Social distancing and stay-at-home orders stemming from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have prompted a slew of social media posts and popular media articles talking about the challenges these orders pose for our intimate lives.
Undoubtedly, this situation is challenging for many relationships, and we have data to bear this out. Some of my colleagues and I at the Kinsey Institute are in the midst of conducting a long-term study on how this pandemic is affecting our sex lives and relationships.
In our first wave of data collection, we surveyed thousands of adults about the impacts they’ve experienced, and we did indeed find that a lot of people said their intimate lives had taken a hit since the pandemic began.
Specifically, 44% of participants said their sex life had declined recently, while 30% said the same of their romantic life.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the bedroom. At the same time, we found that 14% said their sex life had actually improved, and that 23% reported that their relationship was in a better place, too.
What this tells us is that, while this situation is certainly challenging and many are struggling, it’s also creating new opportunities and a unique chance to change our intimate lives for the better.
So how can you take advantage of the current situation to give your sex and love life a boost?
Here are four suggestions for getting the spark back in your relationship—and keeping it going through the pandemic and beyond.
Human beings are inherently turned on by novelty and newness when it comes to sex. We grow bored of sexual routines easily—and it’s easier than ever to feel like you’re in a rut right now.
I mean, we can’t even leave our homes except to go grab some essentials, so it’s natural to feel some pent-up demand for something fresh, new, interesting, and exciting.
You can channel this need for novelty by trying some new bedroom activities with your partner that you’ve always wanted to explore.
In our Kinsey Institute study, we found that 1 in 5 adults said they’ve made a new addition to their sex life since the pandemic began. Some of the most popular responses are:
The people who made these new additions were more likely to say that both their sex life and relationship had improved.
In fact, those who tried new things were three times more likely to report improvements in the bedroom than those who didn’t make any new additions.
For new things to try in the bedroom, we recommend you read our article: 21 New Things Couples Need to Try in Bed in 2022
So talk to your partner about what you can do to mix it up, whether that’s trying new sex positions or having sex in a new place (like the shower or kitchen counter), purchasing a new sex toy that you can use together, pulling out some sexy underwear or lingerie, or sharing some fantasies you’ve never shared before.
It doesn’t matter so much what you do, but rather finding something that’s new and comfortable for both of you.
It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, and on-edge right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, and the news is far more depressing than uplifting.
If your mind (or your partner’s mind) is preoccupied with pandemic-related thoughts, that’s going to make it harder to not only get in the mood for sex, but also to enjoy sexual activity. And our data supports this.
The more worried and stressed our participants reported feeling, the less sexually active they were and the more they said the pandemic had taken a toll on their intimate life.
This points to the importance of finding ways to cope with stress effectively so that you and your partner can cultivate desire—and open the door to trying those new things we talked about above.
So how can you do this?
Some might find it helpful to:
Figure out forms of self-care that work for both of you so that you have some opportunities to be relaxed, in the moment, and focused on each other rather than on the pandemic.
With restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and other popular date night destinations temporarily closed, it might seem like the idea of having a romantic evening together is far-fetched.
However, there’s no reason that you can’t still have a satisfying date night at home. It just takes a little effort and creativity.
To increase the odds of success, get on the same page with your partner first to ensure you’re approaching it in a way that will give you the spark you’re looking for. This starts with committing to treating it like any other date night, which means showering, grooming, and dressing like you would if you were going out on the town.
Putting in some effort to look good will help to enhance your sexual appeal to your partner, while also showing them that you care.
Next, plan a fun evening. For some, this might involve cooking your favorite meal together, ordering takeout or delivery from a special restaurant, having wine or cocktails while you watch the sunset or listen to music, watching a movie you’ve both been meaning to see, or trying an erotic game or role-play.
The options are endless, and with a little creative thinking, you can craft a relaxing—or exciting—evening (depending on what you’re looking for) to fit any budget.
Take care to minimize distractions during your date night so that you can be focused on each other, which probably means putting the phones and laptops away temporarily and making sure the kids are off to bed.
Whatever you opt to do, the key is to use this as an opportunity to disconnect from stress and reconnect with your partner.
Research finds that couples who engage in more after-sex affection — think spooning, cuddling, and intimate conversation — tend to be more satisfied with their sex lives and relationships.
With rates of sexual activity down right now, these post-sex activities might be more important than ever for helping to sustain an intimate connection.
This kind of intimate touch releases the hormone oxytocin, which promotes feelings of bondedness and connection.
So, touching each other after sex can quite literally help you to stay in touch and could potentially be helpful in terms of cultivating more sexual desire and satisfaction during a challenging time.
In this time of social distancing and isolation, our intimate lives are facing unprecedented tests, and many people feel as though their sex lives and relationships are in decline.
Despite all of the challenges posed by this situation, we’re also presented with a unique opportunity to reconnect with our partners, redefine sex, and develop a new intimacy that has the potential to not only help us get through this pandemic, but also to strengthen our relationships for the long haul.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He is author of the blog Sex and Psychology and the popular book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. He is also a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works, including a textbook titled The Psychology of Human Sexuality that is used in college classrooms around the world. Dr. Lehmiller is one of the media's go-to experts on sex and has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CNN; he has also appeared on dozens of radio, podcast, and television programs.
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Justin J. Lehmiller, Justin R. Garcia, Amanda N. Gesselman, and Kristen P. Mark. (n.d). Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19. The Kinsey Institute. https://kinseyinstitute.org/research/covid-relationships.php. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
Andy Fies. 2020m April 17. Surge in divorces anticipated in wake of COVID-19 quarantine. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/US/surge-divorces-anticipated-wake-covid-19-quarantine/story?id=70170902. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
Priscilla DeGregory and Laura Italiano. 2020 April 03. Coronavirus is making couples sick — of each other: Lawyers see divorces surge. The New York Post. https://nypost.com/2020/04/03/sick-of-you-lawyers-see-coronavirus-divorce-uptick/. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller. 2014 July 11. Spooning After Sex Might Be Good For Your Relationship. Sex & Psychology. https://www.sexandpsychology.com/blog/2014/7/11/spooning-after-sex-might-be-good-for-your-relationship/. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller. 2017 April 28. Why We Crave Sexual Novelty–And What It Means For Our Sex Lives. Sex & Psychology. https://www.sexandpsychology.com/blog/2017/4/28/why-we-crave-sexual-novelty/. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
C Sue Carter and Stephen W Porges. The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3537144/. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.