By nature, vacation is sexy: The departure from routine, the mini shampoo bottles, the inherent novelty of being elsewhere. It’s an exercise in hedonism. You’ll drink more, you’ll eat more, you’ll sleep in — and odds are, you’ll have more (better) sex.
Of course, now more than ever, as we hover in and out of different lockdown mandates, simply leaving the house can be a turn on. But for time immemorial, “vacation sex” has had its own particular mystique. “Giving ourselves time to focus on sensuality — away from the day-to-day demands of real life — can offer us a chance to expand our sexual self-confidence,” says certified sex therapist, Sari Cooper, who helms NYC couples counseling and sex therapy hub, Center for Love and Sex, and sexuality coaching program Sex Esteem. “On vacation, we reconnect with our bodies and our partners.”
Lately, however, it would seem that giving gloss to your sex life is not merely a byproduct of travel, but rather, the full-stop motivation behind venturing elsewhere in the first place. Earlier this year, The Global Wellness Institute predicted that by 2025, global wellness tourism would hit the $1.3 trillion mark, with sexual wellness leading as one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel market. Moreover, in 2021, the 13th annual Global Spa & Wellness Trends Forecast from Spafinder Wellness 365 announced that a number of spas, retreats, and studios would start pivoting their programming toward sexual literacy and well-being. Travelers are hoping for products like Bluechew — chewable tablets designed to help anyone with a penis gain, umm, “confidence” — in their mini bar set-ups, rather than nips of overpriced whiskey. Sex retreats are growing in popularity by the day, more and more traditional hotels are offering spa packages related specifically to sexual wellness, and folks are talking more openly about using their vacation time to reignite — or explore — sexuality…which is to say, sex sells. And right now, especially in the travel sector, folks are hardly being coy about spending on it.
“Therapy is hard — vacation is not,” quips Marissa Nelson, the sex therapist behind sex retreat chain, IntimacyMoons, which hosts couples and individuals for extended sex-positive workshops in Barbados, Hawaii, St. Lucia and Washington, D.C. “People want to prioritize sexuality, but if they’re having trouble connecting with their partner, or exploring new avenues of intimacy, there may be some difficult issues to work through. A sex retreat is blending the luxury of vacation with some of that hard emotional work.” At her St. Lucia retreat, for example — which clocks in at about $7,500 for seven days — folks can expect beachfront couples workshops, dimly lit hotel rooms, and bespoke counseling from trained sex therapists. The premise is as follows: You’re taking couples therapy, removing the stigma, and instead, giving it the sheen of vacation. “All our travel data says that folks are moving away from stereotypical, luxurious vacations, and instead, are interested in having experiences. So at retreats like mine, you can enjoy the pleasant fixtures of vacation, while also having this important growth experience,” she explains.
Of course, sex retreats are nothing new — but for folks who aren’t necessarily ready to embrace full-on kink culture, full-time nudity, or the occasional orgy, the very notion can be off-putting. These days, however, we’re seeing a wider range of sex-positive hotel packages or more curated retreats. Even for those who skew towards “vanilla” on the sexuality spectrum, a revitalized market for sexual wellness travel allows for all kinds of exploration — be it a couples counseling session or a singles orgy workshop. “When you’re on holiday, you can step into a fantasy. You can be on an exotic island. You can wear beautiful clothes and eat delicious things,” says UK-based sex and relationships coach, Colin Richards. “Which may also let you step outside of yourself — it might let you give yourself permission to take off those clothes, even if it feels out of character. And sex retreats are now becoming much more sophisticated in the sense that they're not necessarily…sex dens. They're actually very nice resorts. Sure, they might have a little dungeon in the corner, but if you’re sitting by the pool, it might feel like any other resort — except for perhaps a sign or two instructing folks not to engage in penetrative sex in the water.”
On the other hand, a renewed openness or enthusiasm for prioritizing pleasure doesn’t exactly strip you of your insecurities. Whether it’s a matter of low libido, performance anxiety, or even erectile dysfunction, our personal, physical, or emotional hang-ups can be serious boner killers — but as with most things in life, open communication makes a difference. “Even in 2022, it’s still disappointing how little has changed regarding authentic, meaningful sexual dialogue,” says somatic sexologist, Miss Jaiya, who recently appeared as an expert on Gwenyth Paltrow’s Netflix series, Sex, Love & Goop. “A majority of people are still living with embarrassment, fear, and shame when it comes to revealing their hopes, desires, needs, and insecurities when it comes to sex — but we are starting to see openings in the dialogue: Honest television programing, in-depth articles, candid influencer discussions, and travel offerings that encourage this kind of vulnerability.”
Right now, conversations about low sex drive or ED are more prevalent than ever before. Take one scroll through your Instagram feed and you’ll likely find sponsored posts for libido boosting gummies or ED-combatting medications like those from BlueChew — an affordable service providing chewable tablets with the same active ingredients (Sildenafil and Tadalafil) found in more traditional FDA-approved medications. But it’s not just the meds themselves that are helping the cause: it’s the new candor around sexual insecurities. “Being a brand ambassador for BlueChew has made my issues in bed way easier to speak about — not just with my girlfriend, but with other guys,” says men’s health influencer, Chicklet. “Talking about it openly definitely gives me a sense of confidence in bed.”
Richards, too, maintains that honesty is essential to the sexual wellness movement where barriers to entry (wink wink) are concerned: “Communication is the most important thing — especially in scenarios involving low libido or erectile disfunction,” he says. “There might be plenty of medical reasons for these things, or they might be psychological, or perhaps supplements will help, but all the same, if you and your partners aren’t communicating openly about it, the problems will not be solved.” As he explains it, during recent periods of quarantine — largely a time of sexual stagnancy — plenty of couples found themselves without the vocabulary to communicate about the ways lockdown was impacting their libidos or their sex lives on the whole.
More broadly speaking, the monotony of quarantine had a largely negative impact on singles and couples in that novelty is essential to our mental health (and thus our sex drives). While the term “wanderlust” may make you gag, there are few more apt words to describe the immense desire to experience the kind of newness or spontaneity that travel often provides. “After staying close to home for such a lengthy period of time, folks are excited about adventure — and that thirst for adventure is spilling over into the erotic realm,” says Cooper. “Eroticism for many folks lies in novelty and fun. Many couples reported a decreased libido during lockdown, suggesting that spending an extended time with their partners robbed them of the ability to miss them, to fantasize about them, and to plan for their next date outside of their normal routine. So a sex retreat can be utilized as a re-boot to the initial erotic chemistry that brought partners together in the first place without the pressures of daily life.”
The increased interest in sexual wellness-oriented travel means that more “traditional” hotels have expanded their offerings, too. At Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, you can enjoy a tantric couples massage alongside more standard spa offerings. The W Brisbane offers a “sexologist concierge.” The Carillon Miami has a sexual chakra healing program for singles and couples. At the St. Regis — a luxury hotel and spa chain with a hundred-year legacy, the most recent offering is a sexual wellness retreat, hosted in Punta Mita.
“Because our world was closed for so long, most of us are seeking out adventure more than ever before. We don’t want to be unhappy anymore,” says Nelson. “We’re all thinking, if I’m going to live life well — to thrive in my relationship and in my work, I want to prioritize pleasure.”