You Need Help: Quarantine Smothered My Sex Drive

Q:


I’m in a new relationship (less than one year), and we’ve been living together for a couple of months. We’re going through quarantine together, and she’s been amazing. However, I’ve noticed something — quarantine has impacted us in different ways.

I’m super anxious because I’ve just graduated and can’t find a job due to COVID-19, and this has been playing a major role in my libido. However, it seems like my partner has been feeling more and more sexual (maybe it’s her own way of coping with everything that’s been going on?). We talk about these things and how my anxiety has been affecting me, but she tries to initiate sexual contact every day, sometimes more than one time a day. In different times, I think I would be okay with this, but now I feel like I’m completely disconnected from sex!

I don’t know what else I can do other than talk to her, but I can’t help feeling guilty that I’m not able to satisfy her the way she would want me to. We’re obviously locked inside our house right now, so I feel even more anxious about this dynamic of her being so sexual while I feel completely turned off by anything and everything. What do I do? What else can I say to her in a way that it doesn’t damage our relationship?

A:

You’re not alone — your partner’s desire and your lost libido are both typical responses to a crumbling world. Articles explaining our pandemic-stricken sex drives are dominating the Internet, and most cite Terror Management Theory (TMT) as the source of our sexual woes. According to TMT, our attitudes and behaviors subconsciously change when we’re managing our fear of death. You and your partner are staring a pandemic in the face — of course your sexual desires are shifting in response. In short: what’s happening for you is normal. What’s happening for your partner is normal. Your experiences may be at odds, but if you’re willing to strategize, you can meet each other’s needs without neglecting your own.

You told your partner that your anxiety is tanking your libido, but have you explicitly told her that you’re not comfortable having sex right now? If you’ve been clear about that and she’s still initiating sexual contact, then she’s either knowingly crossing your boundaries or she’s just confused about what “initiating” looks like for you. If this is a boundary-crossing situation, that needs to be addressed ASAP. Any partner who ignores your clearly-stated physical boundaries is not giving you the respect you deserve. If you think that you and your partner just don’t share the same definition of “initiating” sex, define it. Maybe you’ve been reading every lip-biting kiss as an invitation to get naked when your partner just wants to make out.

“No sex right now” is an easy boundary to communicate, but maybe you’re open to occasional sex and want your partner to initiate less frequently. If that’s the case, tell her exactly what “less” looks like. Is that every other day? Once a week? Twice a month? Putting a numerical cap on sexual initiation might feel clinical and weird, but words like “more” and “less” can leave partners fumbling in the dark and second-guessing themselves. You also have the option to put yourself in charge of sexual initiation, but since you’re already feeling stressed and guilty, the added pressure might further smother your libido.

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I realize I’ve been writing about “sex” as if it’s one specific act when the definition of sex (especially queer sex) is expansive and ever-evolving. When you’re establishing sexual boundaries with your partner, you might want to define what “sex” is for you and what forms of physical intimacy are still comfortable for you right now. Should you partner avoid kissing you, touching your leg or making sexual comments about your body? Give her all of the information she requires to confidently respect your boundaries.

Setting up temporary boundaries around sex won’t damage your relationship as long as you’re both communicating your needs. You’re clearly concerned about your partner’s sexual needs, but have you explicitly asked her what those needs are? If you strategize together, you might learn that you can satisfy some or all of your partner’s desires without engaging in sex. Maybe that looks like getting your partner off without being touched yourself. Maybe you spend more time cuddling. Maybe you mask up and going for a long walk so your partner can have more time and space to masturbate.

You’re worried about how your low sex drive is affecting your partner, but I hope you’re also checking in with yourself about how it’s affecting you. Do you feeling comfortable sitting in a low libido place while you wait for the post-pandemic upswing, or does losing your connection to sex feel like losing your connection to yourself? If you’re interested in getting your groove back (not for your partner — for you), then throw some effort in that direction.

Most of the time, I tell folks who are experiencing low sex drive to check with their doctor about the side effects of any medication they’re taking, get their hormone levels tested, watch porn or read erotica to get inspired and masturbate their way back into the mood. If you’re certain that anxiety is the only vampire sucking the life out of your libido, then you’re going to need more than a little porn to dig yourself out of your sexual slump.

COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. You can’t change your anxiety-inducing circumstances, but you can change how you respond to the chaos. Take inventory of your self-care practices. Have you let any of them slide since moving in with your partner? Are you staying hydrated, eating well, moving your body and getting sunlight? Do you journal or meditate? Commit to your regular practices and throw a new practice or two into the mix. Keep track of you how feel. If you don’t already have a therapist, look into online options. Focus on the things you can control. Clean and organize your living space. Give yourself a haircut. If you take the focus away from sex, your sex drive might make a comeback.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Malic White is a Chicago-based writer, comedian and actor. Follow Malic on Twitter and find upcoming shows on Malic's website.

Malic has written 23 articles for us.

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