When it comes to sex and intimacy, it may surprise you to learn that physical lockdown is actually the least of our challenges right now.
As Esther Perel pointed out in her book Mating in Captivity over a decade ago, how we reconcile ‘the erotic and the domestic’ is a challenge that couples have faced for centuries.
When working with couples who struggle with low sexual desire, a component I often see is that the person has stopped being interesting to themselves. They have become so immersed in the hum drum of life that they have lost the part of them that felt ‘alive’. ‘Feeling alive’ is also one of the most commonly discussed themes in Perel’s work looking at why people have affairs.
Perel emphasises the need to rediscover the kinds of things that you would have talked about over dinner, when you were dating. What are you passionate about? What animates you outside of your relationship or family life? You want to be reminded that there is still so much you don’t know about your partner. If domesticity is a passion killer, then discovery, anticipation and not knowing all are the antidotes.
So how do we keep ourselves ‘feeling alive’ at this time. I think this is more about cultivating an expansive mindset rather than simply reeling against the physical constraint of lockdown. There is no doubt that nurturing this mindset in lockdown is challenging. But lockdown will not last forever and maybe for some of us covid-19 will be the catalysis we need. What have you always wanted to try, or pursue that until now has got lost underneath the layers of life?
The most important ingredient in nurturing desire and good sex is communication. Regular sex won’t just happen - we need to be intentional. Many couples associate this with a sense of obligation, and this feels like hard work - the very thing in their minds sex shouldn’t be. However, being intentional is about us ‘owning’ our sexual desire. We can’t simply be passive bystanders. We need to be fully signed up participants. Being intentional at this time of lockdown is particularly challenging because when working from home there is less differentiation between our ‘home’ and ‘work’ life and our working week and weekend.
Work out a timetable with your partner of when you will get up, eat meals, and finish your working day and think about how you can vary your weekends, so they feel different. Try and zone areas of your house, for work, for eating together and for relaxing. Lots of my clients say they can’t get into the mood for sex if the house is messy. Where possible don’t work from your bedroom but if you have to, make sure that you clear anything work related away at the end of the day and make an extra effort to create a relaxing, sensual space. Think creatively about when to factor in sex. If you have some flexibility, then consider taking time out in the morning or afternoon - it doesn’t have to be last thing at night.
Some people find that sex is a great way to relieve stress. For others sex is the last thing they want to do so check this out with your partner so that expectations are aligned. If one person is struggling to get in the mood for sex, then start with a sensual massage. Try and remain open to where this might lead. It may lead to sex or it may be just enjoyed for the closeness it creates.
Many couples bury their heads in the sand when sex becomes difficult and they hide behind the busyness of everyday life with the promise that they will address this when life settles down. Sex is difficult to talk about so be kind to each other. If you feel you need professional help lots of therapists are now offering online sessions.
Emma Waring is a Specialist Nurse, and Sex and Relationship Therapist. She regularly talks to healthcare professionals and churches on the subject of sex, and is featured on The Marriage Course series. She is regularly interviewed for popular press, is the author of Seasons of Sex & Intimacy and an ambassador for National Marriage Week, which runs from 11-17 May.