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How the pandemic has damaged our sex lives (and what we can do to remedy it)

Before the pandemic, many couples lived like “two ships passing in the night,” says sex therapist Emily Jamea, from Houston, Texas (USA).

Some couples, previously burdened with commitments away from home, found that pandemic-related lockdowns offered much-needed respite.

At first, being stuck at home allowed them to slow down and spend more time on intimate moments.

“Initially, the pandemic gave people the opportunity to reconnect in a way that perhaps previously they could only do on vacation,” says Jamea.

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However, as the pandemic progressed, intimate relationships began to “take its toll”, he maintains. “For most couples, sexual desire plummeted.”

The studies made around the world tell a similar story.

Research carried out in Turkey, Italy, India and the US in 2020 points to a decrease in sexual practices, both in couples and alone, and is directly attributed to confinement.

“I think a large part of the reason is that a lot of people were overly stressed,” says Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist and researcher at the Kinsey Institute, who conducted the study.

For most, the lockdowns during the pandemic created an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear.

Many experienced unprecedented anxiety related to health, financial insecurity, and other major life changes.

The stress caused by these factors – not to mention the problems that arise in passing too much time with another person in a confined space and reduced – contributed to the marked decline in the sexual life of couples.

In a way, the world of COVID-19 has proven to be toxic to sexuality, so will we be able to return to our sexual normality when the stress of the pandemic dissipates, or will our relationships have suffered lasting damage?

Two phases in desire

As Jamea observed, many couples enjoyed a brief boost in their sex lives early in the isolations.

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Rhonda Balzarini, a social psychologist and adjunct professor at Texas State University, describes this initial spike in sexual desire as a “honeymoon” phase, in which people react more constructively to stress. .

“During this phase, people tend to collaborate. It can be when you go to your neighbor’s house and leave toilet paper at the door when he needs it,” says Balzarini.

“But over time, as resources become scarcer, people become more stressed and energy runs out, disappointment and depression tend to set in. When that starts to happen, that’s when you can start to see that couples have problems. “

Balzarini observed this pattern in participants, ages 18 and older, in a study of 57 countries that she and her team conducted during the pandemic.

At the beginning of it, they observed that factors such as economic concern were associated with a greater sexual desire among couples.

However, over time, as people reported an increase in pandemic-related stressors – such as loneliness, general stress, and Covid-19-specific concerns – they also reported an increase in pandemic-related stressors. decreased sexual desire towards your partners.

According to Balzarini, the most important thing about this study is the relationship between stress, depression and sexual desire. At the beginning of the pandemic, stressors may not have “triggered the depression” yet, he explains.

But when those stressors dragged on, people were exhausted. Stress is correlated with depression, and “depression negatively affects sexual desire”, dice.

In addition to the day-to-day stresses caused by the pandemic, the greatest threat from the virus loomed over us, as mortality and hospitalization rates increased around the world.

This ever-present danger undoubtedly contributed to killing the couples’ spirits.

“Sex therapists say something like ‘two zebras don’t mate in front of a lion,'” says Jamea.

“If there is a huge threat right there, that sends a signal to our body that this is probably not a good time to have sex.” For that reason, “increased stress leads to low desire or difficulty in arousal,” he says.

Too close

Although Balzarini heard of couples showering together during the day or bathing in the middle of the afternoon at the beginning of the pandemic, those more sensual than normal experiences eventually “lost their appeal,” he explains.

They gave way to increasing daily demands, such as disorder in the home, and couples began to criticize each other.

Lehmiller describes it as the “overexposure effect”, which results in “Your partner’s little habits start to get on your nerves”.

Balzarini recalls someone telling her that they had never realized how loud their partner chewing was until they started sharing each and every meal during confinement.

This increased time spent living together can also seriously reduce sexual arousal.

“One of the keys to maintaining desire in a long-term relationship is having a certain sense of mystery about your partner and a certain distance,” says Lehmiller. “When you see yourself all the time … the sense of mystery fades.”

Separated from their pre-pandemic social and professional lives, people can also begin to lose a sense of themselves, which can affect confidence and sexual performance.

Especially the women have had to put their careers aside during the pandemicas housework, childcare and homeschooling have fallen disproportionately on them.

“That was very hard for a lot of women,” explains Jamea.

“[Las carreras] They are such an important part of identity, and we bring all of who we are into the bedroom. If we don’t know who we are, it can suddenly seem like there is nothing to contribute. “

Can we recover?

However, sex is not necessarily doomed. Researchers from the Kinsey Institute suggest a specific behavior to improve the sexual life of couples: shake things up. One in five study participants tried something new in bed, and that helped to rekindle desire and intimacy.

“People who tried new things were much more likely to report improvements,” says Lehmiller.

Among the new activities that helped improve the couple’s sex life were “trying new positions, putting fantasies into practice, playing sex games and giving massages,” according to the study.

But for those in relationships where sexual activity has decreased over the past year and has not recovered, Will there be lasting damage? It depends, experts say.

Some may not recover “from such a prolonged disconnect,” says Lehmiller.

Their research also showed that some people cheated on their partners for the first time during the pandemic, an indiscretion from which it can be difficult to recover.

Others will continue to suffer from job losses related to the pandemic, as well as financial stresses that hang over relationships that can also cause friction.

But, for many, there is hope. With more people getting vaccinated, businesses are reopening, and some workers are returning to the office.

“People are starting to go back to their old routine,” says Jamea. She is seeing the positive effects of this situation on the couples in her practice.

Any kind of return to “normalcy” is a good indicator for couples whose struggles began during the pandemic.

“It is possible that some of these couples, once the pandemic is under control … they will go back to how they were before,” says Lehmiller.

“That stressor has been removed and your sex life will improve.”

This artThe article was originally published in English at BBC Worklife.

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