When “sheltering-in-place” orders were first instituted, some wondered if we might see a “baby boom” effect come early 2021. With all this enforced togetherness, couples would be less distracted and busy and find comfort in sexual connection with their mate. The Kinsey Institute, known for their quantitative studies of sexual behavior, put this expectation to the test. What they discovered was that half of those sampled were having less sex than when the pandemic began.
Why would that be? In times of extended stress or trauma, people are often too anxious to enjoy the sexual experience. Justin Garcia, the research director at the Kinsey Institute said, “There’s a reason gazelles don’t mate a few feet in front of a lion.” When we’re afraid of touching each other, breathing on one another, kissing each other, sex is going to take a hit. The psychological impact of social distancing doesn’t just end when you enter the bedroom. It seems fear of getting the disease is inbred. Dr. Garcia states, “We have an innate tendency to avoid things that have the potential for disease transmission.” He calls this the “disgust response.” The reality is stress and fear can kill libido.
Now that things are beginning to open up, how will our sexual experience change? Most of us recognize that though restrictions may lift, the pandemic will be with us for an extended time, some say as long as two years. For us to enjoy physical closeness with our spouse, we will need to bring some calm to the anxious part of ourselves and challenge some of our thinking.
First, we can recognize that our decision to have sex is really no different that our decision to be in the same room or within six feet of a person. If you’re sitting next to one another watching television or having dinner together and breathing on each other, having sex puts you at no greater risk. If you’re on the same page about the safety protocols related to the pandemic, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy sexual intimacy. If, however, one of you is going rogue where the protocols are concerned, don’t be surprised if your mate is standoffish about sex.
Second, we can bring our full awareness to the level of anxiety we are feeling and make a concerted effort to calm our nervous system. Deep breathing where, 3-5 times, you inhale through your nose filling your abdomen for five seconds, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly out your mouth can be useful in calming physically. Repeat this several times a day. You can also listen to relaxing music or visualize a very soothing, relaxing scene and imagine yourself experiencing it with all your senses.
You can also implement some of the core concepts from mindfulness-based sex therapy. The first is to focus on the present moment as you are with your mate and practice being nonjudgmental and compassionate. Next, while holding one another, take mental scan of your body to identify tense areas. Bring some compassion to those tense areas. Observe your breath and focus your attention on touch when your mind starts to wander with anxiety.
There will be times when you are just not feeling up to having sex. At those times, listen to yourself and don’t do it. And don’t let the fact that you don’t feel up to it stress you out. If your mate is disappointed, be understanding but honor your feelings. It’s okay to pass and find other ways to connect.
Since the pandemic itself is likely to be with us for a while, avoiding sex altogether is not going to benefit your marriage or allow to feel connected as you navigate what is to come. While anxiety is common to our human experience, it doesn’t need to dictate our choices or our life. Facing our fears by challenging our thoughts and bringing compassion and reassurance to our anxious feelings is critical to enjoying your marriage and being a team as you move forward.