Between quarantine, cuffing season, and a particularly stressful political climate, this fall seems to have brought a perfect storm of reasons to seek comfort and intimacy from one another. Unfortunately, if you’re quarantining without a romantic partner, physical touch is pretty much out of the question. I understand this deeply: My Canadian boyfriend has been trapped behind the border since March, and as the months wear on, I’ve become acutely aware that no number of backyard distanced friend gatherings can replace a good makeout session.
Romance aside, ample anecdotal evidence and even a few studies suggest we’ve all become chaotically horny. And while I personally used to find this seemingly universal sexual frustration, well, frustrating, I’m starting to wonder whether this might actually be an important time for us to explore sexual health and pleasure—with ourselves, that is. I’m not sure if this is particular to being a people-pleaser, a woman, or both, but I have a deep internalized need to put others before my own. This extended period of enforced alone time has been trying, but as I work out my other boundaries—around my health and time, for example—I’ve also assessed my own wants and needs around desire and pleasure.
"Surveys show less than half of women masturbate regularly, meaning they aren't reaping the skin benefits of regular self-pleasure,” says Erika Schwass, M.Sc, Science and Wellness Manager of Consonant Skincare. While it may seem surprising that a skincare brand would pivot to sexual wellness, Consonant is trying to help consumers prioritize self pleasure by reframing masturbation in a whole new light: as part of your beauty routine. Schwass explains, “In a study of 3500 people, those who masturbated regularly looked on average 10 years younger than those who didn't. Masturbation can soothe stressed skin and mind by releasing ‘happy’ hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, decreasing stress hormones and decreasing your risk of psychocutaneous skin conditions (like acne, rosacea, dermatitis etc.).
So much content can feel degrading, triggering, or simply not in line with one’s sexual preferences—and parsing through and endless sea of slightly embarrassing search terms can be an overwhelming task.
The benefits of orgasms are more than skin deep: Planned Parenthood cites research showing orgasms can improve sleep, increase pelvic muscle tone, and improve body image. If you aren’t used to getting down with yourself, however, it can be hard to achieve the levels of comfort and intimacy that lead to sexual exploration and satisfaction. To combat this, Consonant hopes to provide a one-two punch of education and equipment: The brand’s self pleasure campaign includes a podcast hosted by psychotherapist (and Bachelor alum) Taylor Nolan exploring facts and fictions around female pleasure, and a self-pleasure collaboration with sensual care brands Dame and Lohn launching November 17.
Education is vital to undoing the stigmas many women and gender nonconforming people feel around their own sexuality, but there’s also the question of what we turn to to actually get us off. With a seemingly endless supply of porn at our fingertips, we potentially have more access to masturbation fodder than ever before; at the same time, however, so much content can feel degrading, triggering, or simply not in line with one’s sexual preferences—and parsing through and endless sea of slightly embarrassing search terms can be an overwhelming task.
Michael Dill, founder and CEO of audio erotica apps &Jane and Kampsite, says, “In our view, traditional content, despite having some redeeming qualities, can be incredibly damaging if it’s taken as a blueprint for how sex in the real world should be approached. It is setting up negative and unrealistic gender roles and expectations and in many cases it is simply degrading, objectifying and aggressive.” The apps focus on authentic first-person narratives and storytellers with a variety of sexual preferences, gender identities, and erotic experiences.
Dill continues, “Our ultimate focus with &Jane and Kampsite has been to destigmatize and reframe the common perception of erotic content by creating a safe space for exploration, satisfaction, and participation. Most people have sex or think about sex—and almost all people crave stimulation, so we think sexuality shouldn't be hidden behind closed doors. Our goal is to produce life-affirming content that presents sexuality in a realistic and beautiful way, so we can have a positive dialogue about pleasure. By opening up these conversations, we can provide stories that create a sense of community and belonging. This mission also guides us in our work with The Trevor Project and Woodhull Freedom Foundation, donating a percentage of all Kampsite and &Jane subscriptions to these worthy organizations."
I’ve come to recognize that working on my relationship with sex has helped me connect with myself better in a time when I often feel dissociated and deeply alone.
At first, using podcasts to educate and eroticize my feelings around sexual pleasure seemed a bit far-fetched for me personally. I’ll tune into a podcast when I scrub dishes or sit in traffic, experiences that don’t exactly turn me on. But the confines of quarantine uniquely lend themselves to aural experiences—alone in my apartment, having another voice present is its own form of intimacy and connection, and focusing on sound allows my mind to wander in ways that reading or viewing doesn’t. As &Jane and Kampfire producer Madeline Concannon put it, “Using an audio only platform allows the listener to use their imagination and conjure images that are tailored more to their preferences and desires. It leaves more room for your own fantasies to come to life and get lost in a story while still remaining highly engaged.” Plus, because the platforms are meticulously curated, you’ll find plenty of options to gently push you out of your comfort zone without getting overwhelmed or disheartened. Additionally, it’s important to me to know that the porn I consume—in whatever format—is ethically produced (exploitation isn’t really my kink), so I also appreciate the platforms’ commitment to inclusive story telling, regular donations to queer and sex positive organizations, and ethical business practices.
Concannon notes, “Our subscription model allows us to compensate our team fairly and means that we never sell user data, all activity on &Jane and Kampsite is 100% private.” Ultimately, knowing that the platforms I might use to explore new sexual fantasies are working to highlight and uplift different experiences not only puts my conscience at ease, but also allows me to draw from a greater pool of stories and learn about what I actually want. The decision to consciously privilege personal pleasure seemed, at first, both scary and frivolous—the world is burning, and I’m fixated on orgasming?—but with the right tools, I’ve come to recognize that working on my relationship with sex has helped me connect with myself better in a time when I often feel dissociated and deeply alone. The things I’ve learned about my own pleasure will probably come in handy when I’m able to have a partner again, but honestly, I’m happy to enjoy their benefits on my own in the moment. After all, having a personal practice around pleasure, confidence, and bodily connection? That’s exactly the kind of apocolyptic self-care we need.