At the beginning of the lockdown, many couples noticed an improvement in their sex lives. When I chatted with some of my social media followers asking them for more detail, most indicated that the extra time together led to reconnection and revitalization in their relationship. These days, however, as confinement lingers on with no end in sight, the narrative has shifted, and more couples are complaining of sexual disconnect.
This isn’t too surprising.
Financial uncertainty, inability to connect with friends and family, the pressures of homeschooling, and simply being around our partners all the time has created stress that’s snuffed the flame for many couples. This poses a problem because there is a strong correlation between sexual fulfillment and relationship happiness—so much so that sexual satisfaction can even be used as a barometer for relationship satisfaction and not the other way around. In other words, if our sex lives continue to suffer, the health of our relationships may decline. Combined with all the other stressors, this puts many couples in danger of becoming another COVID divorce statistic.
What can couples do to avoid losing sexual energy despite mounting stress and pressure? The answer lies in our ability to adapt.
I recently ran a poll on my Instagram feed asking my followers whether their sexual satisfaction had remained the same, improved, or worsened. One beautifully illustrated the concept of adaptability in her reply: “It’s the same, but different. I feel exhausted at the end of the day. My partner and I are doing our best to balance the kids, housework, cooking, and work. It’s a lot. While we aren’t having intercourse as frequently as we did before the pandemic, I wouldn’t say we’ve lost the spark. We just find other ways to connect. For example, we’ve started showering together. It’s something we have to do anyway, but now it’s become a shared, intimate experience. It’s a little more ‘interactive’ than a regular shower but still doesn’t require the energy we’d need for ‘full-on sex’ like we used to have. We also take turns giving each other massages. By lighting some candles and undressing, it feels erotic even though it doesn’t lead to intercourse. It has the added benefit of easing sore muscles after a long day. Doing things like this helps maintain our simmer, if you will, making it easier to get in the mood for more when we finally do have some down-time for sex like we used to have.”
Use Your Brain.
I always remind my clients that we, unlike most mammals, have an amazing brain region called the prefrontal cortex. This region makes it possible for us to engage in problem-solving, planning, and decision making—skills we need to adapt to life’s ever-changing circumstances. For some reason though, not many people utilize this brain region when it comes to cultivating an active, fulfilling sex life. Instead, many of us think of sex as a passive—or worse, automatic—function of the body.
The fact is, human sexuality is far more complex and has infinite potential.
How can you use adaptability skills in a way that will not only revitalize your sex life but also save your relationship?
Many people are guilty of passively waiting around for desire to appear rather than intentionally seeking it out. Couples in long-term relationships know that sex ebbs and flows over time. While the current circumstances may lead to a temporary decline, that doesn’t mean you should let your sexual connection completely fall by the wayside. With a little bit of planning, you can carve out time here and there to connect sexually. And remember, you may not immediately feel “in the mood.” That’s okay. Often, desire comes after a bit of arousal. You’re likely to notice that once you get going, you can more easily find your groove.
Flip the Script.
People who are resilient tend to be creative, outside-the-box thinkers. The narrative I shared above is a perfect example of ditching the sexual script. Many couples falter when the conditions that had been typically present for sexual fulfillment are no longer there. And rather than creating new conditions or switching things up to fit a different context, many couples simply give up. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to trash the idea that it doesn’t count as sex if there’s no penetration or orgasm. There are so many things couples can do that maintain a steady flow of erotic energy without these elements. We (again) have to use our whole brain to think outside the box.
What would happen if you saw this as an opportunity to have sex with a different meaning than you did before? One man I spoke with highlighted how sex with his partner had become a wonderful escape from the stress created by the pandemic. He and his partner found solace and comfort in each other when they made love. He said that prior to the pandemic, they usually had sex only when they were in a more relaxed, jovial mood. Couples who have more time on their hands have used this as an opportunity for sexual experimentation. One woman said that the experimentation has pushed her outside her comfort zone in a way that’s led to more vulnerability and closeness within the relationship. “Even when we’re having our regular ‘vanilla’ sex, I feel closer to my partner now than I did before. The experimentation has not only been fun, but it’s deepened the trust and connection between us.”
When we harness our inner resources to make little changes to adapt to evolving times, we'll not only maintain closeness in our relationships, we'll gain confidence in ourselves.