Going on a sex fast essentially means powering down your sex life to allow time for a reset, and then rebooting it to greater effect. But because sex can encompass different things for different folks, a sex fast is also similarly nuanced in practice.
“A regular, planned sex fast can provide mental clarity, presence, and a heightened awareness of ourselves and the people around us.” —Zoë Kors, sex coach and author of Radical Intimacy
In some cases, a sex fast might mean fully abstaining from any sexual activity, as Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker recently did. This is basically a “Dry January” for sex, though it needn’t be an entire month long, says sex coach Zoë Kors, author of Radical Intimacy: “A regular, planned sex fast can provide a similar level of mental clarity, presence, and a heightened awareness of ourselves and the people around us.”
Outside of halting all forms of sex, a sex fast with a partner could also just mean refraining from certain sex acts, and focusing on specific kinds of intimate or erotic touch instead. That's a similar concept to the popular sex-therapy exercise “sensate focus,” says sex therapist and psychologist Laurie Mintz, PhD, sex expert for Lelo and author of Becoming Cliterate. “In this exercise, created by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the couple goes through a series of graduated steps to re-establish sexual touch, while learning to focus mindfully on the sensations, rather than on sexual performance.”
To figure out what (if any) kind of sex fast might make sense for your partnership, read on for the potential benefits of sex fasts, plus how to go about taking one.
When engaging in a sex fast with a partner might be useful—and when it wouldn’t be
It’s worth noting that if your sex life leaves nothing to be desired, there’s no need to put it on pause. “There are real physical, emotional, and relational benefits of sex, and restricting yourself from it for no reason could leave you feeling frustrated and without the feel-good chemicals that sex releases,” says Dr. Mintz.
On the flip side, if your sex life with a partner is already nonexistent or close to it, “taking a sex fast as an excuse for not having sex is also not an effective way to deal with the potential underlying issues,” says Kors. Similarly, if the sex you’re having with a partner is rife with issues like dissatisfaction or lack of arousal and orgasm, Dr. Mintz suggests seeing a sex therapist (who can walk you through the process of sensate focus noted above), rather than attempting to solve the issue with a DIY sex fast.
By contrast, a sex fast can play a healthy role in partnerships that fall between the above ends of the spectrum: You’re having consensual, feel-good sex with your partner, but it’s just not as intimate, satisfying, or exciting as it once was or as you feel it could be. In this case, taking sex off the table creates time and space to address other aspects of your relationship and your sense of intimacy that may be contributing to that gap—like your emotional, energetic, and non-sexual physical connection with each other, says Kors. And by focusing, in particular, on these areas, your sexual connection is bound to be all the stronger once the break is over.
How to go about a sex fast for the most effective result
Because of the ways in which sex is wrapped up with desire and attraction in our culture, it’s extra-important that a sex fast in any partnership be a mutually agreed-upon decision. In no scenario should it be simply one partner deciding on a sex break and then relaying that to another, says Dr. Mintz. Doing so could easily risk the misconception that the first person just no longer wants to have sex with the second, which is, again, not the function of a healthy sex fast.
To bring up the topic to a partner, start with a conversation outside the bedroom, and not immediately before or after sex. “You might say, ‘I want our emotional and sexual relationship to be as great as possible, and I’ve been reading about sex fasts, where you stop having sex for a bit of time to re-ignite the passion and re-focus on emotional connection. I’d love to try this. Would you be game?’” suggests Dr. Mintz. If your partner is into the idea, you can also invite them to brainstorm with you about what you might each stand to gain from the experience, both individually and relationally, adds Kors: “It’s essential to approach this conversation in the spirit of curiosity, collaboration, and creativity.”
“Taking genital contact off the table, while still engaging in other erotic kissing and touch can be hot, reminding you of the importance of ‘everyday foreplay.’” —sex therapist and psychologist Laurie Mintz, PhD
From there, it’s all about defining the terms of your sex fast together, in alignment with whatever you both think would serve your relationship best. Specifically, consider what type or degree of sex will be off limits, and what you will do during the fast to enhance your intimacy in other ways, says Dr. Mintz. “Can you hold hands? Make out? Touch breasts? Touch genitals? Are you cutting out all contact or just genital contact? Foregoing all touch could be harmful and disconnecting, whereas taking just genital contact off the table, while still engaging in other erotic kissing and touch can be hot, reminding you of the importance of ‘everyday foreplay,’ as opposed to the alternative of not touching erotically at all until it’s time to do the deed.”
At that point, it’s also helpful to talk out how long your fast will last. “A monthlong fast might work for a couple who generally has sex once a week, whereas for a couple who has sex every day, that might be too long, and they may want to start with a week,” says Dr. Mintz. Once you set a timeframe, consider how you’ll connect and communicate throughout, perhaps deciding on a daily or weekly cadence for check-ins to both share how you’re feeling about the fast itself and spend quality, non-sexual time together.
When it’s time to break the fast and reconnect in a sexual way, make it special, says Kors. Maybe you set the scene with candles, dim the lights, and play your favorite jams, she suggests, or perhaps you take a bath together, or spend ample time undressing each other and exploring your bodies. Plenty of eye contact and verbal appreciation also tend to up the ante, she adds. But whatever you choose to do, just remember: This is the happy culmination of an activity you did to benefit your relationship—and it should feel just that celebratory.
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