You’re both working from home. You spent three hours binge-watching Too Hot to Handle. You’ve had a few glasses of wine during two back-to-back Zoom happy hours. You have nowhere to be tomorrow morning. If there was ever an ideal time to have sex, it would be right this second.
Sometimes your partner is in the mood, and you just want to lie in bed. Or sometimes you’re in the mood and they just want to sit on the couch and play video games. You both navigate between bursts of joy, boredom, panic, stress and exhaustion, but you’re always just slightly out of sync. And so it continues, as the days stretch into weeks. Into months.
If this is you, you’re not alone. Does it mean the relationship isn’t as strong as you’d initially thought? Or that you just aren’t “enough” for each other right now? Is there something you should be doing to keep things interesting in bed?
“These are unusual times,” Jones explains. “Things are not normal. There is no baseline to compare what is normal behavior in these situations or not. You cannot expect people to act the same as they did before the coronavirus pandemic began. The entire environment is different.”
For those of us who aren’t essential workers and are lucky to still be employed and have healthy family members, life under quarantine might seem somewhat low stress at first glance. (Three hours with nothing to do but eat ice cream? Sign us up.) But no matter who you are or what your circumstance is, the stress is permeating below the surface, and it can manifest in everyone differently. "While sex can be a great release for pressure, for a lot of people, feeling unsafe can be a major turn-off, which can make sex the last thing on your to-do list," Keinan tells us. "But if your partner doesn't feel the same way, that can feel like additional pressure on you...which will shut it down even more." (Raise your hand if this sounds familiar.)
Numerous studies have been conducted on the relationship between sex and stress—in a 2013 study by psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, women who were under chronic stress were shown an erotic video while their levels of physical and mental arousal were monitored. Not only were they more distracted during the video than the control group, but they also physically didn’t respond to sexual stimuli in the same way. In a nutshell: When you have something stressing you out, it’s much more difficult to have sex, both from a mental and a physical standpoint. It’s just science.
So what do you do if your sex life has reached a full stop while in quarantine? The answer from sex therapists is surprising: Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to do anything.
“If you are the type of person who has an increased desire to have sex and the partner that you are quarantined with is feeling the same, then have a great time, try out new techniques and experiment with ways to bring pleasure to each other,” Jones says. “If you don’t feel like having sex, that is perfectly fine too. Maybe you just want to be held and assured that everything is going to be OK—and that is the way you show intimacy in your relationship.”
Keinan agrees that intimacy is key, and it all starts with communication. "Remember that sex doesn't just mean intercourse," she says. "A lot of times, we assume our partner wants to go all the way, when actually his deeper need might be your closeness, your love and your attention. Tell your partner you want to be close, but you don't want to create an additional pressure right now. Can you be intimate together without any expectations of how it should turn out?"
Bottom line: The (s)experts are offering no tips about how to get in the mood. If you want to have sex, have sex. If you don’t want to, that’s completely OK too. Just be open and honest with your partner about how you're feeling right now and encourage them to do the same. For better or for worse, right?
Listen to the newest episode of Ryan Christopher Jones's podcast Confessions of a Sex Therapist: Can Your Relationship Survive the Coronavirus? and join Michelle Keinan's Facebook Group #QuarantinedWivesClub.