When A Couple's Quarantine Doesn't Equal More Sex
Updated: Apr 25
You might have noticed an increase lately in posts and articles with advice about ways to connect with your partner now that you have more time together. It’s like people just assume that now that you have more time to spend with your partner, your sex life will see an uptick in activity. Yet, here it is, Day XXX of the COVID-19 quarantine, and the boom boom room is just being used for sleep or work. Unrealistic expectations about how much sex couples should be having – especially now, as we hunker down together – can lead to anxiety.
When couples ask me how often they should be having sex, I respond by asking, “How often do you want to have sex? Are you satisfied with the type of sex you are having? Do you and your partner check in about your sex life regarding frequency, satisfaction, or kinks?” Usually, the answer is ‘No’ or thoughtful silence. Very rarely is the answer an enthusiastic, 'Yes’. The ‘Yes’ couples are not usually asking this question. Not simply because they are having sex several days a week, but because they are satisfied with their sex life, in whatever way it unfolds. So, the short, not-so-fun answer to, “How often are we supposed to have sex?” is, “It depends,” along with a reminder that comparing one’s own relationship with ‘the average couple’ runs the risk of putting one's own preferences last.
For those readers who insist on a standard, I’ll offer the result of a 2015 study which set out to explore if more frequent sex was associated with greater well-being and relationship satisfaction. Researchers found that this association was true for couples who had sex once a week. Interestingly, their research found that couples who had sex more than once a week were just as happy as couples who had sex once a week. That is to say that having more sex did not make couples substantially happier. However, couples who had sex less than once a week reported being less happy in their relationship. Again, these are the findings of just one study. I repeat: How often you and your partner are supposed to be having sex depends on your specific needs and desires.
Sex is rarely just about sex
It is important to acknowledge upfront that there are non-tension related reasons why a couple may not be having sex. We know that at the beginning of a relationship, sex tends to be more consistent, adventurous, and novel. Some people experience, with time and as they become more comfortable with one another, a natural, un-worrisome decline in their frequency of sex. Sexual interest can wax and wane for many people but often a couple will experience this at differing times. Although a decline does not necessarily cause for alarm, not having sex might indicate displeasure and disconnection, a lack of curiosity, increased frustration, or decreased desire, amongst many other things. Here are a few reasons that clients have shared with me:
"Everything is stressful right now and who has the time for sex?!”
“My anxiety and depression, seriously."
“I want to [insert kink] and they aren’t into it.”
“There’s so much pressure around sex, I feel anxious about it.”
“I don’t feel noticed or desired by them anymore.”
Many of these statements express concerns ranging from emotional factors, mental health and mood disorders, differences in desire and expectations, kinks and fetishes, work/life balance, and performance anxiety. Add to that the uncertainty and stress caused by COVID-19 news and you can imagine how difficult it can be to acknowledge an ongoing or recent concern about sex in your relationship.
I can’t stress how important it is to get curious and ask questions instead of avoiding, complaining or having a tantrum when your partner is not in the mood. Being made to feel that sex is a duty is a quick way to feel coerced, turned-off, and resentful. Instead, the words to associate with sex are consent, explicit communication, enthusiasm, fun, curiosity, and reciprocity.
No more wishful thinking and mind reading
The truth is that many people believe that things will simply get better with time. You may play a game of subtle hint dropping, thinking that your partner is as frustrated as you are. Or, you may make assumptions about what the problems are and already feel defeated. It takes work for things to get better and talking about difficult topics can be enlightening, pleasurable, and productive when you challenge your thinking around it and use the right tools. Here are a few tips for getting the conversation started:
I recommend that couples discuss sex as consistently as they discuss other mundane concerns like finances, work issues, planning for dinner, and parenting. If you’ve started to quietly wonder where the sex has gone in your relationship, that’s a sure sign that it’s time to talk about it. But first, think about any factors that you control that are contributing to your concerns. Have you been tired, ill, stressed, turned-off, feeling disconnected, resentful, etc.? Reflect on the reasons that send you running when you think about having this conversation. Do you fear rejection, being dismissed, not feeling safe, or conflict? Get curious about that. Then think about your wants and needs, both about the relationship and sexually. How do you want to feel before, during, and after the conversation? What would you like the outcome to be? Increasing your self-awareness will help ease some discomfort and acknowledging that this can be a tough conversation will go a long way. If you're finding it difficult to discuss sex with your partner, you should consider