Update: The brilliant Kate Sloan covered this very topic for Glamour Magazine, and guess who’s quoted…!
My secret weapon in the fight against stress and anxiety is… erotica?
Why It Works
For me, as for many people, one of the tell-tale signs of anxiety is a racing heart. I can rocket from 65 beats per minute all the way up to 115, just from anxiety. Once my heart rate is up, I’m hyper-aware of my body, which makes it all the harder to calm down. But, if I can just get my heart rate back to normal, I can usually pull myself out of that anxiety spiral.
Now, for the past several months, my day-to-day stress level has been high. Like, very high. It’s been rough. And I’ve found that when my general life stress gets to be too much, my anxiety is super easily triggered. Some days, I find myself with a faster heart rate for hours at a time, just because stress and anxiety have interacted to plunge me into the fight-or-flight phase of the stress response cycle.
Enter: Erotica. Novels, vignettes, novellas… hell, I’ll reach for steamy fan fiction, too.
Erotica is written to be titillating, right? That’s the point. It’s supposed to be arousing. If you’ve ever read something erotic, surely you’ve noticed a physical response in addition to your mental response. Blushing, an increased heart rate, and blood flow to the pertinent areas are all things that happen when we consume media that we think is sexy.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
You can interrupt your stress or anxiety with something that produces a similar physical response (increased heart rate) but also provides you with more positive feelings both mentally and physically.
A few minutes before I pick up one of my favorite erotic novels and flip to a favorite scene, my racing heart is perceived as very scary. But once I start reading, it’s just arousal. And all that pumping blood is easily redirected.
Further, sex scenes typically have a climax and then a come-down. If you’re invested in reading, you’ll probably notice a corresponding response in your body. A few seconds after the culmination of a sex scene, I always feel better. My heart starts to slow down. If you want to get nerdy about it, I’ve given my body the chance to complete the stress response cycle.
How to Make It Work for You
This is the part where I should probably mention that you can use other kinds of stories to do the same thing. Anything that gets your heart rate up – like horror or thrillers – is also fair game.
If you’re looking for something quick, go with short stories. There are tons of erotic anthologies available, both in print and for e-readers. I tend to like Rachel Kramer Bussel’s and Jillian Boyd’s.
If you have a favorite erotic novel or series, set aside some time to go through and bookmark your favorite scenes. That way, you can reach for them when you need them and you won’t waste time frantically flipping through your book1. Naturally, not everyone is going to be comfortable reading a book of erotica in public, so this is probably a more feasible solution for you if you have a moment to yourself.
Getting Away with It in Public
Most people will probably be more comfortable checking out relatively safe for work content in public. There’s nothing suspicious or embarrassing about carrying around a book like Sharp Objects, an underrated novel by Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flynn.
But if you want something shorter, I think smartphone browsing is the way to go. There are tons of creepy, spooky stories on Reddit that you can easily pull up on your smartphone and read just about anywhere, any time. r/nosleep is pretty infamous for this type of content. Incidentally, you could do the same with erotic fan fiction. AO3‘s interface is perfectly safe for work and public, even if the content might not be.
Audio erotica (and audiobooks in general) is also a great option, provided you feel confident that no one else will get an earful. GirlyJuice recently gushed about Grey Knight’s work, and while I haven’t checked it out myself, I trust her judgment. For horror fans, there are tons of creepy story podcasts out there like The NoSleep Podcast and Lore.
Other Ways I Combat Stress and Anxiety
I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about the stress-busting properties of exercise, but honestly, getting regular exercise has helped me so much. It’s not a miracle cure, and it’s hard as hell to start working out if you’re battling mental health challenges or physical limitations. For some people, this isn’t a solution, and I totally get that. But getting out for regular, fast-paced walks around my neighborhood has been life-changing for me. I like to pair my walks with a funny or thought-provoking podcast like Two Dope Queens, Sooo Many White Guys, or The Dildorks. Humor and exercise provides a double mood boost and really tends to turn my day around.
I find that doing something that focuses my attention and contains a reward of some kind is also helpful. For me, that’s baking or cooking. When I focus on the task at hand, I usually find my mood lifting and my body returning to a normal state. Plus, it ends with me getting to eat something delicious. You could also try coloring or doing something else artistic, but keep it low-pressure. The goal isn’t necessarily to have something perfect at the end – it’s the process that matters.
Have you tried any of these techniques to combat your stress or anxiety? What’s your secret weapon?
- To do this on a Kindle, you can make a highlight or drop a bookmark. ↩