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Sex & relationships: 5 questions we kept asking therapists during lockdown

Is it normal that we haven’t had sex in ages? And how do we start (ahem) doing it again? Here are the five questions we most wanted to ask a couples therapist over lockdown, answered. 

Updated on 27 November: Whether you agree with the government’s Christmas plans or not, there’s no denying that the long weeks we spent in coronavirus lockdown were a funny old time indeed. In a bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve, we stayed indoors as much as possible, we worked from home if we were able, and we avoided public transport like the literal plague.

But how did all that social distancing impact our relationships

Or, to put it more bluntly, what did it do to our sex lives?

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In a bid to learn more about how our (ahem) Netflix ‘n’ Chill vibes changed during the pandemic (if at all), we reached out to Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari

And the psychologist, author, and couples therapist came up trumps, revealing the five questions she was asked most during lockdown, as well as the answers she offered up.

Prepare to feel extremely seen.

We’re experiencing burnout due to being together 24/7. How can we add a bit of spice and excitement to our sex life?

As reported on 11 August: Lockdown has forced many of us to spend more time at home than ever before. Even though this extra time brings its own set of perks, being cooped up with your partner constantly can take away the opportunity to miss each other, and each day becomes predictable, routine, and lacks spontaneity.

With lockdown life now the new normal, it’s become all too easy to fall into the same well-worn routine that leaves spontaneity and novelty on the backburner. That’s why it’s vital to find different ways to create some space to give you both the chance to develop your passion, or even just relax and recharge your batteries. Igniting new energy and experiences can add a splash of excitement that, in my opinion, is necessary to stimulate relationships. 

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We’re experiencing burnout due to being together 24/7. How can we add a bit of spice and excitement to our sex life?

As with all new things, communication is key. Have a chat with your partner about what each of you would like to do to bring a new sense of spice to your sex life. Ask each other questions. 

Try something like:

  1. What does sex mean to each of you? 
  2. What would you both like to try? 
  3. How would trying new things benefit not just your sex life but your relationship as a whole? 
  4. And, how can you make the process of discovery more fun and exciting?

An easy way to begin is to take it in turns to bring something new to the bedroom each week. One thing I often suggest to my clients is to learn a massage technique to generate desire. You could do an online course or watch clips to get to grips with techniques, bringing your newfound skill to your partner each week is what matters. This will help keep the spark of spontaneity and novelty alive and build anticipation for each new encounter.        

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We haven’t had sex for months, how do I initiate it now?

Establishing an intimate and mindful connection should be your top priority rather than putting an emphasis on purely having sex to achieve an orgasm. When life takes over it can be all too easy to avoid intimacy, which is why it’s so important that you schedule and loosely plan ‘date nights’. That way you enjoy the anticipatory build-up to them. Clear your to-do list so that you can be fully present in the moment without any distraction and show up with excitement rather than an anxiety of the unknown.

I often recommend to my clients to read Hot Monogamy: Essential Steps to More Passionate Intimate Lovemaking by Jo Robinson and Patricia Love as it includes exercises couples can explore together. I also strongly recommend keeping the bedroom a screen-free zone by removing all phones, laptops, TVs and tablets. Then, take the opportunity to go to your bedroom together an hour earlier than usual, giving you a better opportunity to connect.

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What can we do to increase our libido?

It may feel intimidating in the beginning, but by continuing to practice being present and mindful in the moment (rather than having your thoughts drift to the past or future worries) you’ll experience real, fulfilling progress.

My libido has been low since the Covid-19 outbreak. What can I do to increase it?

First of all, take the time to learn about your body fully. Get to grips with what turns you on and what turns you off so that you become the master of your own desires and needs. Deepening your understanding of your body means you can talk to and teach your partner about what you like and the new things you learn without shaming or criticizing what they already do for you.

Secondly, focus on becoming the master of your partner’s body. Learn from their non-verbal reactions and ask them what, where, and how they like to be touched. Consider getting your partner to demonstrate what they like or write instructions as a fun way to discover each other. The main idea here is to be relaxed, mindful, and present during intimate moments with your partner so that you both let go of any expectations or worries around performance anxiety. 

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A fun exercise to try out is taking turns showing each other how you like to be touched. Do it to your partner, then your partner copies, and does it to you. Keep going for half an hour and you’ll notice the difference in desire in no time.

How can we create space for sex when the children are at home all the time?

Many couples feel self-conscious about having sex when their children are in the next room. For many, it can be a huge turn-off. However, as there are still a few weeks until the summer holidays come to an end and kids (potentially) go back to school, I recommend that parents create strategies that give them the time and space to connect intimately sooner rather than later. Strategies will differ depending on the age of the children but there are simple steps couples can take to carve out more time together.

How to create space for sex when the children are at home all the time?

Why not consider arranging playdates for your children at the same time? Or wake up an hour earlier than the children in the morning? Or maybe even try to squeeze a nap in during the day so that you’re more alert and awake at night when the kids go to bed? 

If you have a babysitter or family member helping out with childcare, get them to arrange a day out for your kids or a movie day so you and your partner can get some alone time. As long as you’re actively looking for opportunities to plan and create space for sex and intimacy, you’ll find a way that works for you.

Our anxiety over Covid-19 is harming our ability to enjoy intimacy together. What can we do to let go of our worries?

The past few months have been overwhelming, to say the least, with many couples experiencing the financial and mental health fallouts of living through the coronavirus pandemic. During such times of stress, some people crave intimacy, whereas others prefer to avoid it at all costs. Neither is better or worse than the other, each is just a different way to manage anxiety.

Know that it’s OK to not feel OK during this time. Millions of people around the world are worried too and it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious. 

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You can take easy steps to help limit your anxiety levels each day. From listening to music, playing an instrument or going for a walk and getting active outdoors, to having massages, practising mindfulness, meditation and breathing techniques and using aromatic oils like Frankincense – all of these activities will help focus your mind in the moment. 

And, by remaining in the present (rather than worrying about the past or future), your anxiety levels will decrease.

The key is to determine what the focus of your mind is. Focus on being mindful of your romantic relationship, take deep breaths together, hold eye contact, soften your eyes, and connect with each one of your senses. Be aware of your body and ask your partner for an extra-long hug several times a day. We all need a good hug once in a while, especially now when distance is the new normal. Focus on taking little steps to improve and get joy from your relationship will slowly drop your anxiety level.

However, if you feel your anxiety levels are constantly high and your work, wellbeing, and relationships are beginning to be negatively affected by it, it’s advisable to reach out for professional help. Reaching out for therapy can support you to achieve the intimacy experience you desire.

Visit Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari’s website here, or follow her on Instagram @dr_kalanit.

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