Social Distanced Sex Drive: Has the Pandemic Permanently Changed our Love Lives?

Social Distanced Sex Drive: Has the Pandemic Permanently Changed our Love Lives?

At a time when everyone needs to be closer than ever to heal from more than two years of pandemic pandemonium, we’re still not sure what’s completely safe.

Is COVID-19 still dominating the world and morphing into an ongoing series of different strains? Have we evolved to endemic conditions where we can live more openly and just expect to get the virus at some point similar to a cold or the flu? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.

Yes, the vaccines and now even post-virus onset medicines are helping make dealing with COVID more manageable. What they haven’t been able to cure, however, is the tremendous stress that has become as much of a fulcrum for keeping people and couples in relationships off balance as the virus itself.

Almost exactly one year ago, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University distributed a survey to examine how Americans were coping with the pandemic in their sex lives, and what they anticipate about post-pandemic sex. Designed by the Kinsey Institute’s Dr. Amanda Gesselman, the survey asked a national demographically-representative sample of 2000 Americans a variety of questions about the impact of COVID-19 on their relationships and sexual activity.

Among their survey findings, Kinsey learned the following:

  • More than half of respondents were not interested in one-night stands.
  • 44% felt commitment itself is more important than before.
  • 52% of singles said a committed relationship is what they want next.
  • 64% were less interested in having more than one partner at a time.
  • 53% of Gen Zers and millennials say they are more likely to cancel a date if they don’t feel well.
  • 42% of respondents say they are more likely to ask potential partners about their physical health before consenting to sex.

Kinsey conducted the study of life inside the post-pandemic boudoir in conjunction with Cosmopolitan and Esquire. Currently, Kinsey is implementing more than half a dozen new studies regarding sex and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, research indicates sex has suffered during the past two years. A 2022 review of 22 studies that queried 2,454 women and 3,765 men found a decrease in sexual activity and higher rates of sexual dysfunction during the pandemic. Another review of research from 18 countries, conducted until April 2021, showed that women experienced lower sex frequency as well as a decline in sexual satisfaction.

“Many factors have contributed to this compromised sexual functioning,” wrote Jelena Kecmanovic in the article. “Biological reasons include the facts that ‘people experienced more stress and fear, less exercise, worse diets, more drinking and smoking, and increased use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications,’ said Ian Kerner.’” A relationship and sex therapist in New York City, Kerner is the author of So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex: Laying Bare and Learning to repair our Love Lives.

With infection rates falling, mask mandates lifting and medical experts developing cures and treatments that will hopefully leave the pandemic in our rearview mirrors, this represents the perfect opportunity and time for couples to reinvigorate their sex lives.

“There is an opportunity here to not just get back to normal, but to improve things in creative ways,” said David Ley, a psychologist and sex therapist in Albuquerque in Kecmanovic’s article.

She includes four steps that Ley and other experts recommend to help couples reconnect and find their way back to each other:

1.) Decide together that sex is important. Obviously, reigniting a healthy sex life must be a mutual decision. “People might think things will just get better on their own. But we need to prioritize sex if we want to see a change,” say Cynthia Graham, a professor in sexual and reproductive health within psychology at the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom in the article.

2.) Talk about sex. There’s no way to accomplish No. 1 without No. 2. Comfort levels will vary depending on how long a couple has been together, but take advantage of this opportunity to be as open and detailed as possible. Give yourself the freedom to let it all hang out, as they say. Talk romantically. Talk dirty. Whatever works for you both.

3.) Ignore the myth of spontaneity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning a sexual tryst. Make it a complete sex day. Listen to sexy music, watch an erotic film, read erotic poetry to each other. Take the time to build yourselves to a climax!

4.) Increase novelty and play (and not just in the bedroom). Novel, surprising, and challenging activities have been shown to enhance sexual desire and satisfaction,” Kecmanovic writes. “So, be creative and join a Mediterranean cooking class together, learn to dance salsa or act like tourists in your own city.”

Ultimately, there are as many different responses to the challenges and stresses of the pandemic as there are people. So there is truly no right or wrong way for individuals or couples to respond to it all or to figure out the best ways to revive their sex lives.

“As time goes by, we will learn how to integrate our fears and losses around COVID-19,” writes Shari Botwin, LCSW, in her January 2022 article “Learning to Live With PTSD and COVID-19: Moving forward in post-pandemic times” in Psychology Today. “We need to continue living our lives and nurture ourselves and our relationships. Stay connected to your hopes and aspirations and find ways to keep moving one step ahead, one step at a time.”

One of the most important ways for couples to move ahead is to return to that blissful connection that only couples in a loving relationship can experience. So find time. No, make time to sit down for a quiet, delicious meal with your favorite music playing, engage in a relaxing, tender and erotic massage, and then slide under the covers and make love as long and as lovingly as you want.