New Year’s resolutions are tricky. On the one hand, there is something nicely symbolic about starting a new calendar year by setting intentions to make the coming year a better one. At the same time, there’s nothing magical about midnight on January 1st. We don’t really change who we are or what we want. Plus, if past years have taught us anything, it’s that many resolutions are ancient memories (and even sources of guilt) by Valentine’s Day. And yet, the tradition of announcing specific goals for ourselves—to read more or call our mothers more often—has lasted over 4,000 years because many people find it motivating.
If you’re a resolution kinda person, don’t forget to consider your sex life and sexual health as you sit down to make next year’s resolutions. Whether you want to be safer or more adventurous or both, we pulled together some ideas for you for 2021. If last year’s resolution was to never make another resolution, that’s fine, just consider this a list of potentially positive propositions.
• Masturbate more. Masturbation is good for us. It feels good, which could be enough, but it does more than that. It also relieves stress, helps us relax, leads to better sleep, and can ease menstrual cramps and other muscles aches. And, of course, it can help us understand what we like so that we’re able to do it again and/or explain it to our partner(s). Though some people may have been brought up to feel guilty about masturbating, the truth is that there are few if any downsides to this behavior (you certainly can’t get pregnant or contract an STI). So, what about vowing to up the quantity and/or quality of your solo love sessions in the new year?
• Try something different. Most of us are creatures of habits. We cycle through a small roster of dinner recipes or take out restaurants, wear a few favorite outfits while other clothes collect dust in our closets, and keep just three albums in heavy rotation on our streaming apps. The same can often be said of sex whether we’re single or part of a couple—we have a few favorite activities and positions in our repertoire, and we tend to play them on repeat. Knowing what you like is not a bad thing and there’s no need to throw out that list. But for the new year, consider trying one or two new-to-you things. Maybe there’s a position or a sex toy or a kink you’ve been thinking about. Try it (provided that it’s consensual, of course). Just once. Unless you really like it—then you can add it to the list of favorites and start looking for more new things to try.
• Get checked out. Nobody likes being poked and prodded while wearing a paper gown, but routine medical care is important. Gynecologists and STI clinics across the country are reporting a dramatic decrease in visits this year because of lockdowns and virus fears. While it’s a good thing that people are being sensible to avoid passing on or catching the virus, there are multiple ways to get health care. You may be surprised to learn, for example, that you can get STI testing and many other health care services via telehealth. Vow to keep up with your sexual health this year—whether that means getting STI/HIV testing or checking in with a provider about pain during sex or something else on your mind. And of course, if you need in-person care during the pandemic, please get it. Here’s a guide to help you figure out when telehealth is a good option and when to get care in person.
• Switch birth control methods if you’re not happy. There are so many birth control options that there is no need for anyone to stick it out with a method they don’t love. No need to grin and bear it with side effects that are making you miserable or stick with a method that you forget to take more often than not. True method love could be a simple as switching from one brand of birth control pill to another, or maybe it’s time to go for a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method like the implant or IUD. Even if you’re satisfied, there might be one you love more (maybe you want to get your period fewer times a year or try a pill that might help with acne). Make this the year you explore your options and talk to a health care provider about switching methods if you’re not happy.
• Talk more. Whether you have the same long-term partner you’ve had for a decade, a new love interest, or a list of friends with benefits, communication is the key to better sex. Obviously, talking about consent is first and foremost, but there is more to a good experience. It could be as simple as giving directions in the moment (a little to the left, softer, harder, go in circles not up and down, etc.) or having a longer conversation before sex about what positions you like and really don’t like. Even partners who have been together for a long time can’t read each other’s minds. Talking more in the new year will help make sure everyone gets exactly what they want.
• Be safe®. The clean slate nature of the new year can be a particularly good time to take stock of your safer sex practices. Be honest about the risks you have taken in the past and think of changes you might want to make. (Be kind to yourself as you look back, this is not meant to be an exercise in self-flagellation.) Some people may want to talk to a health care provider about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) for HIV prevention while others may want to focus on more regular testing. Maybe you decide to commit to a LARC or declare 2021 your own personal Year of the Condom.
Sex can be spontaneous, but staying healthy and safe (and having truly amazing sex) requires a little bit of planning. Gather the information you need to find health care providers. Schedule an appointment, even if it’s virtual or for later in the year. Stock up on condoms. Make sure you have a few months of your pills, patch, or rings in hand or have made a plan to get them. Consider getting a pack of emergency contraception to keep in a drawer, just in case. Stock up on lube to make sex (by yourself or with a partner) feel even better. Go online shopping for sex toys.
This has been a difficult year for many of us, and the symbolism of a new year feels particularly poignant now. Whether you are one to make New Year’s resolutions or not, here’s to a happy, healthy, safe, and sexy 2021!