Kristin Magaldi
Updated April 20, 2020
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Right now, we’re getting a lot of mixed messaging about sex and coronavirus (COVID-19).Will there be a baby boom nine months from now? Is masturbation really that good for your immune system? Is it even safe to be having sex when a highly contagious virus is spread easily through human contact? Yet while there’s plenty of conflicting information out there, one message we all seem to be getting is that, with more time on our hands and mandates dictating that we not leave our homes, the opportunity is ripe for couples to have all the sex.

It’s true that, for some couples who live together, sex is a refuge from stress and from the lack of connection right now. Others, however, are finding that their sex lives are suffering during quarantine—and if that’s the case for you, experts say it’s actually pretty common. Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist and host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast, notes that while some singles have told her that their desire for sex has increased because of how rare human contact has become, people in relationships have painted a different picture.

Some couples “are reporting a decline in sexual interest due to the stress of change, disruption, unpredictability, and fear,” Dr. O’Reilly tells HelloGiggles. “As we experience a range of emotions, from grief to frustration, it follows that our interest in sex may dwindle.”

Simply put, you and your partner just may not be in the mood right now, and, given the circumstances, that’s understandable. As Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of Bloomi, explains, a lowered sex drive is a typical reaction to stress and a pandemic can most certainly exacerbate this issue. “Not only are people hearing anxiety-provoking news, but some folks are having trouble getting food, experiencing job losses, and other survival-related stressors that will push sex to take more of a backseat,” she tells HelloGiggles.

Not having access to your usual outlets for stress can also increase stress, especially between couples. Dr. Jenni Skyler—certified sex therapist, sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist for AdamEve.com—tells HelloGiggles that relationship issues can be magnified under quarantine. “Some couples who have tension and use the busy day away from the house to distract from their tension no longer have that option,” she explains. “Their tension is now front and center, and if they don’t have the tools to resolve it, they will likely not feel safe enough to be vulnerable in bed together.”

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend, echoes this concept. “When partners are in constant contact with each other—especially if they are used to having long periods apart for work and social time—a sense of being ‘caged up’ can result,” she explains. “These natural feelings of being trapped or stuck often lead to a desire to have physical, psychological, and sexual distance from a partner.”

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Even if you and your significant other rarely had problems before the pandemic, you might be arguing more now because of both the stress of the situation and the increased contact with each other. And since we need to be able to relax to truly enjoy sex, explains Dr. Skyler, couples who find that an impossibility right now are likely seeing their sex lives suffering as a result.

For Alexandra L., 25, the pressure of busier, remote work schedules during the pandemic has led to less sex between her and her husband. “We’re very fortunate that we still have our jobs, though our workload has actually increased,” she tells HelloGiggles. “Overall, we’re stressed, tired, and we’re stuck in a 1,000-square-foot apartment.”

Similarly, Marie W., 35, says that she and her partner have had a difficult time finding moments for intimacy with one of them unemployed and the other an essential worker. “She works in a grocery store and tries to keep her distance from me when she comes home in case she catches anything at work,” Marie explains. “I’ve been depressed since I lost my job at the end of March, so I haven’t been in the mood much anyway.”

For some couples, there’s a feeling that spending every moment together means you don’t have to put in an effort anymore. And if you’re currently lacking the motivation to do anything, finding new ways to be romantic in quarantine may not be at the top of your list.

“Spending too much time together can also result in taking each other for granted and not making an effort sexually,” Dr. Kim Chronister, clinical psychologist, tells HelloGiggles. Just like staring at the same four walls can get old fast, only seeing one human a day—your partner—can start to take its toll. Boredom can easily set in, and a routine of inactivity can creep into your sex life as well.

Additionally, sex—like any form of close contact—can feel risky right now, since it’s still not totally clear how coronavirus is spread. According to Planned Parenthood, there is currently no evidence that semen or vaginal fluids can carry and spread the virus, while NYC Health states that there is a risk of transmitting it through certain sexual acts like rimming. We know for sure that the virus is spread through saliva, or droplets released when someone sneezes or coughs. And since safeguarding against physical closeness during sex is pretty impossible, some couples are forgoing any physical touching as a precaution.

Sex and relationships expert Dr. Marcus Anwar notes that he and his own partner have been having less sex because they’re afraid. “As much as we are both in self-isolation, we still have to step away from the safety of our home and into the public once or twice a week, where you can contract the coronavirus,” he tells HelloGiggles. “What if one of us contracts the virus with no symptoms and we pass it to one another?”

Lily J., 26, echoes this fear. “My partner is still going into the city for work, and we live in [NYC], the epicenter of the outbreak,” she says. “It’s silly because living together would be enough contact to pass it between each other, but we stopped having sex just to be extra careful.”

If you and your partner are wary of touching each other because of the virus, Dr. Chronister suggests making a list of sexual experiences you’d like to have together, and then rating them on a scale of one to 10 based on the level of intensity of touch and how comfortable you are with them. “Compare lists with each other and figure out where you want to start—preferably with the least intrusive activity that feels the most comfortable now,” she advises. “Then you can work your way up to 10 gradually together to reignite your sex life.”

Dr. Skyler adds that a daily relaxation practice with your partner, free of expectations, can help you feel more ready for sex. “I call this low-stress sex, whereby couples can discuss what they need and have capacity for,” she says. Try meditating or taking a bath together first to relax, then discuss what you feel ready for in the moment.

Don’t forget that masturbation is also a solid option. “Solo sex offers many of the same benefits of partnered sex: lower stress levels, heightened relaxation, and feeling more in the moment or more present,” Dr. O’Reilly explains. This can be a good solution if one partner is in the mood but the other isn’t, or if you’re both afraid of spreading the virus. If you’re comfortable, exploring mutual masturbation can also be a good tactic.

It’s normal to not feel turned on right now, but be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your partner so you can settle on what feels good for both of you in the moment.