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Sex drive and the coronavirus are like oil and water—here’s what to know about your libido right now

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchApril 20, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/ Yakobchuk Olena

Typically, my sex drive hovers at around an 8 or 9 out of 10, but since the COVID-19 crisis has been swirling, my libido has plummeted to down to, oh, a 2—on a good day. I cannot even imagine having sex right now, and I imagine that I’m not alone in feeling that sex drive and the coronavirus are simply not well-matched pair.

Sex and relationship expert Tammy Nelson, PhD, for one, isn’t surprised by my change in sexual desire and posits a few possible causes: “If you are in lockdown or sheltering in place, you might find that your sex drive is tanking,” she says. “It may be a result of one of three issues: stress from the pandemic all around us, you realizing your relationship is not working out, or both.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic can conjure feelings of heightened anxiety, worry, and panic, that it can also lead to a depleted sex drive is hardly shocking. “Stress, especially when it’s the life-and-death kind, puts us into survival mode,” Dr. Nelson says. “Pleasure of any kind can feel incidental and unnecessary when we are focused on just getting through the day.”

“Stress, especially when it’s the life-and-death kind, puts us into survival mode. Pleasure of any kind can feel incidental and unnecessary when we are focused on just getting through the day.” —relationship expert Tammy Nelson, PhD

Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of arousal-oil brand Bloomi, agrees that our overarching #mood is preventing us from getting into the mood. “Daily stress is correlated with a decrease in relationship satisfaction, the amount of sex you have, and your sexual satisfaction levels,” she says. Story adds that distractions (hello, news notifications, unschooled children, and omnipresent sense of doom), anxiety, and fatigue can lower your sex drive. “People with small children may be one group most impacted by low sex drive right now as they try to figure out how to care for little humans 24/7 while working from home and having little energy to connect with their partner,” she says.

If you suspect the stress associated with concerns related to the pandemic are the cause behind your lack of desire, Dr. Nelson says it’s important that you essentially suck it up and get busy regardless. “In reality, the brain needs pleasure to calm down the brain stem; we are in fight-or-flight response right now, and we need to relax,” she says. “We can find pleasure in sex—it can calm the intensity and relax our brain, letting our neocortex run the show instead of our crisis response.”

And if you can’t imagine getting intimate right now, no matter how much doing so may ease your stress (see also: exercise), Story has a few suggestions: “If folks can get on track by consistently blocking time for intimacy, date nights and/or sex nights, it will help,” she says. “I would also recommend that people make more time for skin-to-skin activities with their partner to boost intimacy and desire—activities like massages, baths, and holding hands can all work.”

Sexologist and author of The Ultimate Guide to Seduction and Foreplay Jess O’Reilly, PhD, recommends what she calls mindful sex, which entails adopting various practices and strategies to help you feel more relaxed, present, and connected to your partner. She offers an online course that might prove helpful, and you (and your partner) might want to try practicing some simple mindfulness meditations to return yourselves to the present moment as well.

While being prescribed sex for an issue of not wanting to have sex may feel frustrating, it’s also not the most painful antidote that’s ever been peddled. Decidedly less comfortable is admitting to yourself that the crux of the issue is your partnership itself. But since all of us and all of our relationships are under new pressure in this bizarre new time, patience is the first step for dealing with this potential cause of a lowered sex drive.

So if you’re worried that your lower desire has less to do with the coronavirus and more to with wishing your partner would self-quarantine on Mars, consider Dr. Nelson’s words of advice: “If you are feeling unsure about your relationship right now, don’t make any decisions,” she says. “You can’t judge what’s going to happen when you’re in the middle of this. Let things relax and get back to normal, or at least get to the new normal, whatever that’s going to be, before you decide the relationship isn’t going to work.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Nelson adds, let yourself be intimate and “let it be what it is.” If “what it is” happens to be you plus a sex toy, so be it. “You deserve it,” she says.

Maybe the issue is that your partner doesn’t understand your sex personality type. And if it’s too much to ask that they figure it out, try this five-minute trick for communicating your desires instead.

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