Sex In The Time of Pandemic
You’re not alone if sex is the last thing on your mind at the moment, and hasn't been for a while.
While we have now had time to adjust to the upheaval Covid has brought us most of us have been woefully ill equipped to navigate the effects of Covid on our relationships. I mean, who really saw this coming?
Adapting to change as a permanent fixture is hard. Especially when it’s thrust upon us. The now-not-so-novel coronavirus has taken its toll on everything from our budgets, to our homes, to our relationships, to our schools, to our grocery shopping routines and our sex lives. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking now is not the time to bother working on our sex lives, there are bigger fish to fry in a crisis such as this. Except I’d argue this is the perfect time to make sex matter, because the way to a happy heart, especially in crisis, is through simplicity. Sex is seen as frivolous and unnecessary, but this has more to do with stigma and social discomfort than anything based in fact. The research confirms that sex, when satisfying, bolsters mental and emotional well being, strengthens relationships, assists with sleep disorders and can reduce anxiety…in addition to simply feeling great. All of these side effects of sex make now, the right time.
If you follow me on Instagram, you will see I’m an enthusiastic publicist of the #prioritizeyourpleasure slogan. And for clarity sake, I am not referring to disbanding shelter-in-place orders for the indulgence of faux freedom, burgers and mani-pedis. Instead, I am referencing the wisdom that confirms pleasure is not only necessary, but something we have to create for ourselves, despite the conditions around us. Learning about the effects of pleasure is one thing, but the main thing, is putting daily rituals in place to make it happen.
The effects of isolating - including stress and anxiety, are known libido killers for many people, and yet, all is not lost because they are the perfect reason to discover new and novel ways to invest in the relationships we need to get us through tough times.
Desire is something we create within and for ourselves. Desire is tended-to and nurtured by us and our lovers. Desire is an approach to life that includes, but is not limited to horniness. Desire is feeling alive. Passion is feeling like you matter, and more than ever, right now, we need to feel like we matter.
Desire is synonymous with horniness, but the truth is, that horniness – as distinct from desire, is unreliable in many contexts, especially now. Horniness, while relevant, is a physiological flash in the pan and a stress response that can swing in any direction. Hormones not withstanding (and in fact, hormones have little to do with desire), horniness is unlikely your default at this time. And let’s face it, a global pandemic and economic uncertainty are unlikely bedfellows solely for horniness. Except that, they’re not. Because at the same time, your partner, exposed to the very same conditions, maybe wants sex more than ever. Sex research tells us that this is also normal. Stress and anxiety can both dampen and embolden desire, as determined by your unique erotic template. So when partners together in lockdown experience differences in desires (as many are), it can be destructive on otherwise nurturing and steady relationships.
The old couple’s therapy trope of “intimacy precedes good sex” is a lie. Good sex is created.
“Great lovers are made, not born!” - Peggy Kleinplatz
Connection matters. Respect matters more. Curiosity and willingness matter the most. All of these toward your partner, but mostly toward yourself. Good sex is about being selfish, not self-centered. Good sex means learning to be with and trust yourself so you can invite desire in. Good sex requires getting uncomfortable for a while. Good sex requires effort, skill and discussion of pleasure, bodies and power; quite unlike the things that make us feel ‘intimate’. Sex demands that we let go of our egos and self-control long enough to allow something else to take its place, even for a moment. That something else is Passion. Desire. Connection. Dedication. But not horniness. Great sex is about listening. And being vulnerable. It’s about facing both the darkness and the lightness within us, and taking the risks required to see and be seen. This is often so much easier to do with strangers than with people whose opinions matter to us, and yet they matter because they are the ones we want to connect with. Because good sex is about working through shame. Owning who you are and how you want to be. Good sex is getting comfortable with desire, not with horniness. Horniness is one of many responses to desire. Good sex is getting comfortable with wanting and asking for what you want. Saying it out loud. Receiving. Giving. Honoring and being. This is not what they teach you in sex-ed or magazine listicles, though they should.
