Sexless or Sex-Scarce? It's Not Just You.
The topic of sex comes up a lot in therapy. Most recently, though, it’s a lack of sex that folks are reporting as a presenting concern.
If that feels familiar, I hope you can take (some!) comfort in the knowledge that it’s not just you; most of us aren’t having more sex in the pandemic either.
While we can’t assume everything from birthrates or self-report measures--so much sex doesn’t or can’t result in a baby, and humans are notoriously unreliable narrators--here are some harder data illuminating this trend:
An analysis from the AP indicates that births for all of 2020 were down 4.3% from 2019, and that births from last December through January and February 2021 — nine months after the spring lockdowns that some thought might lead to a COVID baby boom — were down 6.5%, 9.3% and 10% respectively from the previous year (para 5).
A sample of 900 Canadians reported less sex (and other intersecting negative outcomes) since the pandemic began, challenging the myth of the lockdown “baby boom.”
If you’re single, a lack of sex might occur because trust is at an all-time low and negotiations around risk have felt higher in stakes. Dating could take longer; even scheduling a first date might have extra layers of complications.
If you’re longterm-partnered, you may have lost access to some of the things that made you feel confident or interesting. You may have lost the opportunity to miss your partner, if they’re part of your pod and you’re seeing them more. You’ve likely lost a sense of mystery.
But...normalizing this isn’t by any means a reason to roll over and accept it. Although less pressure to have sex is a relief for some, this isn’t the case for many. If a lack of sex is creating considerable loneliness, resentment, or distress, here are some things you can do!
Play “the Stoplight Game.” Other people have different names for this, but I use that title to refer to the colors of a stoplight. Sit down separately or together with a partner and create three categories--your “green light,” “yellow light,” and “red light” sexual behaviors. Green lights might be things you’re very comfortable with or already doing, yellow lights are things you’d like to try but aren’t sure if you’ll like, and red lights are hard limits for you. Then share what you come up with! Mojo Upgrade and the Yes, No, Maybe workbook from Kink Academy are two places where you can come up with diverse ideas.
Work Through Kathy Labriola's Jealousy Workbook. If you are feeling reasonably safe, either alone or in your relationship(s), take this time to examine your feelings of jealousy, where they arise, what your triggers are, and how you can directly challenge them. Some couples are using the “forced monogamy” (or polyfidelity*) of the pandemic to have more intentional dialogues about opening up, without the pressure to immediately take action. This can lend to greater safety and honesty, which can in turn increase your desire.
*polyfidelity: a form of non-monogamy, an intimate relationship structure where all members are considered equal partners and agree to restrict sexual activity to only other members of the group (Wikipedia).
Take Esther Perel’s Rekindling Desire course. Sex philosopher, writer, and acclaimed couples’ therapist Esther Perel guides you through different categories of self-analysis, examining the factors that inspire sexual desire and keep us creatively blocked. Her exercises throughout the course are expansive and provocative, and you can access them at any time forever. (Qualifier: it’s not cheap, though it’s less expensive than 3 sessions of out-of-pocket therapy costs in most places. And unlike couples’ therapy, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee.)
Last month, The Guardian interviewed Perel about the re-entry period after COVID, and how we might regain what we’ve lost:
As more and more people get vaccinated [...] “I think people will want to
reconnect with what I call a healthy relationship to eros.” She doesn’t use
“eros” as a strictly sexual term, she says, but to refer to “a feeling of
curiosity, aliveness, exploration – the happenstance, the chance encounter”.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we’re going to find this at different stages. On a hopeful note, there are actions you can take even while keeping to yourself or within a restricted range of activities.
PS) Similar experience? Divergent experience? If you’d like, contribute your “data” to this anonymous poll! I will publish the results in a month or two.