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Q: Since the COVID 19 crisis started, my sex drive has been so low. I want the connection but I don’t have the libido I did. How can my partner and I find intimacy and sexual connection when I just don’t want to have sex like I used to?
A: Stress is one of the biggest inhibitors of arousal, probably thanks to evolution. If an animal (or human) is trying to survive and is primarily focused on those struggles, it makes sense that breeding, mating, or sex is not as important. Cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are chemicals released in the body during “fight, flight, or freeze” situations, but people with chronic stress can experience physical side effects like depression and low libido.
Forgetting about sexual desires and fantasies while you’re worried about housing, income, or health is completely normal, so stop beating yourself up about having a low libido. Instead, give yourself permission to acknowledge what stress factors in your life might contribute to low libido.
Bodies need pleasure though, and people can be successful in creating methods and practices that help to relax. Most people who cohabitate with other adults or kids are lacking privacy and time. Meditation, a pet sitter or babysitter, and a hot bath might be what you need. When people are relaxed, they are more receptive to pleasure.
Many people have sex in the evening for a few reasons, it’s when the kids are asleep, and the adults are alone or probably going to bed together soon. At the end of a long day, it can be tough for folks to clearly communicate about sex, mostly because they are tired. This can make it difficult to have a clear discussion about your wants and desires.
I encourage you and your partner to explore options for experiencing sexual pleasure solo. This means that you allow or encourage each other to meet your own needs on your own time, watch porn, masturbate with toys, read erotica alone. My partner knows he can turn to toys when I’m not wanting to play.
Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling and acknowledge that you don’t have the emotional or physical energy for sex. What about mutual massages, hair petting, and stroking?
The skin-to-skin contact will be beneficial to both of you if it’s enjoyable; oxytocin is a relaxing chemical produced by pleasurable skin-contact.
Instead of “having sex”, ask your partner if they‘d like to “play”. Play can be non-genital, explorative, silly, and spontaneous, and like sex, does not have to equal orgasm or ejaculation. Some couples who haven’t had the energy for penetrative sex report to me that they’ve enjoyed mutual masturbation instead.
Boyfriend and I have given each other the option to masturbate beside the other person in bed when we are too tired to interact one-on-one; sometimes this turns into fun mutual masturbation or witnessing of it, and sometimes it snowballs into partnered sex too! Even something simple like feeling his warm hand on my lower back while I lay on my vibrator can feel connective and comforting.
“Sensate focus touch therapy” is a series of practices often recommended by sex therapists and couples counselors; partners touch each other in non-genital areas, for their own curiosity and exploration, in agreed-upon settings and for about 10-20 minutes at a time.
Tell your partner that you’d like to try these calming and bonding exercises for couples! If you don’t want to schedule sex, perhaps schedule some of these sessions, and see how that develops or feels. You do NOT need to follow the outline strictly, the goal is to maintain slowness and to practice non-genital touching that feels safe and pleasurable. Examples below!
(from Rachel Keller LCSW-C)
- Phase 1: Take turns touching, kissing, and stroking anywhere on your partner’s body (or your own for solo) except genitals and breasts. For partnered sensate focus: partner one touches for 10 (or more) minutes, then partner two touches for 10 (or more) minutes. Avoid touch that leads to orgasm and intercourse until phase 4.
- Phase 2: Same as phase 1, except that genitals and breasts can be included.
- Phase 3 (partnered sensate focus only): Engage in mutual touching, kissing, and stroking of each other’s bodies simultaneously. Start with phase 1 touching, then progress to phase 2. Avoid touching that leads to orgasm and intercourse.
- Phase 4: Proceed through phases 1 through 3, then move into a position as if you’re going to have intercourse, or masturbate for solo sensate focus. Move and rub your bodies against each other. Avoid intercourse or touching that will lead to orgasm until having completed one or two sessions of phase 4.
Elle Stanger is a certified holistic sex educator, parent, and sex worker living in the PNW. They can be found on stripperwriter.com or @ElleStanger on Twitter.
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