Editor’s note: We’re featuring a series of guest posts by the fabulous Emily Swayne, a geeky therapist who sees clients at Blue Box Counseling & Wellness in Minnesota.
This week, Emily is talking about how our sex drives may have been impacted by the pandemic, and offers some great tips if you’re looking for a spark.
“It’s been so long since I’ve had sex I’ve forgotten who ties up whom.” –Joan Rivers
Sex can be such a great thing for us in so many ways. It can foster connection; release feel good brain chemicals; be a form of fun and play; help us to know ourselves and partners better, etc. There are lots of great reasons to have sex and lots of great ways sex can help relieve stress! So why is it that during a global pandemic and lockdowns, you know, things that can be incredibly stressful and also might leave us with some extra time on our hands, so many folks are finding cricket noises where their sex drive used to be?
I think there’s a number of factors at play. For many of us, when the pandemic hit, our systems got slammed into survival mode. Many of us have never lived through something like this before which means our systems have likely been working extra hard to figure out what the hell is going on. This is great in some ways because that’s actually us trying to protect ourselves and survive – love that for us! But it’s not always as helpful when it comes to sex. If our body, minds, and emotions are focused on the world feeling like a scary, dangerous place and trying to stay safe then they’re probably not as focused on sex. When our nervous systems are activated into a protective state, our reproductive systems go off-line. Not to mention when there’s a pandemic in progress it just makes meeting up with people a bit more complicated – go figure.
Another factor at play is that as humans we tend to need and enjoy some amount of novelty – things that feel new and different to us in our lives. Sometimes sex is an area where we can do that. I know for non-monogamous folks this can be hard, especially if someone typically has multiple partners or different dynamics with different people. But even if you’re monogamous or pretty vanilla, pandemic can make things like going to a hotel for a night or getting a babysitter for kids or pets more difficult, too. And loss of novelty outside of the bedroom or dungeon can also affect how we’re feeling within it, including our sex drives. Being locked down in our living spaces, seeing more of our partner(s) and barely anyone or anything else, can tank the desire and spark to get frisky.
Mental health can also be a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to sex and sex drive. Being in the midst of a global pandemic, uprisings for racial justice, continued police violence, maddening politics, climate change, etc. – all of it can and does affect us and takes a toll, which in turn can affect whether or not we feel like having sex. As a therapist during the pandemic I’ve witnessed how much people have been struggling with both physical and mental health symptoms. Often, when we don’t feel good in those ways we don’t feel like having sex – who has the time or energy? Additionally, many medications utilized to help with mental health are known for negatively impacting sex drive or functioning.
Many people have also struggled with their bodies changing during the pandemic. This could be due to getting COVID and having aftereffects or complications, and also bodies changing in general due to facing new and different stressors and limitations on pre-pandemic lifestyles. Our culture has a shit ton to say about sex; and about bodies; and about what types of bodies should get to enjoy sex. Since the pandemic started many people have gained or lost a noticeable amount of weight. There are also people who have become disabled or had their disabilities worsen over the past couple years. Some feel less able to mask neurodivergent traits. All of this has the possibility to make folks feel less secure and less stoked about sex.
Sexual drive and desire can be something that shifts and changes naturally in even the most mundane of circumstances. If you take anything away from this post please know that if you have struggled with your sex drive during the pandemic (or anytime) that you are not alone and it doesn’t have to mean that there is something wrong with you. It also doesn’t mean that the change in your drive and desire will last forever.
When it comes to addressing a sex drive that is lower than the person it belongs to might desire, I don’t think there’s necessarily a one size fits all method. I’ll include some ideas and resources below – please feel free to take what works for you and forget the rest! Also, remember that exploration is a way in which we learn and grow – maybe try out a few different things! This is not a pass/fail situation – if everyone involved is enthusiastically consenting even a “failed” sexual exploration can still have benefits. Finally, it is my hope that these suggestions will be helpful even if they are merely a jumping off point for you to find something totally different that works for you!
- Acceptance and gentleness towards ourselves: sometimes what we need most is to give ourselves permission to be where we are and feel how we feel – maybe try some radical acceptance, take the pressure off, and see how that feels and affects your drive.
