If you’re a professional with a stressful job you may already have a working definitions of self-care. Self-care generally described as any effort done to increase our well-being. As a mental health professional, I greatly support self-care for myself to prevent burnout because hearing the worst of people’s life stories can actively take a toll. As a sexpert, I also promote healthy coping skills to my clients as they start their journey of healing from sexual abuse and in order to begin having more mindful, fulfilling sex.
That said, self-care gets dumbed down to being about hobbies and escapism. How often have you heard a colleague say that they’re going to get their nails done for “self-care”? Maybe you yourself have said that. Nail day does not count in my book. Sorry not sorry. Not to say you can’t get beautified at the salon if you so choose (because I know I do), but everything we do in the name of self-care should be intentional and with the goal of avoiding burnout. Meaning, You might have a cute gel set at the end of the day, and maybe it gave you a break before shifting from work to home, but did it make you invigorated to get back to your job the next day? Did it affirm the small accomplishments from your day? Did it improve your health overall?
The best self-care should be holistic: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. And sex can actually address all four areas of our well-being. Sexual Self-Care can be incorporated into all of these categories.
Physical self-care can include taking medication that improves your sexual health. For instance, you may have been prescribed an anti-biotic to cure an STI such as Gonorrhea. You may be tempted to not finish your medication after seeing relief in symptoms but to truly eliminate the infection you should finish the medication as prescribed. Similarly, Physical self-care can mean holding by our commitments to safer sex practices, like regularly using condoms if your goal is to reduce risk of transmitting and contracting STIs.
Physical self-care can also include masturbation, and as in most things, it should be done in moderation. For men ejaculation can clear an enzyme from the prostate that has been shown to decrease risk to cancer.
For men and women, getting to know your body can help you become better in partner sex too. People with prostates can improving their orgasm by knowing how to put pressure on their prostate. People with vulvas can have more pleasure during sex by learning to better stimulate their clitoris. (Hint: penetration of the vagina often misses the clitoris. Readjusting to positions in partner sex that put pressure on the clitoris, such as cowgirl, can improve clitoral stimulation. Masturbation during partner sex can improve positions where the clitoris is left out of the action.)
Self-care also means doing things we do not want to do sometimes. Who said self-care is always easy! For instance talking out you problems with a friend may mean being vulnerable. Talking about contracting an incurable STI for instance means risking rejection or shame. Likewise therapy for sexual behaviors may be non-negotiable for some people, whether you’re just trying to recover from an affair or improve sex in your relationships. Unfortunately, many people tend to feel alone in their issues until they discover that there is often a secret tribe of people who are going through the same sexual struggles: infertility, miscarriage, abortion, STIs, sexual abuse, fetishes, kink, divorce, etc. Support groups and therapy can be lead to greater acceptance.
Spirituality and religion can go together but they are not synonymous. Attending your couples counseling as part of the agreement to get married by your favorite pastor at your favorite church is a religious obligation. It may be good self-care if you are feeling supported and you and your partner are benefitting from discussing important issues such as childbirth, pregnancy issues, and sexual needs. This I good practice because you never have these conversations just once. However, not everyone has great experiences with organized religion. Spiritual self-care can be practices such as rheki, yoga, and tantric meditation that bring us closer to a sense of ourselves. Most of these practices help people to notice where they are storing negative energy in their bodies including their sexual organs. Tantric meditation can also help you give and receive positive energy to your partner.
This can include seeking out accurate education on our bodies and sexual habits. Many of us have grown up receiving subpar sex education due to abstinence only programming and general stigma in society about discussing sex. Learning about what is normal from practices sex educators, sex therapists, physicians, and other professionals can correct misinformation. Additionally, we must learn to be good filters of information in today’s age of fake news. Anyone can post a new sex tip on the internet but its better to research their credentials and experiences to be providing such information than accepting it all at face value.
All of these examples barely scrape the surface of how to brings self-care into our sex-lives. Some efforts in sexual self-care can actually fall into multiple categories. For instance, maybe meeting with a guide like a pastor to discuss sex and marriage is simultaneously spiritual and emotional. Hopefully this short list will get you thinking about where you can improve and grow.
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Sexpert & psychotherapist, Quandra Chaffers, presents Sass-y comments on love, health, and relationships--Comments too tangential or racy for the therapy room.