In a cruel twist of fate, the one thing I'm dying to do to destress feels completely unattainable.
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woman laying in bed can't orgasm because of coronavirus
Credit: urbazon/innapoka/Getty Images

I'm going to get straight to the point: my orgasms are missing. I've searched for them high and low; under the bed, in the closet, and even in the washing machine. But nope; they're just gone. No "I'll see you later," no break-up letter, and not even a damn postcard from wherever they've gone. Like anyone who's been abandoned by something or someone they love, I'm forced to wonder why — what the hell did I do this time to drive another beloved away? I loved them with everything I had — was that not enough? Apparently so.

The ability to orgasm has always been relatively easy for me. Granted, there have been very few men — emphasis on very — who have been able to give me an orgasm sans any help from a vibrator or detailed direction from me. But when I'm rolling solo, orgasms have been a breeze. With the right vibrator, I can come in less than a minute. Not that it's a race, but sometimes you just want to get in and out, de-stress, then go back to your work. But those days are gone because my orgasms are gone.

Sometime during April, my sex drive dropped. It didn't plummet so much as to have fallen through the floor, but it definitely decreased as COVID-19 hit and it was clear that the pandemic wasn't going anywhere. It's hard to feel sexual when the world seems to be falling apart. (At least, that was the case for me.) Occasionally, although my sex drive was still MIA, I'd masturbate as a means to relieve stress, hoping to feel a sense of relief for even the briefest of moments — but an O rarely happened. If I was able to orgasm, it took me well over an hour. Usually, I'd actually fall asleep mid-masturbation, only to awake hours later with my vibrator still on, still in my hand, and still orgasm-less.

Then May rolled around and things got really real with the virus, as the term the "new normal" was being thrown around left and right, and COVID-19 cases weren't just off the charts, but also creating an atmosphere of terror. So there I was, like so many others, living a life of stress and turmoil with a dreaded uncertainty of what the hell was to become of all this — the pandemic and the world as a whole. The fear and confusion were enough to cause anyone's orgasms to pack up and yell arrivederci! ✌️ from the first train out of town. If your head isn't in the game, you can't expect your body to be in it either.

"Orgasm is both a physical and mental process, so it follows that both your body and mind affect the experience," says Jess O'Reilly, Ph.D., a sexologist, relationship expert, and We-Vibe sex expert. "It's not uncommon to have difficulty with orgasm when you're stressed, tired, distracted, or otherwise disconnected."

My plight (I mean, it is a plight, after all), is far from uncommon. Studies have found that when it comes to sexual desire and sexual function, stress can be a game-changer — in a bad way. With stress comes higher levels of cortisol (a hormone) and that cortisol basically rains on the parade of both sexual desire and function (read: your ability to get wet/hard/respond to stimulation).

"Research suggests that feelings of anxiety and distress are associated with a decreased likelihood of experiencing orgasm," says O'Reilly. "Currently, many folks are experiencing prolonged feelings of anxiety and distress, and we are operating in a state of hyper-vigilance." This leads to emotional exhaustion and if you've ever tried getting aroused while tired AF, you know it's just not happening.

With your energy being poured into stress, "it can take away from the body's natural response to sexual stimuli," says O'Reilly. And, the more one stresses about something, the greater the problem becomes. And, speaking from experience, you can't talk yourself into an orgasm; I've been trying for months. (Here's more interesting insight into how sex drive really works, according to a top sex educator and researcher.)

However, seductively talking to my vulva in the middle of the night and trying to manipulate my brain into relaxing aren't the only techniques I've been practicing in the hopes of getting my orgasms back. Here are some other things I've been doing.

1. I tried a new sex toy.

When it comes to missing orgasms, you don't want to mess around with some $20 vibrator. (Although, I would like to point out that, under normal circumstances, I would never turn my nose up at a $20 vibrator.) You want something that has literally been created for people who struggle to orgasm. Enter: Osé 2 (Buy It, $290, loradicarlo.com), a new toy from the award-winning brand that made a splash at CES a couple of years back. It stimulates both the G-spot and the clitoris (via suction-like stimulation) at the same time, so I figured I couldn't lose because — also, well, I had nothing to lose.

I'm sad to report that despite the hype, Osé 2 didn't do it for me —which isn't the fault of Osé 2 at all. While the toy was very flexible and meant to fit many body sizes, as someone who's barely 5-feet-tall and not exactly home to the longest vaginal canal, things just weren't lining up to where they were supposed to be. The clitoral stimulator was tickling my pubic bone and the G-spot stimulator was nowhere near my G-spot. But that's on me and my body. I imagine others might have their mind blown by Osé 2.

2. I turned to an old sex partner.

It's looking like 2020 is going to be the first year I don't have any sex since I first started having sex at 18 — which is fine! But while I may not be physically getting any action, I'd still like to feel something. So, I turned to an on-again/off-again lover (a word we don't use enough) for some dirty talk. I had told him about my "issue" and he was game to help me out.

