Sex IRL: 7 couples share how social distancing is affecting their sex lives

Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people’s bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG’s monthly column Sex IRL, we’ll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.

Over the past month, as coronavirus (COVID-19) spread across the U.S., more and more couples who weren’t already cohabitating were faced with a decision: Do we fast-forward and move in with one another, or do we choose to quarantine separately without knowing when we’ll see each other again? While partners who did decide to live together are facing their own sets of issues, those who have been separated because of the coronavirus have been dealing with not seeing their partners for long periods of time—with no real end in sight.

There are plenty of reasons why couples may have chosen to quarantine separately. Some fear what 24/7 in-person contact would do to their relationships. (Their concerns actually have legs: Both China and Turkey are experiencing huge spikes in divorce rates during their lockdowns.) Others had pets or parents to consider in their decisions. And others didn’t have a choice at all. 

Even though we are planning on moving in together in the fall, my boyfriend and I decided that we weren’t going to quarantine together during New York City’s lockdown—which wasn’t an easy choice to come to. But, after a lot of discussions, we decided that it was the best move for our relationship. And even though it’s tough, we don’t regret making that choice. 

Long-distance couples especially are feeling the strain, as they’re already forced to go weeks or months without seeing one another. Thanks to coronavirus, they’re not sure when they’ll be able to hop on an airplane to see one another again.

Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: COVID-19 has separated couples, and that separation is causing some bumps in their sex lives. I decided to talk to my fellow quarantining-solo couples to see how they’re dealing with the separation. Here’s what they said. 

“The separation has honestly seemed to increase both of our sex drives.”

“I work from home, but my partner doesn’t have that luxury. He’s a mailman for USPS, so he’s constantly in contact with people, and it’s impossible to know who touched a package before him. I have a son and am quarantined at my parent’s house. It was a difficult decision to separate, but there was no other choice. It’s important that I keep my family safe and this was the best way we knew how. But it’s harder for us to communicate. I feel very clingy when we do have the time to talk. 

“Surprisingly, the separation has honestly seemed to increase both of our sex drives. We really miss each other, and you always want what you can’t have. We call each other and text quite a bit. Sometimes texting can be bland, or it ends up becoming a lot of small talk. But we have really enjoyed sexting, which is something we never really did before. I’ll send him a sexy picture randomly through his workday, or when I lay down for bed. We try to go from there and use our imagination. No matter how hard it is, and how much I miss the physical affection and face-to-face conversations, I know I am safer, and so is the rest of my family.”

—anonymous, 26, together with her boyfriend for two and a half years

“We have to really work to keep it feeling fresh.”

“We’ve only been together for four months, and starting a new relationship in this environment is not easy. But after I completed 14 days of self-isolation, I went to see my mom, who is in poor health. I’ve been staying with her to help so she doesn’t have to leave the house since she is highly susceptible to the virus. He lives with roommates who are essential workers, so even though he is working from home, he hasn’t had the same level of isolation from potential exposure. We decided that, until it’s safe for me to leave and no longer stay with my mom, it isn’t safe for us to spend time together.

“It honestly feels like a long-distance relationship. Our sex life is non-existent, which is pretty tough in a new relationship. This is the time we are supposed to be all over each other and enjoying that honeymoon phase. Our relationship started so strong in this way, so it’s tough all of a sudden to be completely cut off. We have to really work to keep it feeling fresh. We virtual happy hour, FaceTime, and [even] tried phone sex. But when you’re so early in, it’s all pretty new, and I wasn’t comfortable enough yet to really enjoy it. Can’t say we didn’t try, though. 

“Not quarantining together was definitely the right decision for my family. But if circumstances were different, I would have definitely preferred to be holed up together right now.”

—anonymous, 31, together with her boyfriend for four months

“FaceTiming is nice, but it feels like a tease.”

“We didn’t really have a choice in quarantining together. I live with my parents in New Jersey and he’s staying with his grandparents on Long Island for the time being. The last time I saw him at his grandparent’s place, his grandmother sat us down and told him that if he were to come to see me, he wouldn’t be able to come back. It’s understandable, given the social distancing guidelines and his grandparents’ age. So we decided to take our chances and go however long without seeing one another. 

“Both of our ‘love languages’ are physical touch, and that was a big part of how we spent our time together before the quarantine. Going without that has been difficult. FaceTiming is nice, but it feels like a tease—you can see the person, but are unable to touch them and, for me, that makes it harder to cope. So our sex life is on pause, for now, but we’ve tried to find other ways to be intimate. Before I left his place for the last time, he gave me the T-shirt he was wearing. We FaceTime often and watch movies using the Netflix Party Chrome extension, which is fun. We even tried to do yoga together over FaceTime, which was a bit of a fail, but it was so funny to try. It’s hard, but I realize that not being quarantined with your partner is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.”

—anonymous, 23, together with their partner for a year

“Intimacy has been put on hold as he works from home and is exhausted by the end of the day.”

“My boyfriend and I are long-distance. I live in NYC and he lives in Israel. I actually went back to Israel two weeks before everything hit the fan, and I haven’t seen him since I’ve been back to not put my parents at risk. So we’re long-distance, but right now we’re actually quarantined separately in the same city. The last time I saw him was February 10. We decided not to quarantine together because neither of us wanted to leave our families alone. 

