Are you getting any? I’m talking sex and I ask because love in the time of COVID-19 appears to be less ramped up than we might at first have imagined. Despite the whispered speculations about baby booms when we went into lockdown, it turns out we’re all getting less.
This decline in sexual activity, identified by a team at the Kinsey Institute in the US state of Indiana, has been attributed to two things. Singles and partners who live apart are separated by lockdowns and social distancing. Those who live together endure boredom and stress from being cooped up together for months on end wearing pyjamas and watching endless Netflix on separate screens. Neither the frustrated aloneness nor the forced togetherness present as aphrodisiacs.
The Kinsey researchers conducted a study of more than 1,500 participants to examine the pandemic’s impact on people’s intimate lives. “What we found is that different people have been impacted in different ways,” says Justin Lehmiller, one of the study’s authors. “The overall trend has been toward declines in people’s sexual and romantic lives. On average, people are less sexually active now than they were before.”
Stress and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus can have a serious impact on a couple’s sex life. | Image source: Shutterstock
Many participants – almost half – reported a decline in the quality and frequency of their sex life, with the remainder reporting that it had stayed the same. A small number had seen an improvement.
One in five participants reported expanding their sexual repertoire with new additions which included “sexting” (useful for the socially distant), trying new positions, sharing fantasies, watching pornography and enjoying cybersex. Perhaps not surprisingly it was the young, single and physically separate who were up for new adventures. Those who added something new to the mix were, also not surprisingly, among those who reported improvements to their sex lives.
Some people use sex as a stress buster when anxious and stressed, but for most people stress has a negative effect on their sex life, says Kristin Zeising, a clinical psychologist at the MindnLife practice in Hong Kong.
“The anxiety that erupts from the uncertainty of one’s future can have a big impact on sexual desire” she says. “Stress tends to dampen interest in sex for most of us. It’s often the farthest thing from our mind. We may be worried about other things that feel more pressing like job losses, fear about catching the virus or worries about family being safe.”
Clinical psychologist Kristin Zeising talks about how to boost sex life between couples in isolation. | Image source: Handout
COVID-19 presents its own unique challenges which exacerbate stress and reduce sexual activity even more. Prolonged isolation, Zeising says, heightens anxiety, depression, frustration and boredom. Confinement, meanwhile, may increase tension.
None of this makes for happy sex life, Zeising says, which is a shame as one of the upsides of sex is that it can help take our mind off of stressful times, at least for the moment. And it has physical benefits, too.
“It stimulates the release of dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin – all the chemicals that make you feel good,” she says. In turn, it can help you to feel more connected and bonded with your partner – which leads to more regular sex. “People who are having good sex tend to get along with each other better,” a huge advantage if you’re incarcerated at home together, she adds.
Most of us need external stimuli to stoke sexual desire and interest, Zeising says. Ordinarily, we interact with others during the day and enjoy diverse experiences outside the home, which stimulate us and help to inject new energy into our relationships. Places, smells, sights, sounds and people all feed into energy which feeds into our relationships. But duringlockdown, most of these are prohibited or diluted while time with our partners is intensified.
To boost sex life, you need some distance, Zeising says.
“Sexual desire can dissolve if we don’t give each other breathing room. It can already be a challenge to keep the sparks flying and the mystery alive in long-term relationships. When you add in being confined together at home, too much closeness can dampen the flames even more.”
Feel-good chemicals released by the body during sex can help us deal with anxiety brought on by the pandemic. | Image source: Getty Images
Louisa knows exactly what she means. Locked down with her husband of 15 years, she says their sex life is currently “rubbish”.
“We aren’t rowing – in fact, we’re muddling along very peaceably, very happily – but that’s just it: muddling along, in our joggers, watching too much TV and eating too much rubbish. It’s not exactly a turn-on is it?”
The other thing lockdown has done is heighten our roles at home. For women like Louisa, it has distilled the wife and mother parts (“I feel more domestic than dominatrix,” she laughs drily) and compromised the lover part. “Knowing I don’t look as good – hair a mess, probably a bit fatter – doesn’t help. I just don’t feel sexy,” she says.
Some experts believe that Covid-19 is causing something of a sexual revolution, primarily in the uptake in sex tech. More than just sex toys, it is a billion-dollar industry that includes virtual experiences, erotic online games and virtual partners. It’s also one of the only industries that have proven resilient to the pandemic: the sale of sex toys has rocketed.
But the Kinsey report isn’t so sure, stating that the prominence of sex tech in our sex lives has been overhyped. Perhaps the angst about declining sex has fuelled the industry (as people buy products online in a frenzied bid to improve things in the bedroom) because the reports suggest that what has really made a difference to the sex lives of those who are still getting it is much simpler: trying new positions.
Perhaps the rise in sex tech is because more of us are observing advice from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: “You are your safest sex partner.”
At the same time, there has been a global slump in condom sales. According to Laxman Narasimhan, CEO of Durex parent company Reckitt Benckiser, “the number of intimate occasions is down and that has had an impact on Durex”. But the company won’t be going bust any time soon: it has seen a twenty-fold increase in demand for hand sanitiser.
- Try new things in the bedroom
Human beings are turned on by novelty – which is hard to find when you’re stuck at home. Order a sex toy online, or take experts’ advice and experiment with a new sex position.
- Find ways to lower stress
It’s a pandemic, it’s unprecedented, so it’s normal to feel anxious. Accept that and work to lessen the stress: give each other a massage, share a long bath, and socially distance yourself from the news and your social media. You’ll begin to relax and desire will follow.
- Set up date nights at home
It may be a cliche, but this is imperative in the absence of anywhere to go. Don’t eat supper on your lap mindlessly flicking through television channels. Eat at a table properly set and engage in mindful conversation instead.
- Clean up your act
You might not be able to get to the salon. But you can still make an effort with your appearance like washing your hair or put something nice on. Men can have a shave, while women can apply a slick of lipstick.
- Re-read Kristin Zeising’s words
“People who are having good sex tend to get along with each other better.” Getting along better means good sex, more often.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.