Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Has The Pandemic Hurt and Helped Your Sex Life?


Illustration by Chelsea Charles for The Globe and Mail

Trending on Twitter yesterday was this article about how marital sex is yet another victim of Covid, with married couples reporting – to couples counselors, researchers, each other – a lack of intimacy since the pandemic began.

Calls are up to couples’ therapists, with many spouses feeling trapped under one roof. Amid the strain, uncertainty and unending sameness of pandemic life, many couples find the bandwidth for intimacy is gone. So is privacy, with kids running underfoot. Chronic stress is triggering fights – toxic for sexuality. Another desire-dampener: spouses got overly familiar with each other just as personal dignity went out the window, with people living in sweatpants, forgoing grooming efforts, binging on Netflix and carbs. For some, it’s felt impossible to cultivate a sex life through this year of mandated domesticity.

Oh, dear! On Twitter, replies to this trending topic ranged from, “Speak for yourselves! My sex life is on fire!” to “Oh my God, sex is the last thing I want.” In my very unscientific study, clicking a few of the Twitter profiles of people who bragged about how steamy their relationships have been since last March, it seemed like they all had one thing in common: no evidence of kids.

“The vast majority of couples I’m seeing are finding it impossible to carve out time that’s uniquely for each other, without having to take care of work, children or cleaning the house,” said Dr. Kleinplatz, a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa.

That chronic stress is smothering libido and sexual frequency, notes Lori Brotto, a psychologist who is researching desire and behaviour through the pandemic as part of a longitudinal study from the Women’s Health Research Institute in Vancouver.

“None of us firmly grasped the toll homeschooling and taking care of children without any [help] would take on couples, relationships, privacy and intimacy,” said Dr. Brotto, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia.

Of course, it’s not just childcare, homeschool, and lack of privacy that hinders intimacy during these long, long months of slogging through a global pandemic. The constant togetherness for couples both working from home gets old, as does, you know, the constant worry about getting sick and dying, or worrying about parents or other more vulnerable loved ones getting sick. Basically, this has not been the sexiest of times, and if your relationship has suffered as a result, you aren’t alone.

Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz, a clinical psychologist, has some suggestions for salvaging the intimacy component of relationships, even through these unsexy times when being touched might be the last thing you want. She advises that “couples set aside 15 minutes two or three times a week to sit someplace comfortable and ‘check in with each other from the heart.’ She recommends partners turn off their electronic devices and avoid talking about kids or work.” Additionally, “she also shares with her couples the concept of ‘simmering,’ coined by American psychologist Carol Ellison: small, occasional gestures to stay sensually engaged, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to sex. For various couples, simmering can mean dancing to music they listened to when they dated, cooking together, putting on perfume or giving a massage. They are activities that engage the senses somehow – very different from building puzzles or playing Monopoly.” She says that these smaller gestures can keep the relationship simmering “until such time as a full boil becomes possible – even if one knows there is no energy to act on it right now.” Ouch.

Is anyone feeling this? What if, instead of setting aside 15 minutes three times a week to talk from the heart with your partner, you just… did it? Has anyone tried this? I’m not a clinical psychologist, but I feel like it might work? Maybe? If you can get your kids to leave you alone for 15 minutes.

5 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Kate K. March 3, 2021, 6:28 pm

    Speaking as someone married but with no kids, I can say that we DEFINITELY have less sex than before the pandemic. I think it’s largely because of what you’ve mentioned above — ALWAYS being around each other, stress about Covid, as well as kind of a lack of routine (we used to try to have sex on the weekends, but weekends have basically disappeared).

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  • avatar

    bloodymediocrity March 3, 2021, 9:54 pm

    I participated in one of the large studies on the pandemic’s effects on sex life. I’m definitely the “way down”. It’s for a lot of reasons not exclusively related to the pandemic, but the pandemic definitely has not helped at all.

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  • avatar

    kbean March 4, 2021, 7:53 am

    We were having more. Having him working from home gave us more of a chance to fit it in during the day before we were exhausted. Giving the kids a tv show to keep them busy. Now that he is gone for a year dirty text messages is all we have..

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  • avatar

    Helen March 4, 2021, 9:45 am

    I don’t think mine has changed much. He’s always worked from home & I stay home with the kids so we’re used to the constant togetherness. Kids make it difficult sometimes, thankfully mine are good sleepers. If we go 3 or so days without doing it we start to bicker. Any time there’s tension between us we solve it with a romp

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  • avatar

    Bittergay March 4, 2021, 10:05 pm

    Heh. 2020 was going to be my year of havibg a lot of sex to end my 40s with a whole lotta bangs.

    Didn’t exactly pan out. At all.

    🤷‍♂️

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