Lockdown has been a difficult time for many couples and if you’re experiencing a less active sex life than usual, you’re not alone. Here, we speak to the experts to find out how to nurture the intimacy in your relationship during coronavirus.
At the beginning of lockdown, quips about a quarantine-induced baby boom seemed constant as news headlines feverishly predicted that all anyone would be doing in lockdown is jumping into bed with each other.
You might have even experienced a friend or relative virtually elbowing you in the ribs as they enquired, one eyebrow raised, how you and your partner would be spending all this time indoors. You see, back in March, everyone seemed only too keen to imply that for couples, this time would be all about ‘the birds and bees’.
And, in fairness, we can understand why, As Lily Walford, relationship coach at Love With Intelligence says, “Spending more time than ever before in each other’s company sounds like a romantic dream, full of opportunity to get to know each other’s body.”
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, she continues: “However the reality is that lockdown has been far from a months-long honeymoon holiday for most people. In fact, with tensions running high, it’s easy for moods to boil over and for arguments become commonplace.”
Sex researcher at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, USA, Justin Garcia, reports that a study of global sexual habits from mid-March to mid-May shows that nearly half of the couples surveyed said that had less sex during the pandemic, and that the sex they did have, they enjoyed less than usual.
Speaking to The Financial Times, Garcia says: “People report pretty high rates of feeling stressed and worried, and those are not psychological states conducive to sexuality.”
Essentially, when our mental health is suffering and we’re being forced into a situation of close confinement, we’re not in the romantic mood.
Nia Williams, relationship coach at Miss Date Doctor, agrees, telling stylist.co.uk: “Intimacy has been difficult during lockdown. The strain of the pandemic has left many filled with anxiety and higher stress levels.
“Confinement with your partner for a long period of time can bring a lot of problems to the surface. No matter how much you love someone, spending loads of time together constantly will put a significant strain on your relationship.”
This is something we’ve seen anecdotally, too. Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Rosie Samuels, 30, from London explains that although her relationship has remained steady and loving throughout lockdown, her sex life has plummeted.
“I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 years and throughout that whole time we’ve never had sex less than three times a week, on the whole. In fact, I’ve always considered our sex life to be really good. Lockdown is an unprecedented situation and I couldn’t have predicted how we would react as a couple, but strangely our relationship has strengthened in many areas but we’ve completely stopped having sex.”
She continues: “I’ve been working from home since March and my partner has been furloughed, so things have been tight for space in our one bedroom flat but we’ve hardly had any disagreements, have been really supportive of each other and more cuddly and affectionate than ever. But… we haven’t had sex in the three months.”
“Even though I know these are strange times and I feel confident that our relationship is strong, it does play on my mind. We haven’t spoken about it, but I presume not having the chance to miss each other combined with not feeling very sexy after being sat in lounge clothes all day is why this is happening.”
While Melissa Wheel, 27, from Glasgow says that her relationship has suffered in lockdown in a multitude of ways: “I hadn’t been living with my partner for long before lockdown but things had been going really well and we were having sex every day.
“However, once we were both stuck inside working from home all day together, the excitement from our move seemed to really die down. Over the last few months our relationship has become stagnant as it’s become harder to muster enthusiasm without experiencing new things together or having anything fresh to talk about.
“As well as feeling like the spark has dulled, we’re also now having sex on average twice a week. I know that every couple is different and that this is still fairly regularly, but because of the contrast of where we were before it feels like a dramatic dip which has got me feeling down,” she says.
There are lots of reasons why couples might find that the sexual part of their relationship isn’t as vivacious as it was before lockdown, from a lack of stimulation of our senses to how we feel about ourselves if we’re not as groomed as usual.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, psychotherapist and founder of the Love Maps podcast Jo Nicholl explains that there are many elements from the outside world which influence our ability to desire, and feel desired sexually.
She says: “Places, smells and sights outside of the home, for example restaurants, clubs, music venues, nature and socialising, are all important enhancements of our sexual arousal. During lockdown these have, of course, all been taken away from us meaning that our senses, which are so crucial to our sex lives, are depleted.”
Nicholl also explains that in accordance with this, desire and sex usually thrive in an environment of the unpredictable and novel, which is hard to create in day to day domesticity and while being shut inside.
Plus, elements such as drinking more in lockdown may hinder how sexual you feel, as alcohol is a depressant and doesn’t enhance sex. While feeling less groomed or less attractive than usual can also make us less likely to initiate sex.
On a deeper level, Nicholl also suggests that spending an excessive amount of time inside can remind us of our childhood, when the family home would have been the centre of our lives.
She explains: “What I know about sex, by working with couples throughout the lockdown, is that domestic life and family life, in other words, the familiar, is not sexy. It is not sexy because it reminds us, usually unconsciously, of being in our family of origin.
“During lockdown and being stuck at home it will be inevitable that we will revert to roles we played in our original family; maybe it was caretaker, rebel, pleaser…there is a part of us that is a dependant child. The domestic environment is very triggering for behaviours learnt in our childhood that are not going to work in adult relationships.”
Every couple is different, and it’s clear that there are a myriad of reasons why a relationship may be experiencing a dwindling sex life, so what can we do? Nicholl has two main points of advice for couples looking to readdress their sex life.
“The relationship always needs prioritising and now more than ever scheduling time for the relationship and sex is essential. Scheduling is known to lower anxiety and stress. Sex will not just happen organically. You need to prepare time and the space for a ‘date night’ at home.”
Address your senses
“Excite your senses and your sensuality. Your pleasure is important and getting into your body means you will feel sexier. We all crave novelty, so we need to be creative. For smell, I suggest lighting candles, wearing a fragrance, scented body cream or anything that arouses you or your partner through smell.
“Touch is important, so keep touching each other throughout each day. Touch is sensual and is foreplay and can be very intimate so I would recommend massaging each other. Sight is a stimulus, too, so change what you usually wear and plan to wear something that makes you feel good. Play around with the lighting; light candles, maybe change your light bulbs to enhance the mood. You need to create an environment that stimulates your desire and sexuality.
“Sound is also a must; have a playlist of music you love to listen to when having sex or masturbating. Finally, taste – food can be sexy so cook together.”
Relationship coach Walford has some advice, too. She says: “Scientifically speaking, we become desensitised to that which is constant. Like living near a busy road, at first the sound is noticeable, but after a while the mind takes it as a constant and says ‘that’s constantly there, so it’s safe to ignore it’. We do the same with people.
“If you have been grazing on snack food all day, then when dinner time comes around your appetite will probably be small and even if a delicious feast was available, you might not want it. Similarly, when a day is spent constantly in each other’s company, you end up having many small interactions throughout the day, but it’s a case of quantity over quality. ” Walford advises trying two tacts to combat this.
Decrease quantity, increase quality
“Rather than spend all day under each other’s feet, try working from different rooms or otherwise giving each other the headspace to still feel like an independent person. Give yourselves the gift of missing each other, and then when you do reconnect over meals or coffee breaks you can look forward to ‘catching up’ with your loved one.
Connect with yourself
“It’s hard to connect with another person as a sexual being when you’re disconnected from yourself as a sexual being. Have alone time, maybe a walk or a bath, and allow your mind to wander and tune into sensual thoughts of what you’ve enjoyed in the past, and what you’d like to experience in the future. When you connect with your own sensuality, suddenly being locked in a house with the person you desire becomes an opportunity to play and explore.”