It’s Not Just You: The Pandemic Affects Sex and Relationships
The coronavirus pandemic has done more than fill hospitals and normalize masks in public. COVID-19 has drastically changed our interaction with people, from the office to our homes. Sure – we’ll be okay with a work meeting over Zoom instead of a boardroom, but what about the strain on your marriage or sex life?
If your intimate relationship is suffering from the pandemic, you’re not alone. Illness, self-isolation, smaller social circles, and fewer choices for activities make it hard to grow intimate like we’re used to. Here’s how the pandemic affects sex and relationships and how therapy can help.
Sex in the pandemic
Home a lot more with your partner? It may be a great time to have lots of sex. Healthy sex is not only a great way to combat the negativity and focus on intimacy, but it can help ward off sickness, too. The benefits of regular sex on your physical and mental health include:
Boost your immune system
Strengthen your heart and muscles
Lower blood pressure
If you’re not stuck at home with your partner, it’s possible to explore sex during the pandemic safely.
Yes, you can get COVID-19 from having sex with someone who is positive, with or without symptoms. That doesn’t mean all sexual activity is off limits, though.
A guide from New York City Health Department about pandemic sex informs that the virus can spread through saliva, mucus, breath, or even semen. Their guidelines advise on safe sex: “You are your safest sex partner. Next safest sex partner is someone you live with. Limit sex with anyone outside your household.”
Be extra cautious with anyone showing symptoms, with or without a diagnosis. This includes wearing a condom, a face mask, and washing hands before and after your sexual activity. Safer alternatives to close sex include:
Masturbation alone or with a partner over the phone or video
Manual stimulation with hand-washing
Using toys (e.g. dildos or vibrators)
Who said COVID sex didn’t get to be fun?
COVID-19 and mental health
Our relationships and sex life largely affect our mental health (remember: sex is not only physical). When we’re in distress (like during a global crisis), our mental health can suffer, spurring problems like:
Depression and anxiety
Relationships thrive off of healthy minds. When that’s compromised, our partnerships might be, too. That’s why it’s important to have extra communication and understanding right now. People are trying their best to get by, and partner responsiveness is crucial for a thriving emotional relationship.
There is no such thing as “the new normal” when nothing is normal. Couples and families are trying to navigate drastic lifestyle changes like:
High unemployment rates
Essential workers doing overtime in high-stress environments
Working from home with your spouse and kids
Whether you’re together all the time from the pandemic or apart more than before, both situations can put severe strain on your relationship. An Ipsos poll from August 2020 revealed that 22% of respondents are fighting more with their spouse. Furthermore, 9% feel it’s likely they will break up or divorce their partner. If this rings true to your situation, it’s okay to feel that way.
With increased responsibilities on parents, including the balancing of family and work responsibilities, it’s no wonder couples are ready to throw in the towel. Before you do, ensure you’ve used all resources available to you, such as online couple’s therapy.
Dating during a pandemic
Social distancing has made it hard for singles to date (can we get an “Amen?”). Even with popular dating apps like Tinder and Hinge seeing a 30% surge in user messages, it’s not the same. You can’t enjoy the activities you used to, like drinks at the local bar or dinner and a movie. That’s where it’s time to get creative.
To date during a pandemic, opt for outside activities like a park hangout or hike. You can even take your “dinner and a movie” virtual. Share a meal over video while you get to know each other, then watch the same movie in the comfort of your own couch.
If you’re at the stage where the pandemic threw a wrench in your family planning, you’re not alone. This isn’t just a concern for single women, either – married couples are experiencing many fears around the virus and trying to conceive. For one, getting the virus could make it hard to conceive, carry or give birth.
Know that it’s okay to feel anxious about the unknowns and challenges surrounding conception, in a pandemic or not. Your feelings are valid and no one should tell you differently. Seeking professional counseling can help navigate the emotional and mental aspects of family planning. Don’t let these fears steal this time of your life.
There is hope
It’s not all bad. Some dating relationships are getting better, with 71% of respondents saying they are more serious than in early spring.
Research from Love in the Time of COVID found 51% of participants expect a stronger relationship from the pandemic. This optimism is healthy for relationships, even if they’re strained during a stressful time.
We know there may not be a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone, though. Optimistic or not, your future isn’t something to take lightly. Find a certified professional you can trust to learn how to cope and find real solutions to your problems.
Individual counseling, couples counseling or sex therapy are great tools for navigating the pandemic’s hardships. There’s no shortage of conflicting information and news updates by the minute. That’s why it’s important to find a safe environment to process and heal.
Rhode Island Sex Therapy offers services that will address all of these and more. If you’re struggling to keep your relationship afloat or want expert advice on how to ease the burden in your home, Dr. Michael Stokes can help.
With HIPAA-compliant virtual therapy sessions, you can get the counseling you need without even leaving your house. Don’t let a strained relationship be the “new normal” for you. Let’s work through it together.