The pandemic was an isolating time for many of us, and much has been made of what’s to follow—aka, the horniest summer on record—as vaccinations allow us to explore intimate relationships once more. But the last 15 months have likely changed us, and that can leave us feeling unsure of how to proceed. Do we want casual hookups that were inaccessible during the pandemic? Or did the sobering experience of the past year leave us wanting more than steamy sex? What if we’re not ready to have sex at all?
On the latest episode of The Well+Good Podcast, sexperts discuss the opportunities and challenges presented to us by the hot-vax summer ahead—and any baggage we might bring along as we make up for lost time.
The prospect of getting it on—with a stranger or any other human—can be very exciting right now; however, it’s perfectly normal not to feel ready. For many, the stress of the last year diminished sex drive, says Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of the intimacy marketplace Bloomi, and it’s not exactly easy to hit the reset button on our psyches.
“I think that we have shoved down, by necessity, so much of ourselves and our connection to our bodies over the past year and a half,” agrees Rae McDaniel, LCPC, CST, CEO and educator at Practical Audacity, a gender and sex therapy group, and at Genderfck, an online group coaching program for trans and non-binary folks. To reawaken this part of ourselves, McDaniel notes that it’s important to stimulate the five senses, whether or not doing so includes sex.
Listen to the full episode below:
Fortunately, many people experimented with solo sex during the pandemic, which may have expanded their notions of pleasure, says Shan Boodram, author of The Game of Desire and certified sex educator. “I hope that you take the definition and bring it into partnered play,” she says. In other words, you may be tired of spooning your vibrator, but don’t forget what it taught you when you experience intimacy with partners again. “It’s not fun just to be a charity case for other people’s pleasure and a donor for other people’s orgasms,” Boodram says.
And while there’s no harm in sexual hedonism during this summer of rediscovery, Boodram cautions us to remain responsible. People deserve to have fun and feel liberated, she says, but that doesn’t mean they should dispose of sexual health concerns and ethical attitudes that can lead to people having better and safer intimate experiences.
The best place to start when navigating this newfound freedom? Boundaries. “It’s about knowing what it is that you want and what you desire, and what you don’t want and what you don’t desire…and staying very grounded in that while also respecting other people’s boundaries,” McDaniel says. “I think that might be a difficult thing this summer—not on purpose, not because we’re trying to bulldoze over people’s boundaries, but because I do think there’s a lot of expectation for our needs to be met in ways that they haven’t in a long time.”
Just as it’s crucial to respect your partners’ boundaries this summer, McDaniel says it’s also important to stay connected to your wants, needs, and values while pursuing intimacy. In other words, having casual sex ad nauseam when your goal is a relationship—or getting into a relationship ASAP when you want to date casually—isn’t going to be the right call if you’re not honoring your true desires.
And after the year we’ve all had, both McDaniel and Boodram insist it’s more important than ever to be true to yourself. To that end, Boodram notes that gender identity and sexual preferences may have shifted during the pandemic as well. “[People have] had a lot of time to reflect on their gender identity,” she says. “And there is a lot of pressure and social anxiety that I see coming up for folks.” It’s vital for you to honor any changes you’ve experienced over the past 15 months and to be affirming and supportive of loved ones who might be navigating new terrain, too.
Ultimately, as we deep dive into hot-vax summer, YOLO has taken on an even deeper meaning. “When I think of sexual well-being, I think of a healthy and grounded relationship with partners, with sex, with eroticism, with intimacy and our bodies… consent-based… shame-free and pleasure focused,” says McDaniel. “My hope for this summer and beyond is that we remember that we only get one life, and we deserve to feel pleasure and joy in it.”