There will hopefully never be another time like '20-'21, when our lives have been so confined. However, the impact of lockdown has also exposed some common challenges that couples can have, with overfamiliarity reducing the appeal of sexual intimacy. Tavistock Relationships psychosexual therapist Marian.O'Connor draws on experiences of the last year to observe the challenges, explain why they may have occurred and offer advice to help reignite sex lives in any era.
By Marian O'Connor
For some couples, gay or straight, lockdown has given an opportunity to connect sexually, to try out new positions at leisure, to experiment with role play. No one is going out, so why not have fun staying in?
As a sex and relationship therapist, I would say that these couples are in the minority. For many, lockdown has shut down more than their freedom to go clubbing, or to the gym, the pub, to meet up with friends. It has also shut down their libido. Seeing your partner at breakfast, lunch, dinner, hearing them shout at the kids, or watching them disappear behind the laptop screen for another zoom call just as you need to be at an important zoom meeting and your kids have spilled the milk all over the kitchen table, has increased stress and irritability and dampened sexual desire.
For some, any libido has ben directed towards internet porn. Lockdown has enabled unlimited access to laptops for hours on end at home. Sexual interest and excitement has become associated with secrecy and the computer screen.
Is it possible for couples to reconnect sexually after months of lockdown?
The answer is YES! But just as organising life in lockdown involved some changes, planning and juggling, re-establishing sexual intimacy will require effort and commitment.
First the good news!
Ruth Stein has written a paper called the ‘Excess of Sexuality’ which suggests that sexuality is something different and extra to our everyday lives. It has a special, ‘other’ quality which puts people into a different state of mind and body awareness. The sameness and routine of lockdown has meant that many couples find it hard to get into that sense of otherness or specialness, and this applies to couples with and without the extra stress of having to home school their children during this period.
The end of lockdown means that couples have the opportunity to have more ‘specialness’ in their lives - getting out of the house not just to go on a walk but to reconnect with friends, go to restaurants to a gig, dress up for an occasion. Sexual desire thrives on the new and exciting and, as a friend of mine who has been dating on Hinge during lockdown says, “It’s hard to know whether you fancy someone or not when every new date means going around the same park or cemetery.’
That’s the good news – but…..Sexual desire thrives on the new and exciting which is why affairs can be so intensely sexual. But most couples will not want the end of lockdown to mean the opportunity to start of an affair.
How can you restart the fires of lust with the same person you’ve been stuck indoors with for the best part of the year?
Clearly, going out, seeing friends, bringing back new energy, gossip, excitement into your ongoing relationship will help kindle a sense of difference and interest.
But if the bedroom has become associated with a quiet place to work or somewhere to sleep after an arduous day, how do you restart sex? This might take some effort and discussion.
If sex hasn’t happened for months, it is important that couples talk about the issue and think together about how to restart sexual intimacy. It is more important to be realistic than to waste time bewailing the lack of spontaneity.
Do not start the conversation late at night in the bedroom, when your partner is half asleep. Bring it up on a walk or over lunch and try to make it an open discussion rather one of blame or anger. You are likely to get a different response from an opener such as, ‘We haven’t had sex for months, I’d like to get close again, but I’m not sure how. What do you think?’
An opener such as, ‘I’m fed up of you saying you’re tired whenever I try it on,’ will probably elicit a defensive response. Suggesting a romantic meal or a night out to put you both in the mood might be helpful. Timetabling sexual activity can also work eg:
- suggesting that you could go to bed early on a particular night
- suggesting you could spend time together on a Saturday afternoon when you know no one else will be in the house.
There’s more to sexual intimacy than sexual intercourse.
Restarting your sex life could give you an opportunity to start getting to know your own and your partner’s body again. Perhaps start off with a massage, noticing what turns you on whether giving or receiving the massage.
Or you could invest in a sex toy as a way of playing around and having fun together.
If, despite your best efforts, sex remains dormant or if you feel too anxious to even suggest making changes, you could talk to a one of our psychosexual therapists at Tavistock Relationships. We offer confidential, professional help to couples and individuals who are worried about a whole array of sexual issues.
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