“It’s been really hard. We fight more, and we have realized that we are different in our approaches to self-isolation. We are used to FaceTime since we’re long-distance, but it’s been even more annoying to find things to talk about since we’re just home all day. We try watching shows together. But intimacy has been put on hold as he works from home and is exhausted by the end of the day. And, truthfully, neither of us is in the mood with the stress of the state of the world—plus, the fact that I’m living with my parents.

“But, in the end, I do think it was the right decision. Because we are long-distance and we don’t have a shared place in our home country, it is our responsibility to put our family’s health first and our relationship second. I know we are much stronger than this, as we’ve been long-distance for two years. And I do feel lucky that I am with my family, and that my partner has the same family values as me.”

—anonymous, 24, together with her partner for four and a half years

“Our sex life is non-existent right now.”

“I came out to New Jersey for a few days because my mom was having surgery. Things started getting worse in New York City with the coronavirus at this time, so it didn’t make sense to go back to my apartment and risk my own health. My boyfriend has been in New York City this entire time. It’s definitely been rough, especially since my boyfriend is an accountant and this is his busy season—he’s been working 80+ hours a week. Since we’re not able to spend time together, I would like for there to be more communication, but I need to keep in mind it’s just not realistic for him right now. The last thing I want to do is annoy him by asking for more attention. 

“Our sex life is non-existent right now. He’s great with physical affection but not the best with verbal affection, and obviously the former isn’t possible right now. Being apart has made me realize how anxious I feel when I don’t receive words of affirmation. We FaceTime a few nights a week and keep the conversations fun and lighthearted if we can. It was my birthday a few days ago, and he sent me something sweet and discussed how we’ll celebrate when we’re able to, so it’s nice to have that to look forward to. He was having a particularly bad day last week so I ordered food from his favorite restaurant and had it delivered to his apartment. We both like to cook so we’ve been sharing photos of what we’ve been making and planning what we can make when we’re together.

“But I don’t think it was the right decision for us to not quarantine together. I wish he came to my parent’s house as well, but at the time I didn’t know that I’d be staying here. He was going to come to visit for a few days, but my mom is immunocompromised and it’s too risky, considering he’d have to take a train to get here. I also feel somewhat guilty because he hasn’t been leaving his small apartment, while I have a lot of space at home and can walk around the neighborhood freely.”

—anonymous, 31, together with her boyfriend for a year

“I kind of like knowing that when we finally see each other again, the sex is going to be pretty amazing.”

“We’re in a long-distance relationship, so we were in our respective states when the shelter-in-place instructions were put into place. The uncertainty of when we’ll see each other again has been difficult. Usually, we see each other at least every two to three weeks, as our schedules allow, but having an indefinite period of time until we can safely see the other has changed how we schedule our virtual time together. It no longer feels like we’re just killing time until we can be together, and I’m realizing how hard it is to have a relationship purely over the phone. 

“Neither of us is working right now, so we have to be realistic in how much time we can give to one another and balance it with our personal time. In theory, we could be on FaceTime all day—but that obviously isn’t an option in ‘normal’ life. So we’ve needed to be very honest with each other about what we need from the other. Not going to lie, we’ve had a lot of fights that probably would not have happened without the stress of the quarantine. But I will say that some of those fights have brought up things that we needed to talk about so, in that way, it has been a good thing.

“Since we’ve been doing the long-distance thing for two years we’ve become pretty comfortable with phone and FaceTime sex. Plus, I kind of like knowing that when we finally see each other again, the sex is going to be pretty amazing. But we value intimacy in our relationship. We work out together over FaceTime most days. I love watching him work out, so it’s kind of a turn-on for both of us. We try to watch a show or a movie together every day—Netflix Party has been helpful for that. Sometimes we’ll cook at the same time and video chat. Doing everyday things together over video is something we hadn’t really done in our ‘normal’ long-distance lives, but it’s felt very intimate and necessary with the indefinite separation.”

—anonymous, 25, together with her boyfriend for two years

“We’ve been FaceTiming, but not phone sex or anything.”

“My boyfriend oversees public park construction within N.Y.C., which is an essential service, so he is still going into work every day. I work in tech, so I’ve been working from home. We don’t live together, but, up until a few weeks ago, he was still coming over frequently because I live alone and he’s within walking distance. But then I got sick. I wasn’t tested, but we’re pretty sure I came down with coronavirus about two and a half weeks ago, possibly related to him still going into work every day. Once I got sick, I couldn’t see him anymore. Luckily, it’s been almost three weeks and he hasn’t gotten sick, so we’re assuming he was an asymptomatic carrier since he was the only person I’d seen for two weeks before I got sick.

“I wouldn’t say it has really affected our relationship, except that we, of course, miss each other and probably text more during the day than we normally would. Especially while I was sick, he was really great about bringing me food and other things that I needed so that I didn’t need to leave the house. Weekends are especially boring because I’m all alone, and normally we spend every weekend together. I had to deal with a few really stressful situations—in addition to being sick—over the time we couldn’t see each other. And while he was incredibly supportive remotely, there were definitely times where I really just needed a hug and had no one to give me one. I especially missed him then.

“We’ve been FaceTiming, but not phone sex or anything. Because I was sick, it wasn’t really something I wanted to do. I also don’t think I’d generally feel comfortable having phone sex. He hates NCIS, so I’ve taken the opportunity of our time apart to binge-watch it, so no movies together. But I can’t wait to see him again, and really hope we’re both immune now.”

—anonymous, 30, together with her boyfriend for about a year

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