Again, sadly, no matter how dirty, filthy, and raunchy the sexual scenarios were that he presented, even with one of my favorite vibrators in hand, it just wasn't happening. I was extremely aroused and could even feel that maybe, just maybe, I was on the brink of coming, but it never happened. Of course, like any lothario, he promised if we were together he'd make it happen. I politely responded by telling him, "Oh, I know you would," hiding my severe doubts with feigned enthusiasm in my voice.

3. I went to a professional.

Despite having been a sex writer and educator for close to a decade (making me a sex expert in my own right and the one to whom my friends turn when they need sex and sexual health input), I'm not a doctor of sexology. That's where O'Reilly comes in with tips that I've been implementing into my masturbation routines.

Being mindful.

Being mindful means being in the moment and aware of your thoughts and how they're affecting you mentally and physically. This is also something that, pandemic or not, is very hard to harness in our non-stop, go go go society where the pause button seems to have been misplaced. But according to O'Reilly, allowing yourself to mentally step outside your hectic life can help you get your orgasms back.

"Being mindful refers to being engaged in the present experience free from judgment and pressure," says O'Reilly. "It involves being present and showing up for yourself and your partner(s). And when it comes to sex, being mindful precipitates multiple benefits including heightened desire, greater confidence, lower performance anxiety, and improved sexual functioning including arousal, erection, ejaculatory control, and orgasm."

Was I able to practice mindful masturbation during the early months of the pandemic? No. Am I now able to practice mindful masturbation being less than two months away from the presidential election? That would be a hell no. But, I did (and continue to) make an effort; it's just that my brain likes to win.

Paying attention to breath.

I have breathing techniques for panic attacks, yoga, and depressive episodes, so why not add another one to the list? In order to stay in the moment, should your mind start to wander, O'Reilly suggests paying attention to the way the air feels as it enters your nose and exits your mouth: inhale for five seconds, hold for three seconds, then exhale for five seconds.

"Repeat five times and notice how your breath affects your heart rate and emotional state," says O'Reilly. "You're unlikely to use this approach in the middle of a sexual encounter, but it can help prime your body for sexual desire and pleasure. You can also use it if you find you need a break during sexual activity." (Want to try it? Here are a few more breathing techniques designed for sex.)

I did, and do, practice this a lot. I'm cognizant enough to realize that breathing plays a major role in sexual pleasure and response, but as much as I'd get myself into almost a sedated space, the orgasms still weren't coming.

Removing the orgasm from the equation.

As anyone will tell you, whether it's sex or masturbation, it's about the journey and not what's at the end of the journey: the orgasm. Even without climaxing, sex can be fantastic, but with masturbation, it's a little different — at least in my case anyway. If I don't have an orgasm during sex with a partner, that's fine for me. Especially if it was fun and satisfying in other ways. But to not have an orgasm for months during masturbation, well, that's just a whole other story.

"Touch yourself for pleasure for 15-20 minutes without trying to reach orgasm," says O'Reilly. "Explore your entire body with your hands, lube, massage oil, toys, and/or objects of various textures. As you get in touch with your body's distinct responses and breathing patterns, you will find that your ability to stay present during sex (partnered and solo) increases, as you'll be less hung up on the performance and more focused on the pleasure itself."

Admittedly, because for me, masturbation and orgasm go together like peanut butter and jelly, this technique, although fun to execute, didn't do the trick.

Trying sensory deprivation.

Of all the tips O'Reilly suggested, this is the one that got me the closest to having an orgasm.

"When you're busy or distracted, lower the lights, close your eyes, wear a blindfold, or invest in noise-canceling headphones to help you to be more mindful and focus on sex," says O'Reilly. "The deprivation of one sense can heighten another." Which is very true. Blindfold yourself and strawberries taste better. Wear earplugs and suddenly your ex looks more fantastic than they ever did.

For me, blindfolding myself and popping in my earplugs has helped greatly, getting me, as I said, the closest I've come to orgasm in months. So close, in fact, I can practically taste it. But then my brain goes to politics and the pandemic and yadda yadda yadda.

4. I'm making peace with my missing Os.

O'Reilly's tips don't stop there; they continue with such techniques as compartmentalizing intrusive thoughts, doing intimacy exercises with a partner, and engaging in digital detox — which would probably cure a lot of us of a lot of things. Not all of her tips were applicable for me, so I worked on the ones I knew I had a chance of perhaps not mastering but at least giving me a chance to get my orgasms back.

The most interesting silver lining? Despite the lack of orgasms during my waking life, I've had a couple in my sleep. I've woken up to realize I was having an orgasm, but can never remember the dream or what brought me to the orgasm.

I don't know where my orgasms have gone or when they plan to return. I know they will, eventually, come back to me, but since they didn't leave word of when I just have to wait and see. I also know that, considering the state of the world, I'm far from alone. A few of my close friends have put their money on my orgasms returning promptly on November 4; if the election goes the way I'm hoping, then maybe my orgasms will come back tenfold, as if they're Niagara Falls, one right after the other, making up for lost time.

But, for now, I'm still orgasm-less and doing my damnedest to get them back. I strongly believe they can't be gone forever; they're just on vacation. It would be cool, though, if they could give me a heads up as to when I can expect them back.