Flexibility is the ability to bend without breaking. When we are all trees in the midst of a pandemic storm, the windy gusts of virus variants and vaccination delays will blow our branches hard. It’s been almost a year now and many of us have the feeling that we’re going to snap: it’s bending or break time.
Are we protecting the storm by slipping under the covers with someone significant? Surprisingly no.
The bare truth is that Canadians have less sex, no more, according to a national survey by researchers from the University of British Columbia. Reasons for this decline could be increased mental health problems, too much time together for couples, or too much time alone for singles.
It’s an unfortunate turn of events because we need this type of wellbeing activity when the stress is higher than it has ever been. Research has consistently shown that more frequent intimate sexual encounters are associated with greater wellbeing. Regardless of their personal situation, improving sexual flexibility can be exactly what Canadians need to improve their drooping sex life.
Measurement of sexual flexibility
Stéphanie Gauvin, a graduate student in psychology at Queen’s University, created a measure of this flexibility that she called the SexFlex scale:
A sexual script is like a sexual menu. When you have a sexual interaction with someone, you have this menu of options to choose from. Some have a bigger menu because they have more things they thought of and others have a more exclusive menu. With your partner, you need to figure out the parts of this menu that you might want. There may be menu items that are your favorites, some you want to try, or others that you are not sure about but that you may want to try.
But what if an ingredient is not available or there is a new chef? Detours in sexual scripts can show up as differences in desire between partners due to factors such as pain, performance anxiety, arousal difficulties, illnesses, or transition periods such as menopause.
How easily one can change one’s approach, modify strategies for sex, or come up with different options to adapt to changing sexual situations are part of the SexFlex scale.
Gauvin compares low sexual flexibility to insistence on restaurants.
“I need a three-course menu with soup or salad as the first course, the main course has to have meat and I have to have chocolate cake for dessert! If there’s no chocolate cake, we didn’t even go out for dinner. “
It is believed that people who can try alternative strategies to preferred sexual scripts will be better able to cope with acute and chronic sexual problems. In their study of post-prostate prostate cancer patients, researchers from the University of New Brunswick found that most men had fairly tight and traditional sexual scripts that required intercourse between the penis and vagina.
Erectile dysfunction was often viewed as the end of their sex life and many chose to stop all sexual activity even if their desire to have sex was still intact. The results of another study on sex after prostate cancer show the importance of flexibility in sexual writing in improving sexual satisfaction for yourself and a potential partner: “When you have 10 fingers and one tongue, sex is not dead.”
Desire and motivation
Motivation is also critical. Distinguishing between a sensory experience that satisfies both partner and sex in order to satisfy the desires of only one is important. Having sex to avoid conflict or disappointment is associated with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. Unsurprisingly, sex that promotes intimacy or promotes closeness with a partner has the opposite result.
Caroline Pukall, clinical psychologist and director of the Sex Research Lab at Queen’s University, helps clients redefine sexual encounters with an approach: “Can we talk about sexual pleasure or intimacy as a goal?”
Back to the food metaphors. Sex doesn’t always have to mean turning the broiler on high. Start by “simmering on your sexuality,” suggests Pukall. This is especially important for those with a history of trauma or medical problems. An example would be a shared bubble bath or a naked spoon in bed.
Those who want to expand their sexual menu but don’t know how to get started need to start with a (likely uncomfortable) conversation about sexuality. But sexual self-disclosure, speaking about sexual likes and dislikes, can produce a menu that is consensual and mutually agreeable.
And like nowadays, there are apps like Mojo that are useful for adding sexual novelty. New flavors that could spice up the menu with constant discussion and approval. For those with vulva, OMGYes! recommended by sexperts to better understand why you are feeling good.
To keep our food metaphor, one could ask, “Who sets the menu anyway?”
There is evidence that those who adapt their sex lives creatively are thriving despite the swirling pandemic storm. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University surveyed 1,559 adults – 70 percent women and 75 percent Americans – and found that nearly half reported a decline in their sex lives while those who broke their sexual repertoire around new activities like sexting and trying new ones Sexual activity, expanding positions or sharing sexual fantasies resulted in a three times higher chance that their sex life would improve.
Kim Tallbear, Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, is one of the producers of Tipi Confessions, a creative storytelling show about sex, sexuality and gender with indigenous, feminist, queer and educational perspectives. Your critical lens on the decolonization of sexuality prompts us to remember that love and care cannot be increased, compromised, or lost when we embrace a variety of relationships.
Don’t be spoon-fed – discover your personal tastes and take some time to plan a solo menu or a sexual partner menu – and enjoy.