At ethos pathos, we know that sexual health is part of our overall health and wellbeing. I’ll admit, I didn’t always realise this for myself. There was a complete lack of information or conversation surrounding my own sexual and intimate health while contending with secondary infertility. This led me to search for relatable and non-sensationalised information about sex, intimacy, and libido - and wow! What a fantastic group of health and wellness professionals and enthusiasts I found.
One of whom is Stephanie Rigg. A corporate lawyer turned sex & relationship coach based in Sydney, Australia, she works with women looking to reconnect to their true self and step into their power through an exploration of sexuality, love & relationships. She is also the founder of The Bedside Collection, a luxury sexual wellness brand.
Stephanie generously answered all our questions about her self-care suggestions and how we can manage our stress in order to improve our intimate relationships with ourselves and others.
ep: You have written about the detrimental impact stress has on our sex lives. Can you recap for us your thoughts on purging stress and completing the stress cycle?
sr: I think we can all agree that stress is the ultimate libido-killer. And this makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary stance – when we’re in fight or flight mode, survival takes precedence over sex. Problem is, modern life is so hectic that we unknowingly operate from a place of chronic stress most of the time, hence the perpetually dulled libido that many will be familiar with.
So what’s the solution?
The latest research points to the importance of completing stress cycles – ie, activities that restore our nervous system to a state of rest and digest, where our body’s maintenance functions (digestion, libido, immunity) can resume. (continued next post…)
In her latest book “Burnout”, Emily Nagoski identifies 7 ways to complete the stress cycle:
- Movement: this can be anything from running to dancing to going for a walk around the block – ideally 20-60 minutes a day.
- Breathing: deepening our breath and in particular, lengthening the exhale, is a super quick and effective way to shift back into a parasympathetic state.
- Human interaction: casual friendly social interaction with others reminds us that the world is safe and life is good. Even if it’s just exchanging a smile with someone you pass on the street.
- Laughter: deep belly laughs are so therapeutic and restorative for our system.
- Connection: connection with loved ones (family, close friends, intimate partners) is really beneficial when you’re at peak stress. A warm, long hug can work wonders to physically melt away stress.
- Crying: sometimes, you just have to let it all out. Having a good, cathartic cry can provide a really effective reset.
- Creativity: providing an outlet for our “big” emotions through creative pursuits like music, painting, writing, means that we aren’t storing them in our body, unprocessed and pent up.
While these are not directly tied to sex, you’ll be amazed at how much more open to sex and intimacy you feel when you aren’t energetically weighed down by the chronic unresolved stress stored in your nervous system.
ep: What are your favourite acts of self-care and self-love?
sr: One of my favourite quotes is from John Wineland and it says “Joy is the natural by-product of prioritising the next most nourishing act. This is the selfishness that is sacred. As all beings benefit from the effortless transmission of your joy”. This is how I try to approach self-care – by tuning in to what I need to feel nourished in any given moment.
That said, some of my go-to self-care practices are:
- Taking a bath – even if only for 15-20 minutes, I find having a bath quietens my mind and soothes my body. The ultimate way to decompress.
- Self-massage – Lately I’ve been using warm body oil all over every morning before my shower. Beyond being great for my skin, it’s a beautiful act of self-love and I have found has helped a lot with body image hang-ups.
- Rest – if I’m tired, I rest. Revolutionary, right?
- Food – I really enjoy cooking, so making myself delicious food and then really savouring it is very nourishing to me.
- Pleasure – more on this later, but self-pleasure is an indispensable pillar of my self-care practice. It’s the ultimate way to connect with myself and tap into my creative energy.
But I want to emphasise – these are some things I find nourishing, and self-care might look different for you. I think when we try to be too formulaic and routine-driven about self-care, we can miss the point a bit – and end up feeling like we’ve failed yet again. Drop all the expectation, let go of what you think self-care is meant to look like, and ask yourself what YOU actually need.
ep: also appreciate your thoughts on regular self-pleasure practise. It is something that can carry some taboos and often not discussed openly. Do you have any suggestions for people who might have barriers in their thinking about this? Shyness/embarrassment, cultural disapproval or feelings of low self-worth are known to get in the way of some people even starting to create this important practise for themselves.
sr: A regular, high-quality self-pleasure practice is one of the top things I recommend to people who want to experience more pleasure in their sex life. It’s crazy when you think about it, that we would turn up to a sexual encounter and expect the other person to know more about our preferences and how our body works than we do. In that sense, a high-quality self-pleasure practice is really a way of showing respect to yourself and your body, because it also ensures much more confident and rewarding sexual experiences with others.
But unfortunately, there’s still a lot of taboo and shame around sexuality and self-pleasure. If you are someone who feels awkward, ashamed or dirty at the thought, ask yourself where those beliefs come from. Perhaps a parent walked in on you masturbating as a child and scolded you for it, perhaps you come from a religious community that condemns self-pleasure, perhaps you grew up in a household where sex was never discussed. We absorb so much by osmosis, particularly through our early experiences, but it’s our job as adults to reflect upon and be deliberate about what we want to carry forward for our own lives.