At the beginning of the pandemic, we joked about how much sex everyone must be having during lockdown. While that may have been true for some, we know that it wasn’t the case for many. Quite the opposite, actually.
Necessary social distancing and lockdown measures lead to couples spending a lot of time together. According to a study published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, being cooped up at home, paired with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, couples experienced a significant increase in conflict and subsequent negative changes to sexual intimacy. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of seven studies from five countries (including the United States) highlighted a significant decrease in partnered sexual activity since the onset of the pandemic.
Nearly two years into the pandemic, the sex lives of many couples have not recovered. The prolonged cohabitation, stress, and unhealthy habits we picked up along the way (e.g., drinking more, exercising less, etc.), have taken a toll on our sexual health, self-esteem, and relationships.
If you and your partner can relate, here are four tips to consider:
1. Be Intentional.
I’m referring to spending quality time together and being intentional about your sexual relationship. Plan a date night or new activity. Create the space for sexual intimacy to occur rather than spending every night on the couch scrolling through your phones with the TV on in the background.
Sound familiar? Switch up the routine, plan a trip, or try something new sexually. Many people I work with believe that “sex should come naturally,” and that sex is something they shouldn’t have to work on in long-term relationships. This is simply untrue.
Sex is a vulnerable topic for many, even with the person we may be closest to. Some may fear that talking about sex will decrease eroticism. We’re socialized to believe that sex should come easy, and our partner should forever anticipate our every sexual need or preference. This is wildly unrealistic – your partner cannot read your mind.
What’s the best way to approach a conversation about what you’d like to change in the bedroom? Highlight the positives, avoid criticism, and be specific. For example, “I loved it when we did XYZ. I’d really like to do that again.” versus “You never want to do XYZ anymore.”
3. Self Care.
Do not underestimate the mind-body connection between our physical and emotional well-being and sexual health. Prolonged stress, anxiety, and conflict with our partner can lead to a decrease in sexual desire and impair our ability to be present during sex. Since the onset of the pandemic, decreases in healthy exercise and diet and increases in unhealthy behaviors to help cope with the stress and social isolation are common. For many, these behaviors have persisted through the loosening of restrictions. Consider how much you may be neglecting self-care (you’re certainly not alone) and try to make this a priority.
4. Nurture Your Interests.
While working from home, couples have experienced a lot of togetherness. Something I frequently discuss with my patients is the importance of not only quality time together, but also maintaining separate interests.
Nurture your own hobbies, friendships, and career goals. Too much familiarity with another person decreases attraction. There must be some separateness; otherwise, there’s not much to discuss with your partner. For your own wellbeing, you want to engage in interests that bring joy and meaning to your life. The added benefit is remaining interesting to your partner. It’s a win-win.
Bottom line: trying to pick up exactly where you left off sexually before the pandemic may be unrealistic. Be patient with each other and consider this an opportunity. What you would like your sexual relationship to look like moving forward? Stress reduction, open communication, some “me time,” and being intentional in your relationship can help jumpstart sexual desire and meaningful connection.