Most people have no idea how their erotic templates operate, let alone how their partners’ operate, nor how they work in unison. We don’t get taught this in school nor do we learn it in pre-marital counseling. Sex therapy research shows us it’s not the differences between lovers that corrode relationships, but misinformation, a lack of skill and mismanaged desires. Neglect destroys passion. This is where we have a lot of leverage.
Week after week, increasing numbers of people; especially men, are reporting low desire in my practice. Traditionally, desire was a ‘man’s domain’, so losing desire leads men to question their relationship to masculinity, to their partners and to themselves. Data overwhelmingly focuses on women’s low libido, so it’s easy to deduce only women suffer this, but we'd be wrong. This is very much a human experience and one that’s not going away, at least not by itself. While desire and horniness continue to be conflated, we are left powerless against the very thing we 'want to want'. Desire is created. Horniness is unreliable. It’s like waiting for a bus that never comes. Are we just going to give up? Or will we find another way to get to our destination? In this riddle, both the journey and the destination matter.
Crucially, we need to understand that desire is generally not something that spontaneously grabs us when we least expect it. Desire, unlike horniness, is a craft to be cultivated, much like learning an instrument or learning to cook, it requires dedication, effort and practice. Many lovers tell me “I love sex when I have it, I just don’t get in the mood for it.” And this is the moment of glory. Learning what helps us create the mood, is to learn about desire. We become expert bakers, not because we love kneading dough, but because we ove the bread. This is the incentive. This is the desire. We love the pleasures, accomplishment and satisfaction that freshly baked bread offers us, even though its preparation demands skill, time and the willingness to fail a few times before we get it. In cooking, like in sex, it's the moment-by-moment that hypnotizes us enough to want to try and try again. Like with music, we practice for hours, not because we love scales, but because the music, the pleasure matters to us. Because it's joyful. Because its fun, even when it's sometimes hard. The rewards outweigh the difficulties, just like in our relationships.
During times of stress we may neglect our bodies. We may neglect touch. We may neglect kindness. We may neglect attention and intention. We may be distracted by the hundred other things calling our time. We may neglect the very conditions that contribute to us ever feeling anything that resembles the mood. We may oblige our partners with a fortnightly romp, all-the-while seething with resentment; making connection or even ‘intimacy’ the last thing on our minds.
So instead of pandering to how you think sex should be, enduring touch you do not even like, reflect on what your body needs to feel nourished and nurtured. On what it needs to feel invigorated. On what your soul needs to feel connected. And how your mind leads you astray with everything except pleasure. This is where we start, not finish. It may seem counter-intuitive to start at the end, but research suggests that creating contexts for desire to thrive, is a far more reliable incentive for sex, than hoping for horniness to just arrive uninvited. Couples who make time for connection, who #prioritizepleasure, enjoy sex more than those with a list of excuses not to do it. Couples with satisfying sex lives know this and live by this. I live by this too.
Many people experiencing low desire tell me they ‘want to want sex’ and what they’re actually saying is, they want to feel horny. The bad news is, you won’t feel horny out of the blue, if it’s not your style to be horny when you’re stressed. But the good news is, you can feel horny, desirous and so much more, if you learn about your erotic template and share that with your partner. This is why now is the perfect time to learn to do that.
Realizing that we are not at the mercy of desire, but rather that desire is at the mercy of us, is a watershed moment for lovers in lock down. Making the most of curiosity, which is free and abundant, is a whole lot more empowering than sitting around waiting for a mood to strike, while your relationship/s fade into the distance. Rising to the challenge of lowered desire or mismatched libidos isn’t easy, but it’s more useful than a floundering relationship, and better than a divorce attorney. And besides, you can’t get away from each other right now, even if you wanted to. So make the most of it and learn how to love like you mean it.
If you need help maintaining your relationships and passion, reach out to me today.