Recent studies have shown that couples have been experiencing a drop in the frequency of sex and the quality of their sex lives during the pandemic.
While couples who are living apart are struggling with the rules that do not allow them to travel and be together as easily as before, couples who have the same residence are often experiencing living together in close quarters with nowhere else to go. Parents with small children who have been home-schooled for a large part of the pandemic experience less privacy and are juggling even more than usually. Some people work in their bedroom, a space which used to be associated with relaxation and sex, but is now associated with work. And, finally, the tendency to be in “comfy clothing” all day as opposed to wearing office attire is also not helping the sexy factor.
Too much familiarity, closeness, and comfort, are desire killers. Love seeks oneness through closeness, but desire needs separation and distance.
“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected.”
(Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity)
As welcome as it might have been at the beginning of the pandemic to be able to spend more time with the kids, we must not underestimate the effect this has on our romantic relationship. Every couple experiences a shift in their relationship when children first enter the picture. Infants and toddlers need routine, predictability, and regularity. They need to experience a secure base at home to develop the confidence to go out into the world. For parents, that means being dependable and responsible.
“Family life flourishes in an atmosphere of comfort and consistency. Yet eroticism resides in unpredictability, spontaneity, and risk.”
(Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity)
As parents, we can become so immersed in our roles that it is hard to break free and connect to our partner as a sexual being. For parents with young children, especially for the one who is the main caretaker, it can feel like being on duty 24/7. We also often use all our creative energy to make sure that the children get everything we want to give them, we plan fun activities for them, we are playful with them, we cuddle and experience a lot of physical contact with them, we watch family movies, plan play dates, go on educational outings, and so on.
Image by Simon Berger from Pixabay
Eroticism is another expression of our vibrant creative energy. Instead of planning fun activities with our partner, our creativity is channeled into the children. And while the children are small and physically hang on us all day, we naturally feel less desire for physical contact when they are finally in bed. What we often crave at the end of the day is separation.
Stress also greatly affects our sexual desire. We all have different desire styles to begin with. According to Emily Nagoski Ph.D., the author of the book “Come As You Are”, we can distinguish between 3 different styles:
- Spontaneous Desire
75% of men and 15% of women have a spontaneous desire style. They want sex out of the blue.
- Responsive Desire
5% of men and 30% of women experience responsive desire. They want sex only when something erotic is already happening.
- Context Dependent Desire
20% of men and 55% of women experience a combination of the spontaneous and responsive style, depending on context.
If you have a responsive or context-sensitive desire style you are perfectly normal, no matter whether you are male or female. We have been taught that the capacity to want sex in almost any context is not only preferable but also the “normal” way to experience desire, especially for men. This cultural dominance of spontaneous desire is grounded in the myth of sex as a drive.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay
Nagoski explains why sex is not a drive. A drive is a biological mechanism. Appetite is the classic example of a drive. Other examples are thirst, fatigue, and thermoregulation. The internal states of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and cold push us to meet a need so that we can stay alive. A drive is about survival. We can starve to death, die of dehydration, even die of sleep deprivation, but nobody ever died of not having sex.
Sex is an “incentive motivation system”. Instead of being pushed by an uncomfortable internal experience, like hunger, an incentive motivation system pulls us due to an attractive external stimulus. A drive is about surviving, an incentive is about thriving.
Sexual desire is not really a need but a curiosity. And curiosity like sex is deprioritized when you are stressed. If you are anxious or depressed, you are less curious about novelty and more interested in a comfortable, predictable, and familiar environment.
The numbers that Nagoshi quotes speak for themselves: 80-90% of people find that stress is shutting down all their interest in sex. Only 10-20% of people find that stress is a sexual stimulant.
Are you stressed in this current situation? Most people are. Are you also with your partner all the time without the usual social interactions with colleagues, friends or through your hobbies? No wonder that both is affecting your sexual desire. It might seem like your sexual desire died but think of it more like the phases of the moon, waxing and waning, and then waxing again.
When we have a responsive or context dependent desire, we get turned on when our partner desires us. That works best if we feel good about ourselves, if we love our bodies, feel reasonably comfortable in our skin, and are happy in our daily lives. If we don’t feel good about ourselves, it is hard for us to accept that our partner finds us attractive and wants us. We need separation for self-expression and to give ourselves some self-love.
How do you self-care? What do you do to feel good about your body? And how can you create alone time, doing things independently from your partner? Separation increases our interest in the other. Even if you are a couple without children, spending all day every day together probably is too much closeness. You need time alone to follow your own interests and meet individual needs.
For parents, I always highly recommend making time for a regular date night. How can you get some time away from the children? Admittedly, that is much harder during a pandemic, yet different clients of mine have found ways to include grandma/grandpa, an aunt, an older sibling, or the girl next door in their bubble to relieve the pressure of being on parent duty 24/7.
Image by Patricia Alexandre from Pixabay
If creating some time alone for the two of you feels too overwhelming right now, you might need to start with increasing your personal sense of pleasure first. Anxiety kills our positivity, joy, and pleasure.
Jessica Graham, author of “Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out” recommends focusing on mindfulness exercises and to savour moments of pleasure. That decreases stress and brings our awareness to our physical bodies.
She instructs to “focus on what feels best in your body for 12–15 minutes a day. Use pleasure as your object of focus in this meditation, the same way you would with your breath or a mantra. You might bring your physical awareness to a part of your body that is relaxed, or the feeling of being supported by whatever you are sitting on, or even a pleasant emotional sensation, like peace or joy. If you are having trouble finding a sensation that feels good, take a moment to relax your body and then focus on the relaxation, or bring to mind a past pleasurable experience and then notice and stay with the pleasant response in the body… If you’re not able to commit to a meditation practice right now, or just want to supercharge your pleasure awareness, give savoring pleasure a try.” (Jessica Graham in “Greater Good Magazine”)
Are you wondering what pleasurable experiences she is talking about? Savouring pleasure could for example be
- sipping your coffee or tea in the morning or during a break and focusing on the smell and familiar heat,
- sitting by the window or being outside and feeling the sun on your face,
- perhaps cooking and eating a healthy meal,
- going for a walk or run and feeling the endorphins in your body (in fact, any activity that increases your heart rate helps to boost your physical desire for each other)
- connecting with your partner through touch, talk, and laughter, for example, when watching a funny movie or stand-up comedian.
Reach out for a free consultation or to book a session. I see individual clients and couples via Zoom.
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