Why couples are still having less sex post-lockdown

People should ‘go back to finding each other again and introducing an element of discovery’

While many singletons were tethered to their smartphones during the pandemic and mindlessly swiping left and right, there was also a lot less sex going on among couples, as desire between people living together was dampened during lockdown.

“For single people, there was such limited opportunity to have sex and to connect with others sexually,” says Galway-based sex educator and intimacy coach Grace Alice O’Shea. “For couples, when lockdown started – and particularly if it was a newer couple or maybe a couple who typically didn’t have a whole load of spare time together – they had lots of sex at the beginning of the pandemic, but then it started to taper out. People started having less sex and started to feel less sexual desire and less sexual arousal as the months wore on.”

Sarah Louise Ryan, who owns a sexual compatibility company called Tailored Match, attributes a lower level of sexual desire and libido in couples during the pandemic to an increase in stress hormones. The lack of separateness in cohabiting couples also played a role in inhibiting sexual activity, she believes.

“When couples were cohabiting consistently together, and were stuck with each other, the spark of desire wasn’t there,” she says. “Mystery and separateness flamed that desire, it’s eroticism of the mind like ‘what has that person been up to today?, [not knowing] makes me fancy them more, I feel more lustful after them, I’m unsure where they’ve been today, I want to connect with them again and come back together quite literally, but also emotionally and sexually’.”

Dublin-based psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Marie Walshe says that “there was a major problem with sex” because people were in “survival mode” during lockdown.

“If you’re in a famine, the brain shuts down the appetite,” explains Walshe. “As part of that hibernation reflex, they shut down their need for sex. Regardless of their age, a lot of couples have given up having sex.”

She says couples struggling with this should “go back to finding each other again and introducing an element of discovery”.

“Before Covid, when somebody went out to work or out to meet the girls, there was that element of novelty. That was missing for two years. That element has to be brought back. Couples have to rediscover their partner,” she says.

“Primitively, what you’re looking for is something new and interesting in your partner. So having the world open up again is an opportunity to find that in the other person. It’s a journey of discovery that they should be on.”

She advises couples to learn how to play with each other again.

“People were painting or making sourdough [during lockdown]. That was kind of a circumscribed play that we indulged in,” explains Walshe, “and sex is very much play. It is very much of the body.” She says we need to approach sex in a similar way now. “It’s really important to go out there and to remember how to play.”

For those experiencing a lack of desire, whether single or in a couple, “working on your own first can be a really good idea”, says O’Shea.

“Cultivating sexual desire and reconnecting with the body can be really powerful, before they go out and meet other people and decide to be sexual with someone else.”

A lot of the work the Galway sex therapist does with her clients centres around “core desires”.

“It’s less about physical acts and more thinking about how you want to feel during sex. That very much relates to flirting, because if you want to feel a certain way, like if you want to feel dominant or submissive or feminine or masculine, then you’re going to flirt in different ways. I think some exploration about that again, before maybe going out and testing your skills, can be important.”

Filomena Kaguako

Filomena Kaguako is a contributor to The Irish Times