychology from UBC, and his career addressing sexual behaviours began after he became interested in the controversial topic of porn and sex addiction. Now Winters specializes in helping patients feel less guilt, anxiety, and embarrassment toward their sexual interests and sexuality.
Shift from goal-oriented to pleasure-oriented sex
“The definition of sex is socially constructed, particularly for cisgender and heterosexual people, and is highly focused on penetration and orgasm,” Watson says. “Shifting from goal-oriented to pleasure-oriented sex can be easier said than done, but it’s an important step for any couple. Sex can be a place for adults to explore, laugh, connect, and deepen intimacy. Being able to talk to your partner about pleasure, boundaries, consent, desires, and fears is a huge—but worthwhile—step for anyone to take.”
Overfocusing on “the big O” can add unnecessary pressure to a sexual encounter—sex should never be a sprint to the finish line. If you’re unable to climax but you feel more relaxed and connected to your partner afterwards, think of this as a successful experience instead of a failure.
Take on a dating mindset
The pandemic has been incredibly hard on our self-esteem, especially since we’ve been more anxious than usual, rarely leave the house, and only wear sweatpants. Thankfully, it’s possible to rediscover our sexual side by taking on a dating mindset.
“Desire for sex is most often a state of mind—it’s not about suddenly feeling horny or in the mood. Instead, it’s about being open to things that could be a turn-on and will elicit desire,” Winters says. “When people are single and dating, there tends to be a conscious effort to be psychologically and physically interested in, open to, and prepared for sex and intimacy. Anticipation can fuel desire, rather than desire being primary. This can be a powerful shift for people who feel that they’ve lost their mojo.”
Deconstruct what sex means
Simply put, the definition of sex has gotten out of control, which has resulted in unproductive expectations and unhealthy assumptions about how it should look and feel.
“There’s a lot of focus in the media on ‘Are you having enough sex?’ and ‘Tips for a better orgasm’. I encourage couples to look at their sexual patterns and start to construct what works for them, rather than what’s considered normal by the systems you exist under,” Watson says.
She recommends searching out books, podcasts, television shows, or social-media accounts that support your efforts to deconstruct mainstream messages about sex. Reading books like Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski and Magnificent Sex: Lessons From Extraordinary Lovers by Peggy Kleinplatz and A. Dana Ménard are a great starting point.
“Even the TV show Sex, Love & Goop is a great resource for all genders, providing a lot of updated research on sex, desire, and pleasure,” Watson says.
Don’t be afraid to schedule sex
The idea of scheduling sex is no stranger to negative backlash, but for couples with hectic and demanding lives, it helps them keep it a priority.
“People schedule almost everything because if they don’t, those things don’t happen,” Winters says. “This includes other pleasurable activities and recreation. Almost everything is scheduled, and there’s no stigma in doing so. Why should sex be any different?”
Scheduling sex doesn’t mean that you need to send out a Google Calendar invite. As a couple, you can set aside a morning, afternoon, or evening to reconnect when your schedule isn’t overwhelmingly full.
“For some, having a set time to have sex can increase pressure and reduce desire,” Watson says. “But for others, knowing that this time is on the calendar can help support the couple in building arousal through the day.”
Accept the absence of something you may want
Despite what’s portrayed in the mainstream media, sex isn’t the most important part of a healthy relationship. Communication, mutual respect, trust, and intimacy—think holding hands instead of penetration—can create a meaningful bond between partners.
But in many cases, the needs and wants from both parties in the relationship may not match up perfectly.
“Within a functional relationship, partners generously make efforts to provide for each other, but there are limits to this,” Winters says. “There are going to be far more unmet wants than wants provided. People must either accept these gaps or leave their relationships in search of a partner who can provide more of what they want. But holding a relationship hostage because one is bitter does not benefit anyone. Acceptance frees people to focus on what they can appreciate in their relationships and better problem solve their wants in creative ways. Paradoxically, acceptance increases the likelihood that they may actually get more of what they want.”
Be open to therapy
In addition to being a kind listener when your partner communicates their sexual desires and emotions, attending therapy as a couple can strengthen your relationship. Even meeting with a qualified sex therapist on your own can help you connect to your body and feel more comfortable with your sexual behaviour.
“Our relationship to sex and desire can be impacted by so many factors: systemic, biological, physical, emotional, relational, and psychological,” Watson says. “Reflecting on how you learned about sex and how your environment impacts your relationship to it may unlock some of the emotions you have tied up in the topic. Emotions show up in your body, and so does arousal, so being able to feel and tolerate these sensations is crucial.”