Learning new ways to build intimacy in our lives is a skill that can help deepen our understanding of ourselves and the relationships we maintain. These skills are often used by people in long-distance and non-monogamous relationships, but if there's a hopeful silver lining to the pandemic shuffle, it's that more people are using them.

"Before [the pandemic], texting was a random thing that wasn't taken as serious because it was 'better' to be in person," says one Albuquerque resident who goes by BKBN. "While I would rather be in person with people, since we can't, I value someone who takes time to send a thoughtful message."

Texting and messaging are just two of the many tools people are using more to cultivate and maintain intimacy. At a time when we might want and need the support of others most, we're being challenged to change how we meet our needs. Still, in the midst of all of the chaos, we must also attend to our mental health. It's important to understand that how you connect with someone on Tuesday might be different from how you want to connect on Friday.

This is also true about sex, desire and relationships. If we can learn to communicate and negotiate about what does and doesn't feel good in a given moment, those skills will be useful in other areas of our lives. Some days, for example, you'll find you've been staring at a computer screen for so long, you just can't anymore. That's when it might be a good plan to reach for phone/audio connections—or for texting, sexting, sending lewds/nudes via email, etc. With social distancing the norm, we're being asked to choose specific tools for unique moments, and to ask ourselves and others what would feel good right now.

BKBN further tells SFR the pandemic has helped him explore how to be vulnerable via text; a relatively new concept, but one that is yielding surprisingly rewarding and borderline familiar results.

"I think I've relearned connecting with people in a way that leads to community," he says. "While I can't say the pandemic is good, it did force me to rebuild intimacy skills and think about how to keep them going forward."

We're being encouraged—maybe even forced—to redefine intimacy, sex and connection in ways many of us haven't considered before. When the sense of touch can't come into play, this can mean engaging our other senses. Shoutout to mood lighting, LED light strips and ring lights for helping bring a sense of aesthetic to our videos and pictures; shoutout to closets, bathrooms and cars for creating an illusion of quiet and space where our words and sounds can be fully enjoyed. Maybe if you're ever in a position to invite someone over to hook up again, you'll use your newfound appreciation for sensory experience and consider lighting a candle, lowering the lights and including a massage before you get down. Such details can make an experience more rich and memorable, even if it's just for one night.

Even when we're making connections that can't be in person, those details make the connection more rich.

"I started sending nudes to my long-distance lover," says one Albuquerque woman who prefers to remain anonymous. "We did it before, but my skills are top-notch now. I've got a tripod and a selfie button. It's art now! I have lingerie now, just so I can play and make cute videos and photos."

People are getting even more creative. Try sending a T-shirt you slept in or a blanket they can cuddle when they are craving physical touch. Throw in a body pillow and/or a weighted blanket, and you're practically cuddling without another human being there.

Brandon Hunter-Haydon, who lives in Massachusetts, says the new landscape has helped him create more intention in how he connects with himself and others.

"I am creating a dedicated space—usually a bedroom—that's free of distraction, free of stressors. I leave my phones/devices out of the room," Hunter-Haydon says. "I enhance it with lighting, fragrances or even music, but the idea is to create another dimension where there's no expectation, but you're inviting a sensual experience."

Intimacy and connection also might have nothing to do with sex. How do we connect with family and friends when we can't see them regularly? How do you tell someone you miss them without using the exact same words you've used for the last 300 days? My hope is that in all of the grief, loss and loneliness of a pandemic, we can take some of what we've learned and carry it forward to create deeper, more attuned forms of intimacy that meet our own needs, and the needs of those with whom we're engaging.

Hunter Riley (she/her) can accurately be described as a professional pervert. She's the director of education & outreach at Self Serve Toys in Albuquerque (occupied Tiwa land), a public speaker and more.