Quarantine is a lot of things, but sexy isn’t one of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re home alone, empty nesters, or home with a flock of children flailing about, sex just may not be on the brain right now. Not only is that completely okay, it actually makes a lot of sense.
If you’re having the best sex of your life thanks to COVID-19, please disregard this entire article and think about teaching some online classes on building a strong sex life during the quarantine. But if you’re not, know that you are very much not alone.
Quarantine Baby Boom? Not So Much.
Research goes back and forth as to whether times when people are holed-up at home directly correlate to baby booms, nine to ten months later. However, it’s important to look at the reasons behind the social isolation. In general, situations involving natural disasters such as hurricanes, snowstorms and even extreme heat in the summer, do lend themselves to increases in babies born (i.e. more sex). However, the stress level and required social distancing of a viral epidemic actually lend itself to less sex.
During a stressful experience, the normal tendency is a flight or fight response to a stimulus. As humans, we either choose to stay and fight back or flee a situation in search of safer waters. This applies physically and psychologically and you can probably think about your own responses over the last few weeks as one of these (or both!).
However, in a 2012 study, researchers found that there is also another option during these stressful times; to tend and befriend. They described it as an increase in more prosocial behavior (increased desire to share and help others, increased trustworthiness) (von Dawans, et al., 2012). This truly makes sense in our need to help our community and reach out for increased communication via technology. I have witnessed more of an increase in community outreach and social aid than I have in years. However, this social connection and concern aren’t necessarily being applied to our bedroom just yet.
Disconnect in the Bedroom
We are putting much of our efforts into others right now. Our children’s schooling, our need to physically protect ourselves and our family’s physical health, our jobs both outside of the home or simply behind a computer at a make-shift home office. We are cooking and cleaning on repeat. At the end of our days, even if we never leave the house, we are exhausted. Even sitting on the couch all day tends to drain our bodies of energy.
In addition, our mental health is all over the place. One day we’re grateful for the sun, the next day we’re crying because we’re anxious or scared and even the next we’re numb and tired of our constant company. This up and down pattern is tiring for our minds and it takes its toll on our sex life. However, it’s important to remember that while stress has a tendency to reduce sexual desire, sex can be used as a powerful mental release. Physical pleasure sends that beloved hormone, oxytocin, to our brain, thus decreasing our stress and making us feel more relaxed.
In addition, the presence of anxiety and depression negatively effect our sexual desire. Let’s face it, the last six weeks have been nothing short of stressful. They have been filled with unknowns, increased safety precautions and a slew of information flooding our brains each day. Mental health has taken a backseat to physical health and safety and we’re all feeling it these days. Depression and anxiety definitely aren’t sexy, and so you might see the connection to our sexual relationships. Not so hot.
We also have an increase in physical contact. Strange to think about in a time of social isolation, but for those of us that are parents, it’s a crazy amount of physical touch all day. Where you might have had an eight-hour break when those little darlings were in school, there is no break now. We. Are. Constantly. Being. Touched. So then we close their doors at the end of the day and walk back towards our bedrooms for a shower, some space, and some zoning out time. Which, again, can translate to bad news for your sex life.
The Quickie: Your Secret Weapon
This brings up the need to discuss the secret weapon of any good sex life, the quickie. Not only is there an incredible benefit to having a quickie (defined as any brief act of sexual intercourse). Again with that powerful release of oxytocin, but also with the physical release of stress and the fun of getting some sexual contact is not terrible either. It helps partners bond in a spontaneous way that might not feel as daunting as a more in-depth sexual experience with the removal of foreplay.
So What Can We Do?
Lastly, we feel differently in quarantine. In the perfect lyrics from the band Cross Canadian Ragweed, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Some of you, again applause, are getting up, eating well, and sitting around your house dressed to the nines. While I think that’s important to do, it’s not necessarily my go-to right now. The rest of us are living in sweatpants and sports bras (on a good day) and not necessarily eating like swimsuit season is around the corner. This lackadaisical attitude about self-care takes its toll on sexual desire as well. When you feel lazy, often behavior follows suit. You might not only not want to engage in sexual activity your partner may also feel the same.
If you care to increase your sexual desire and appeal during this time, you try harder. Get your sleep, eat better and focus your time on making yourself feel better. Take some time during the day to pay attention to your relationship in a way that you perhaps would not otherwise. Leave a love note in an unexpected place. Make a playful touch while your partner is making yet another ham sandwich for your kids. And exercise. It’s the same endorphins and oxytocin released during sex. When your mind gets a little dose, it wants more and more.
It’s OK to Not Want Sex
And if you don’t want sex right now? That’s okay, too. Give yourself a break, but make sure you are still on the same page with your partner. Have the often difficult conversation about sexual desire and share your feelings. But also remember that giving grace is as important here as it is in your new role as a teacher to your kiddos. Play, relax, and let this weird time be exactly what it is.
The most important thing to remember is to not let this crazy time in your life begin to shape the future of your sex life. If it was good before, talk about that and know why. If it needed improvement, talk about that, too, and brainstorm ways to improve it. But just know, you aren’t alone in whatever feelings (or lack thereof) that you have right now.
von Dawans B, Fischbacher U, Kirschbaum C, Fehr E, Heinrichs M. (2012). The social dimension of stress reactivity: acute stress increases prosocial behavior in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22593119