We are finding ourselves in a horrible combination: fears about an unseeable contagion plus the need to socially and physically isolate from others. This is a brutal mixture for many because we often turn to other people to help lessen our anxiety: socializing with friends, going church or temple, time out in the world at restaurants, bar, clubs, shopping, and of course partnered sex. Most of those options are, for now, not possible, with the exception of sex (as long as you live with your sexual partner[s]). So where does that leave you and your libido?
Everyone is having different experiences when it comes to the impact of this moment in time on their libidos. Some, in the face of all this, are reporting that their libidos are increasing while others are reporting a decline or as someone described it to me “it's like it’s dropped off a cliff”.
In the last week I have seen several memes about how the quarantines/self-isolating/shelter-in-place orders have made some people more horny (like this one here). And I have been asked a few times how someone can cope sexually during this period of self-isolation or quarantine. In order to do that, let’s first talk about sex drive.
A person’s sex drive needs just enough anxiety/tension/uncertainty to get activated but not too much anxiety/tension/uncertainty or else the person can get overwhelmed, flooded, and then sex drive goes underground. Think of it like the Goldilocks principle: not too much (anxiety), not too little (anxiety), but just (the) right (amount of anxiety).
So maybe you are one of the ones who are finding that your libido has increased. Why might that be? Perhaps it is because there has been a refreshing twist in your usual daily/weekly routine; you are not spending mind-numbing hours commuting to work and that has enabled you to get more sleep; maybe you are working from home and therefore your usual work stress has diminished; maybe you are spending more time with your loved ones; maybe you are doing some creative projects; maybe sex and orgasm are a form of physical and psychological release for you; or maybe this pandemic has made you tap into your Eros energy. Eros was the Greek god of love, of creativity, of passion, and represented the life force. You might be one of the folks who is rising to the challenge with these unprecedented turn of events. Like I said, sexual energy needs just enough tension in order to flourish; you are feeling that tension and riding the waves. Jack Morin wrote about this in his book, “The Erotic Mind” — when there is an obstacle to overcome erotic energy can blossom. You are overcoming obstacles and feeling pretty darn good about it and yourself.
But maybe you are one of the ones who are finding that your libido has disappeared. Why might that be? Perhaps it is because you find yourself extremely worried about this contagious virus and what it might do in your community/country; maybe the stress of having the kids at home and adapting to distance learning has been hard; maybe you are preoccupied with your finances; maybe you are catastrophizing about the still-unknown future; or maybe the level of uncertainty you are experiencing is too much at times and you are having to do an immense amount of self care in order to just get through your day without falling apart. You find yourself in fight/flight/freeze often. Nevermind the constant need to adapt, adapt, adapt. Like I said, sexual energy needs just enough but not too much tension in order to flourish; you are feeling too much tension and uncertainty and your Eros energy has decided now’s not a good time and gone into hiding for now.
These are simply different ends of a spectrum. Or you may find yourself on one end of the spectrum one day and the other end the next day. That’s OK. There is no one right way to cope with what is happening and your sexual energy is coping just as much as you are. If you have an available sexual partner who is also feeling their Eros energy and open to sexual encounters during this time, I hope you are having a wonderful and wonderfully hot time together. And it is also OK to tell your partner “Not tonight, dear. I’m feeling too anxious about everything.”
But keep in mind what I repeatedly preach: touch is so powerful. Touch can help activate our parasympathetic nervous system, our “rest and digest” system, and that can calm our fight/flight/freeze response. Just make sure you communicate to your partner that you are wanting physical touch and not an erotic/sexual encounter. Hang in there. We will get through this.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist located in Sonoma county, California.