People are masturbating less in lockdown due to stress killing our sex drives

What if there was an orgasm button on your phone?

Throughout lockdown there have been multiple reports and predictions of a massive rise in masturbation.

The theory goes that with people cooped up at home and hookups with others less of an option, masturbation would become the go-to way to get-off, causing a massive rise in self-love sessions.

But that hasn’t been the case for everyone.

A new report from Superdrug suggests that actually, people are likelier to masturbate less amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, rather than masturbating more.

Their survey of 2,000 people around the UK found that while 29% said they’ve masturbated more frequently in lockdown, 34% said they’ve masturbated less often.

Women are more likely to be in the masturbating-less-often camp – 30% of men and 38% of women said they were getting less solo sex in lockdown.

Alix Fox, Superdrug’s resident sex and relationship educator, reckons the dip in masturbation is down to increased levels of stress and anxiety – which put a real dent in your sex drive.

How often do people masturbate?

The Superdrug survey found that 16% of people masturbate once a day, 25% masturbate once a week, and 17% masturbate once a month.

Men are more likely to masturbate every day than women, with 23% of men saying they do so versus 9% of women.

‘One big reason is anxiety: worrying about the wellbeing of loved ones; job insecurity; financial instability; and huge uncertainty about the future can make your libido pack its bags and leave the country (even if you can’t!),’ says Alix. ‘Stress and anxiety affect people on a chemical level as well as an emotional one; when we’re fretful, we produce more of the hormone cortisol, which can cause our desire to do anything X-rated – including masturbate – to go AWOL.

‘For some, this anxiety – coupled with being cooped up in the house, and having fewer uplifting interactions with friends – will nudge over into depression, and those who already have a tendency to be chased by the ‘black dog’ may very well find themselves struggling with that more right now.

‘Having the blues can again supress your enthusiasm to get busy with your pink bits.

‘This can be further intensified by the fact that some of the most common medications prescribed to help alleviate depression (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, aka SSRIs) can reduce your sex drive and make it harder to orgasm as side-effects.’

Of course, it’s not all about the quantity, but the quality, too, and one reassuring finding from the study is that some people have been using their time in lockdown to experiment with what works for them.

13% have been trying out different types of mental or visual stimulation, while 58% said they’re keen to explore ways to mix up their masturbation techniques.

Superdrug is sharing their findings to encourage more open conversation around masturbation, with a new campaign called Masturbation is Self-Celebration to encourage people to get intimate with themselves and feel confident doing so.

‘Masturbation allows you to please yourself, by yourself, for yourself,’ says Alix. ‘It’s totally natural; it has myriad benefits, both physical and emotional; and even if it’s something you choose to do in the dark, Superdrug and I believe that discussions about masturbation need to step out from the shadows of stigma, shame and secrecy.’

A couple of those benefits, if you need a nudge to get started: improved body image, reduced stress levels, and better sleep, all thanks to the release of dopamine and oxytocin brought about by orgasms.

The stress-busting effects are especially important right now, in the midst of a pandemic, when so many of us are struggling with our mental health – which makes that dip in sex drive pretty annoying.

‘The big irony here is that masturbation can actually help to alleviate anxiety, stress and even mild depression itself, by naturally boosting levels of feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin – but those problems might be making you disinclined to self-pleasure in the first place,’ Alix explains.

‘One of the most bastardly things about such mental health challenges is how they make it psychologically difficult to do the very things you know might help you!’

If you know masturbation could help you, but are struggling with a drop in libido, it’s worth talking to your doctor to work out if there could be other factors at play beyond the usual pandemic-related stress, especially if you’re on medication.

‘Medications that manipulate serotonin (SSRIs) tend to have more sexual side effects that those that act upon norepinephrine or dopamine, so switching to a different formulation may be a possibility,’ Alix advises.

‘Depending on how long-acting your meds are, you might – under professional supervision – be able to schedule a “medication holiday” where you pause your regime for a day or two to get relief from the side-effects whilst still gaining the therapeutic benefits, and get back in touch with your sexual side that way.

‘You could also try timing masturbation sessions to happen just before you take your tablet, when the concentration of the drug in your body is naturally at its lowest, so feeling sensual pleasure and enjoying the release of reaching orgasm may be easier.’

To get back into the swing of self-love, try to carve out time in your schedule to prioritise your own pleasure – and give yourself a decent window so there’s no pressure to tick it off your to-do list.

Then, try an exercise called Sensate Focus.

Alix explains: ‘[This is] a practice that encourages you to get into the habit of noting and savouring even the most delicate everyday pleasurable feelings, like how the droplets of water from your shower feel as they hit different areas of your skin, or how delicious your cup of morning coffee smells. It gradually, gently gets you back into the habit of enjoying sensations in your own bod.

‘The next step might be to re-introduce self-touch, but without rushing to touch your genitals if that feels overwhelming; try giving yourself a hand massage using the gorgeous geranium-scented Woowoo Bliss Oil, for example – and if your slicked-up fingers then feel like wandering further, let them!’

Go slow, stay open to trying new things, and dedicate some proper time to self-exploration. It’s so worth it.

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