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How the 'intimacy drought' of the pandemic has impacted our sexual wellness

One drought may be leading to another.

The floodgates may have lifted for now, but are we all swimming in the waters with reckless abandon?

During the most isolating points of the last year and half, it was predicted that we’d see a baby boom, not a sex slump, once restrictions were cleared.

But according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Covid study – which surveyed 6,500 people aged 18-59 across Britain – we are having less sex since lockdown.

Why might this be? One reason for this decrease in libido or sexual connection could be to do with habits and thoughts that we picked up during the very worst of the Covid lockdowns last year.

Concerns about an “intimacy drought” have been circulating since the 2020 lockdowns began. But what does this really mean? After all, there are many different types of intimacy – physical, of course, but we mustn’t forget the intimacy created by emotions, intellect and creative and spiritual connections, with friends and family as well as partners.

Previous Covid-19 restrictions made access to all of these kinds of intimacy different, so it’s perhaps not a wonder that we might be feeling less available for the physical side of things.

For this reason, it’s important to break down what we truly mean by “intimacy” – rethinking our feelings about it when it comes to our relationship with ourselves and others – so we can truly banish the symptoms of any form of an intimacy drought.

Whether you’re single, in a relationship or somewhere in between, there’s a story of intimacy (or lack there of) to be told.

Is the pre-2020 one night stand a thing of the past?

Casual sex has changed since Covid-19 restrictions lifted. Although my sexual exploits post-lockdown have been by no means non-existent, they have been different.

It’s not just about the restrictions that initially prevented, or complicated, casual sex. Waking up in an “illegal” bed, i.e, not my own, the day that London went into tier 3 last year was a moment, to say the least, as was the moment I debated going back to a guy's place because I knew that my presence would break the “rule of six”.

The hangover from these restrictions, both physical and emotional, have left us with limited capabilities for emotional and physical intimacy after such an extended period shut away for our own survival.

The one night stand, for instance, took on a rather charged and stressful meaning in 2020: who is this person? Are they being Covid conscious? If they’re not, should I still sleep with them? In my case, this meant weighing up the risks of sleeping with men who threw “Covid parties” but still wanted to respect my boundaries by taking me on Victorian-style “courting” dates.

Our defences have been on high alert, and now the sexiness of a one night stand – while still very appealing – didn’t quite have the care-free caché it once did. Even now. It feels a bit like the defensive and calculating habits that picked up during lockdown might still be lingering.

“We shouldn't understimate the effect that being told to keep our distance from others has had on us psychologically,” Nichi Hodgson, dating expert and author of The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder, says. “After being told to keep our distance for coming up to two years, casual sex doesn't seem so free and easy any more.”

Monogamy and monotony

Being trapped at home undoubtedly also took a toll on those who lived with partners. Lack of space, fresh conversation topics and inspiration from the outside world are some, and by no means all, of the factors that may have made sex less appealing, exciting, comforting than it might have been before lockdown.

“For many cohabiting monogamous couples, life has still not returned to what it was before the pandemic,” Nichi says. “Vast swathes of us are still working from home, or hybrid working, while many women gave up the jobs to care for children during the pandemic.”

The very non-sexy, repetitive, stressful aftermath of lockdown restrictions and “the new normal” have had an impact on how cohabiting couples approach their sex lives. “It has tipped the balance of together time and alone time, and the casualty of that for many of us is desire,” Nichi adds.

Laura, 23, had varying experiences of intimacy with her partner from lockdown to lockdown. During the first, she moved in with her partner and enjoyed a great sex life. “We had sex very often and both of us were sort of on the same page with it. We spent a lot of time with each other, so we learnt a lot about how to be vulnerable,” she says, calling the experience a “crash course” in getting to know each other.

The second lockdown saw tests of intimacy with her partner, partially because they shared their living space with a flatmate. “Intimacy and sex drive dropped to very low levels. I am unsure whether this came through the presence of a third person, which broke the dynamics we had established during the first lockdown,” she says.

"In all honesty, I didn’t miss sex and I had a very low sex drive, which resulted in an argument in more than one occasion.”

When restrictions lifted, Laura’s relationship then had to readjust around her and her partner’s separate personal and work lives. “Now that both lockdowns are gone, we have to make a big effort to set aside time for each other,” she says, citing a lack of time for spontaneity as a big obstacle.

Making time for each other, and sex may be easier with no interruptions – and having the task of integrating it into your routine without it being forced upon you can be a challenge. Making time for this kind of connection – with your partner, or without – is key.

“Sex is a habit, and if we stop doing it, our bodies and minds stop wanting it,” Nichi says. “The trick is to realise that we can encourage our libidos by being sexual even if we don't feel 100 per cent in the mood."

Reconnecting with others and ourselves

Whatever our relationship status, we might be taking the disconnect from previous lockdowns (and the isolation we felt) into our relationships.

Whether it’s a change in our physical surroundings since restrictions lifted – more present housemates who are working from home, or the family and friends that we might live with, for example – or our emotional mindset, recalibrating our sex life isn’t necessarily as easy as it may seem.

The answer may begin and end with intimacy – but not always in the kind of intimacy that you may expect.

“It's important to think about what kinds of intimacy droughts (plural) you have in your life. Maybe you have a good romantic connection with your partner but you neglect your spiritual life – and where you'd like more,” Nichi says.

The boundaries we might have put up to survive – and continue to endure – this pandemic are understandable. But taking the time to cultivate emotional intimacy with a friend, or perhaps spiritual intimacy with meditation, or personal intimacy with yourself through alone time, might help you to also reconnect with yourself, as well as your libido and sexual imagination.

“It's important that we feed our own desires in order to feel sexual with ourselves and others,” Nichi says. “Set aside some uninterrupted time where you give yourself permission to pamper yourself, and to fantasise. Treat your body to a bath, or a massage with some essential oils in order to start reconnecting with your physical self.

"Read erotic fiction, watch porn, or listen to a sexy podcast, according to what captivates you. Invest in a really good vibrator that's going to help you feel reconnected to your libido. See all of these choices as the investment in your self that it is.”

Claiming your own pleasure – when it comes to sex, as well as other kinds of intimacy – should pave your path back to connecting with others during these unpredictable times.

This originally appeared on Glamour UK

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