Viral videos of Brooklyn rooftop flirtation aside, social distancing hasn’t exactly been a romantic time for most. For those solo, it’s been weeks since their last IRL interaction with a lover or partner—the message from New York’s health department, at least, is that you are your safest sex partner right now. But even for couples social distancing together, more time together hasn’t necessarily translated to more sex. When psychologist and author of Loving Bravely and Taking Sexy Back Dr. Alexandra Solomon posed that very question to her 50,000-plus Instagram followers, 60% reported experiencing an “erotic nosedive.”.
“Since New York’s stay-home order went into effect, our wine consumption has gone way up, but the frequency that we’re having sex has gone way down,” says Nicholas, 27, a publicist who’s going on five years with his boyfriend. It’s a sentiment echoed by Nicky, a 38-year-old creative director in her fifth year of marriage. “I thought my husband and I were going to have a ton of sex with all the time we were spending together and being un- and underemployed, but we’ve probably had sex twice since this all started,” she says. “We’re definitely staying close and cuddling but not a lot of action.” So what gives?.
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One major turnoff is our collective mounting anxiety. “My anxiety level is so intense, and I never think sex will make me feel better,” says Iris, a 40-year-old content strategist who has been married to her husband Hugh, 42, for 12 years and has two young children. “It’s just hard to get in the mood.” Nicholas and Nicky also name-check anxiety as a primary reason for their plummeting libidos. According to Solomon, the connection makes a lot of sense. She places sex drive into two broad categories: “Spontaneous desire is just feeling horny, which some of us have lots of and is really common early on in a relationship when there’s a lot of physiological draw,” says Solomon. “But as we settle into relationships, our desire often becomes more responsive and cued by internal or external cues. There are things that will trigger our desire or shut it down.” Stress looms large on the libido-killer list. Chalk it up, in part, to evolution: “We are the ancestors of people who stopped fucking inside their cave when a tiger appeared, so an evolutionary psychologist would say stress shutting you down sexually makes sense,” Solomon explains. “The people who were like, ‘Forget the tiger, let’s finish this,’ got chomped. When there’s a threat, evolutionary psychologists say it’s adaptive to be vigilant and to attend to the danger.”
Another roadblock for sexual activity while social distancing is logistical. “There’s no playbook for this, and every day we’re trying to juggle and figure out school schedules for the kids, our own work schedules, and who can do what when,” says Hugh. “So while I certainly think about sex the same amount, it’s harder than ever to find the space and time to do it.” For some, the avoidance of physical contact that has come with COVID-19 has also, says Solomon, resulted in a fear of physical contact in general, even with a longtime partner or spouse. “Practicing social distancing means we’ve become really afraid of other people, and, while it may be irrational, for some couples there’s a contamination fear that may be part of it too,” Solomon adds.
Photo via VOGUE.