Over the past few months, the world has become intimately aware of the impact of our touch. We have started to see our own hands as receivers of disease, and the hands of others as the transmitters. Though this awareness and physical distancing is crucial for containing the spread of Covid-19, sex therapist Sarita Das says we also need to remember the importance of touch and make it a priority within our bubbles.
“People still need touch,” they say. “With this distancing in your life and work, everything has become distant. We would normally hug or shake hands - all that is sort of gone.”
With everyone’s lives so disrupted, Sarita says embracing touch is more important for us now than ever, as it will help us remain happy and fulfilled at this difficult time.
“Good, consensual, pleasurable touch releases endorphins into your body like serotonin and dopamine,” they say. “I think focusing on the fact that your body is going to get pleasure in ways that are not sexual needs to be public knowledge - especially now.”
In fact, a Swedish study found that touch like holding someone's shoulders or rubbing their backs is an important tool for humans comforting each other through distress. Living through these anxious times, it is likely we are all in need of a comforting squeeze and a back rub right now.
But receiving and giving that touch may be more difficult depending on your lockdown situation - you might be by yourself, or with your family, or with flatmates. It may be awkward, but Sarita says in most situations there are ways to establish a degree of closeness and physicality that can work for many. It all starts with a conversation.
“Have a discussion with your whare and say, 'Hey, can we all have a talk about touching? As you know, some of us don't have our partners here, but we still want touch'. Maybe have a conversation asking, 'Can we give each other like non-sexual massages? Like, is that okay?'.”
For people who are in lockdown with a sexual partner, this time together could be an opportunity to explore intimacy and sex in new ways - taking all of this new-found spare time to have long periods of sex that is not “just a quickie before work”, Sarita says.
“Some nice things could arise [from this lockdown], like learning more about each other's sexuality, learning more about what turns each other on, being able to have that time to really allow yourself to do and savour non-orgasm-focused sex things.”
An example of this is what Sarita calls “orgasmic yoga”. Simply put, it is time you set aside with a partner in which you both practise soft touch on yourself and each other.
“Genital touch could be part of it, but neither of you are aiming for orgasm. Because you can do that anytime - you can do that when you're having sex,” Sarita says.
“This is just time to play and feel different parts of your body that you normally don't during sex - like giving your partner a bum massage, which can be an incredibly beautiful experience.”
While this kind of intimacy could be one outcome of lockdown, it’s likely couples could also become complacent, Sarita says. When you’re spending all your time together, it can start to feel like ‘We see each other all the time, we don’t need to have couple time”.
“That's such a slippery slope. If you go for too many days without having that one on one time, you could start feeling quite alienated despite being so physically close to each other.”
The answer is in communication, Sarita says. Couples should take the time now to discuss when and how they can both make 20-30 minutes each day to be a couple and give each other the kind of intimacy and touch they both need.
Similarly, it is important to discuss what your needs are in general - how much space do you need? How much time alone? How much time together? Another important question is what you want your sex life to look like during the next three weeks of lockdown.
“It might just be as obvious as being like, 'Hey, I need to have sex at least once a week. Is that something that you're comfortable doing?' Couples may not have ever had this conversation before, because sex just sort of happens organically. But, if you're spending this much time together, and you've never lived together before, it could be a bit off. There could be expectations that you have that the other person doesn't share.”
Hand-in-hand with this setting of needs and expectations is the importance of respecting another person’s boundaries and not pressuring them into sex. If in that earlier conversation you find that your needs conflict - for instance, if someone says they feel like they need sex once a week and the other person wants it once a day - you should discuss these needs and find a compromise that works for both partners if possible, Sarita says.
“I know that doesn't feel very sexy. But you're just gonna have to find a middle ground with your person that works for you.”
“I think not pressuring people to have sex, it seems like an obvious thing, but I know I've been guilty of where I get sulky because I'm not getting enough sex from my partner. So, what you can't get from your partner, definitely try and give this to yourself.”
Keep in mind, Sarita adds, that this could also be a great time to explore your own body - and take masturbation from this small, quick act, into something that is more meaningful and involved.
“Try and think about opening up that self-touch time to be more expansive. If you have a garden, fucking go outside and have some nudity in nature - that's such a beautiful way to feel connected to your body. I don't know if that's possible for everyone, but just try feeling closest to yourself in a different way.”
However, with people being isolated in their homes it could be more difficult to find the privacy needed to explore your body in this way. If this is the case, Sarita says, it might be time for some frank conversations.
“I know that seems really harsh, but say, 'You go for a walk, I'm gonna have a wank'.”
“Maybe this is a time for people to be quite blunt with each other and open your communication and be able to speak that frankly with them.
“I did that yesterday. [My flatmates] were upstairs working and I was like, 'Okay, well, I'm gonna have a wank so just like, don't come downstairs for a while'. Just being really clear with that.”
More than just masturbation, Sairita says being confined gives people an opportunity to acclimate themselves with their bodies in a way they may be neglecting, or perhaps have never done.
“Focus on savoring and noticing what's going on in your body. Try doing online body scans.” Body scans are a form of meditation that calls attention to each part of your body, and Sarita says they’re “a great way to try and start feeling things inside your body if you don't know how to do that already.”
“Once you start getting more accustomed to feeling any states inside your body like physical sensations, pleasure becomes way more expansive and little things like touch - that is not necessarily we're having sex right now touch - it is more expansive.”
By familiarising yourself with your own body in this way, it will give you the oppurtunity to better understand what is pleasurable to you - making the sex you do have during lockdown, or in the future, all the more enjoyable.
“If you can do that, maybe when you come out of lockdown you will have a better understanding of what sex means to you, and your future relationships and your future hookups will be quite satisfying. You'll go into them knowing, 'this is what sex means for me and this is what I get out of sex'.”
Of course, all of this self-reflection and more involved sexuality will likely be quite overwhelming to the uninitiated. Sarita encourages those people to so some research - look up body scan meditation, mindfulness, and somatic sex education resources. The internet is full of them, and you are bound to find something that works for you and your sensibilities. For people who may need a more one-on-one approach, sex educators like Sarita are keen to help, and many are offering free or koha consultations to people during this difficult time.
Also, keep in mind that for some people this lockdown will be a great time to experiment with sex, masturbation, and touch - and that is awesome. But, for others, this situation might already be overwhelming enough, without adding all of these new frontiers on top of it. For some, their needs right now might be as simple as sitting next to them on the couch, or a nice, warm cuddle - and that is also totally awesome. The point is, find the kind of touch, sex and intimacy that is going to make this lockdown as comfortable as possible for you.
You can follow Sarita Das on Instagram @somaticsarita