I started touching myself differently during the pandemic.
At least, I tried to.
At first it was the same old orgasmic sneezes I’ve grown used to in times of stress – compulsive, self-soothing, like a warm mug of tea or a smooth stone rubbed between your fingers – the touch of my pussy both grounding and escapist while we waited for the world to unfold fresh horrors.
In times of uncertainty masturbation becomes a sure thing.
But as the state of lockdown became more and more ongoing, seemingly more endless. As the slow flood of panic swelled itself into my bones and I realized, no one was going to be touching me but me for a very long time, I decided that maybe I needed to replace habit with intention. Put some care into the way I was touching myself the same way any lover worth their salt in second dates would do.
I started by trying to touch myself with the intention to feel, not just to come. Laying out on my back in the afternoon I tried to really distinguish the shapes and curves of my body. To notice where the skin was thinnest, which spots tickled, which spots gave way to hair. Gave way to moisture. To textures that were altogether different from one another. And to breathe.
Breathing felt very loaded during lockdown. Breathing in my house. Breathing through a mask. Breathing in an empty backyard or breathing in a crowd of furtive eyes and 6 foot traffic tangoes.
I tried to breathe into my body, instead of pushing air upward into my chest the way I usually did when grasping for an orgasm. I tried to listen to my breath and the way it mingled with sound when I let my fingers find my vulva.
I read an article about how to bridge intimacy with a long distance partner in times of lockdown and I applied the practices to myself. I recorded a voice memo of me touching myself and played it back for myself later. Recycling arousal, I discovered how much I loved the sound of my breath when I was getting close.
I started writing erotica when my job had me sitting in a 5x10 vestibule doing Covid safety check-ins for the health clinic I was working for. Something I hadn’t done for many years, and not regularly since I was maybe 12 or 13, I wrote out long fantasies of lovers and trysts and laces being hastily torn from bodices, leather being slid past flesh and I remembered what it felt like to be turned on by your own creative concoctions. When I would get home sometimes I would read these erotic one offs out loud just to hear those words fill the space. I recorded some of these too and played them back. I was good at writing sex. I wished I was able to have it but you know. Lemons. Lemonade.
I knew at the start of quarantine that I would never take for granted being able to touch people. Now that we’re starting to come out of strict lockdown, I want to hold on to how I started to touch myself.
Too often masturbation is treated as a sort of stand-in or substitute for partnered sex, instead of allowing it to stand on its own. I want to hold on to the slowness that I approached it with, the time I took. I want to hold on to the fantasies I curated during quarantine. Will I ever share them with a partner? Maybe. But more importantly I want to weave them more intimately to my own experience of sex moving forward.
I’ve had sex a few times now.
I made out with a stranger.
It was actually the hugging that brought me to tears.
As many people have pointed out, the idea of any kind of “return to normal” is a frightening trap of white supremacist capitalism. This extends into our sexual selves also. How quickly could we revert to a transactional, commodity model of sex, if we aren’t careful? Where sex becomes a bartering chip for social value and status, little else?
As much as I missed sex during lockdown. As hungry for it as I was, I don’t want to have sex the ways I was having it before the pandemic. Reflexively. Casually, sometimes to the point of self-abandonment. As giddy as I am that I'll once again be able to connect with another person, I don’t want touching another person to be a way of forgetting myself.
And I certainly don’t want to be so excited to run into someone else’s arms that I forget what I learned in my own.