- Self-care: taking good care of ourselves helps us feel good and when we feel good and our tanks feel full, it’s more likely we’ll be able to give of ourselves and be more present and attuned – all great for sex! Additionally, if there are ways your body or health has changed recently, how can you honor those changes in your sex life and care for yourself in that way? Are there things you can discuss with your sexual partner(s) that would feel helpful for you regarding this?
- Therapy: going to therapy either individually or with your partner(s) can be helpful in improving your sex life. It can also be helpful to explore your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about sex – it’s not uncommon to have some hang ups around sex and it isn’t always something that feels easy to talk about. Having a professional in your corner can be really helpful depending on what’s happening for you and what you’re needing!
- Medical intervention: sometimes there are changes or struggles in our sex lives because of things going on with our bodies. Finding a good medical specialist to help you explore potential physiological factors can be helpful.
- Deeper (non-sexual) intimacy: finding ways to connect with our partner(s) on emotional and intellectual levels can help us feel more connected to them sexually as well. Some ideas for this: playing a 20 questions like game; Gottman cards; sharing your favorite movies, books, songs, hobbies, etc. with each other; teach each other a new skill; show them a place that is important to you.
- Adding in novelty: as it becomes safer pandemic-wise, maybe you can travel somewhere new or engage in new activities, but even without leaving your home base you could try adding in toys, roleplay, different positions, dressing up, having sex in different places around your house, etc.
- Solo play: masturbation can be a great way to engage with your sexual drive and desire for many reasons. It’s healthy, it relieves stress, it feels good, it gives you a chance to get to know your body, it can help you feel sexier, etc. Some folks even have an easier time orgasming from masturbation than they do from partnered sexual activities. Not to mention, if you want, you can take the solo out of solo play and try some mutual masturbation with a partner or partners!
- Sensate focused activities: sensate focused activities are (spoiler alert) activities where you are engaging your senses and are a chance to connect with a partner intimately and with less pressure. There are lots of free resources on how to engage in these activities (I googled sensate focus and was able to find a number of them right away) so I won’t detail them all here, but this is something that can be really helpful, especially if getting back into a good sexual groove with your partner(s) is feeling tricky.
- Spend time naked: maybe it sounds silly but spending time naked can help us to feel more comfortable with our bodies and with being naked in general. This is one that you can do solo or with others!
- Watch or read porn or erotica: Although porn is not reality and not something to base expectations on, used with intention, it can be helpful when it comes to getting in a sexy mood. This is something you could do on your own or with your partner(s). There are also more and more ethical places to get pornography now! Maybe check out some different sites or even support some creators on sites like Fansly.
- Hire a sex worker: this one, unfortunately, comes with a disclaimer that a lot of sex work is still illegal in most places, but sex work is real work and hiring a sex worker could help you get back into the swing of things, if that is feeling out of reach or difficult for you.
(Editor’s note: If you or someone you know/encounter are being trafficked, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline for help. Call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711) or *Text 233733.
If you’re navigating sexual challenges due to disability, trauma, or other health factors, you may consider working with a surrogate partner. Surrogate partners are trained therapeutic professionals to help people overcome challenges to their sexual functioning. They typically work as part of a therapeutic team, under supervision, and utilizing a treatment plan that guides all activities.
Sex workers who exchange money or goods for sex are criminalized in almost all areas of the USA. They deserve protections under the law, allowing them to operate legally, access basic human rights, avoid exploitation, and work safely. Educate yourself, call your state and federal congress people, and support sex worker led advocacy and reform organizations.)
- Lastly: have fun, be safe, enthusiastic consent always, and safe words as needed. YOU get to decide and determine what works and makes sense for you and your sex life. Try to take the pressure off and give yourself permission to engage in pleasure, however that looks for you, because you’re worth it!
Want to explore your sexuality, deconstruct harmful societal messages about sex, your body, and your worth, or just work with a therapist who gets it? Get in touch with Emily to schedule today.
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Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views, values, or stance of POW! Psychotherapy, its owners and therapists, or other contributors.