Many of us (including Foria) have called the covid-19 pandemic “unprecedented” – but that isn’t totally correct. Epidemics, pandemics and plagues have swept the globe on a regular basis throughout history. In many ways, humans are wired to adapt to catastrophes like this. We wouldn’t have survived so long if we weren’t.
But this is an entirely new experience for most of us. We don’t have a concrete idea of what will happen next, in our lives or in the wider world. That uncertainty might be influencing our mental and physical health in unpredictable ways, whether we’re self-isolating at home or still venturing out to do essential work.
Physical intimacy, experienced alone or with a partner, is an important aspect of our lives that may be affected by the chaos of the times – often in ways that can seem very strange to us. Disconcerting feelings are to be expected, especially if we usually know ourselves and our intimate needs well.
We might find ourselves craving connection so much we can’t see straight, or maybe our libidos have gone on strike. In either instance, we might feel even more destabilized than we already do – but whatever we’re feeling, it might help to know that it’s entirely natural.
And there are ways to honor our intimate selves, patiently and kindly, that will support us through this crisis and well beyond.
The science of sex and stress
How our sex drives respond to high-stress situations is very individual and hard to predict, but, paradoxically, an overactive libido and one that just wants to take a nap can both be explained by evolutionary pressures.
It’s a cliche that lots of babies are born nine months after natural disasters. People holed up at home with nothing else to do can and will find ways to occupy themselves. And the primal urge to create more little humans could actually be triggered by largescale threats – the resolution of World War 2 (and the soaring local economies that went along with it) may have been a cause of the skyrocketing birthrates that gave boomers their generational nickname.
It makes intuitive sense that when survival is on the line, people will get busy propagating their genetic material – even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. But why does danger often have the opposite effect?
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress our sex drives to the point of invisibility. Stress hormones’ job is increasing our responses to immediate hazards, keeping us out of trouble in the moment, and they may also signal that it’s not a safe time to get naked. When this happens, we can trust that our bodies are trying to keep us alive.
Let’s say you’re sheltering with a longtime partner. (Please, everyone – this is not the time for Tinder hookups. If you’re not self-isolating together, hold off on the partnered lovin’.) And let’s say both of you are experiencing that overactive baby-boom libido. Great! Nothing to see here, move along, sorry about the condom shortages.
But what if one of you isn’t feelin’ it and the other very much is? Mismatched sex drives are a major source of relationship friction at the best of times, and these are certainly not the best of times. Business as usual may not be cutting it for either of you – so now might be the perfect time to explore some different ways to bond, express yourselves, and maybe learn something new about what makes you tick.
To relieve some of the pressure, consider delaying orgasm or even taking it out of the picture altogether. Karezza, a practice which has been called “the hygge of sex”, emphasizes intimacy, touch, and connection over the rush to climax. Slowing down, taking the time to savor sensations, looking into each other’s eyes, rediscovering erogenous zones you might have forgotten about, and removing the “goal” of orgasm are all methods Karezza practitioners – many of whom have very longtime partners – swear by for maintaining emotional and sensual attachment.
In some cases, we’ll actually need touch first in order to get in the mood – so your libido might not be gone at all. It might just need to be gently reminded. And if neither of you are interested, massages, cuddling, or simply spending quality time in bed together with the lights off are all beautiful ways to stay in touch, instead of drifting apart under the same roof.
We’re huge proponents of “slow sex” in general, even – especially – if you’re alone. But getting trapped in expectations around “performance” or “results” can make an already-shy libido want to run and hide – so consider taking this time to redefine your self-love routine. Instead of a rush to release, masturbation can be calming, restorative, a place to recharge – with orgasm if you want one, not if not.
Instead of reflexively grabbing the lotion or your trusty vibe, consider asking yourself open-ended questions about what would feel good right now – are there parts of your body that feel neglected? Touch yourself head to toe and find out. Change positions, change locations, explore varieties of touch, texture and pressure that aren’t your usual. What feels truly exciting? Comforting? Meet this moment with compassion for yourself, your body and your mind.
And solo intimacy can also be a way to learn how to trust yourself. If you really truly don’t feel like it? Don’t. Nobody’s keeping score here. Above all else, be patient and kind to you.
Keeping the flow going
Maintaining healthy interconnectedness is the most important way that humans have survived calamities for thousands of years. We are communal creatures, and we need “our people” to be safe and secure. Compassionate communication and healthy intimacy – however we express it – is crucial to our relationships with our partners, and those relationships can help us stay strong.
Outside the intimate realm, it’s so important to stay connected with friends, neighbors, and families of blood or choice – even when you can’t see one another in person. And there are many ways to help out our larger communities as well, even from afar. Finding bright spots and cause for hope can be a challenge these days, but it’s important that we try – so that when we do emerge from our hidey-holes, we do so vibrantly and whole.
Unfortunately, incidents of domestic violence and abuse are on the rise in many areas with stay-at-home policies. If you or anyone you know feels unsafe at home, call 1-800-799-7233 in the US, chat with an advocate at https://www.thehotline.org/, or text LOVEIS to 22522.