Here's how to keep COVID-19 from ruining your sex life if you're in a relationship
Doing the dishes = the new best foreplay
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When we talk about what constitutes great sex—especially if you’re in a relationship—you probably don’t expect to hear the terms “quarantine” or “global pandemic” work their way into the conversation. Yet thanks to coronavirus (COVID-19), millions of couples around the world are being forced to think about what sex means for them in an era that’s going to be largely defined by the pressure to stay apart (unless you already live together, that is).
While social distancing can help stop the spread of the virus, it’s not doing wonders for anyone’s sex life. Depending on whether they’re able to quarantine together or not, couples face a variety of unique challenges, from how to maintain contact if they’re in different locations to the question of whether or not it’s even safe to still have sex.
“The quarantine is really forcing people to slow down, and take the time to get to know each other rather than jumping to the physical connection,” says Emily Morse, creator and host of the SiriusXM Radio show and podcast, Sex With Emily. “This is the time to ask questions, go deeper, get intimate and be vulnerable.”
It turns out couples are still having sex—they’re just finding new ways to do it. A recent study by Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute found that 17 percent of participants reported incorporating at least one new sexual activity into their lives since the quarantine began, from sexting to trying out a new position to even sharing new fantasies with a partner.
Regardless of how sex looks for your relationship, the benefits of engaging in some kind of sexual activity are immense, says Jessica Zager, sex counselor and pelvic health physical therapist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. “When you have sex, different feel-good hormones are released, including dopamine and oxytocin,” notes Zager. For couples in particular, the release of oxytocin—known as the “cuddle hormone”—can be extremely rewarding because it helps reduce stress, foster trust, and strengthen the bond you feel with your partner.
COVID-19 is impacting almost every facet of our lives right now, including how we have sex. If you’re in a relationship, it might seem overwhelming, but here are eight tips that experts say can help your sex life get better, even during quarantine.
1. Be careful
Should you even be having sex right now? It’s a serious question, considering COVID-19 is highly contagious and the risk of transmission is huge if you’re not following recommendations set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social distancing.
Most experts agree that if you don’t live with someone, you should avoid physical contact with them, including sex. But if you’re in a relationship and you already share a home with someone, sex might not be entirely off the table, provided you keep certain things in mind.
While COVID-19 is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and there’s no evidence at the moment that it spreads through semen or vaginal fluids, it can be spread through saliva, so kissing is not a good idea if you’re trying to minimize your risk of exposure. If you or your partner is exposed to the virus, the CDC recommends that you socially distance from one another for two weeks. It might seem brutal, but it’s the best way to protect yourself and others from being infected. That means, of course, that sex is out.
However, if you and your partner have been sheltering in place together since the quarantine started and you’ve limited your exposure to others, experts say that sex doesn’t have to be off the table entirely. “The benefits of partnered sex do not outweigh the benefits of staying healthy during this time,” says Zager.
That said, if you and your partner are both healthy, symptom-free, and have no reason to believe that you've been exposed to an individual with the coronavirus, Zager notes that it's "much less risky to choose to have sex.”
2. Explore mutual masturbation
The safest sex partner you can have right now is yourself, according to a widely circulated memo issued recently by the New York City Health Department. Masturbation can be a blast for singles, but couples can get in on the action too and put a hot spin on it by opting to do it “together”—even if you’re apart. “Masturbating together is something lots of couples have never done, but it can be eye-opening, intimate and super-sexy,” says Carol Queen, author, founder of the Center for Sex and Culture and sexologist for Good Vibrations.
Mutual masturbation makes your personal pleasure the priority, while also giving your partner a chance to see and be part of the experience. If you live together, you could do it side-by-side in bed or keep to opposite sides of a room, creating a sense that you’re putting on a show for each other. If you’re separated from your partner because you’re quarantining in different homes or because one of you has been exposed to COVID-19, mutual masturbation through phone or video sex can also be an exciting way to still feel intimate together.
Just like with solo masturbation, sex toys can make things more stimulating and help you discover new things about your body. For toys, Queen recommends the Je Joue Couples Collection, which comes with two of Je Joue’s most popular products, a purple G-spot bullet and a black Mio ring. Another great sex toy for couples, according to Morse, is the Chorus by We-Vibe, a C-shaped wearable vibrator that can be controlled via an app or squeezable remote. Because the toy comes with an internal and external motor, both partners can feel the vibrations during sex, which just adds to the pleasure.
3. Respect each other’s space
You might love your partner to pieces, but let’s get real here: Being stuck in the same house together for months with no end in sight is enough to drive anyone batty. That’s why it’s crucial, says Zager, that couples prioritize not just their pleasure together, but also, their time apart. “If you’ve been quarantining with your partner, make sure you creating some physical distance and have time alone every single day.”
One of the best ways that you can do that is to carve out a few hours each day to read, write, or explore a personal hobby. If you have kids, this might not be easy, but advocate for yourself, even if it just means going into different rooms to work and recharge. It can be vital not only for your relationship, but your emotional wellness.
“When you’re apart, you regain your sense of individuality [and] begin to crave the rush of dopamine and oxytocin that comes from physical contact,” adds Zager. “You begin to imagine what it would be like to reunite with your partner. This is really powerful because imagination and longing cultivate [sexual desire].”
4. Avoid jumping into a co-quarantine space too quickly
On the flip side, experts warn that some couples may be jumping into a shared living situation a bit too soon as a result of COVID-19. While the thought of being separated from a loved one might seem heartbreaking in the moment, it could cause serious problems in the long run.
If you weren’t cohabitating before COVID-19 hit—most experts agree that it’s wise to wait at least a year before moving in with someone—you may want to think twice before you share a space together. You run the risk of putting too much pressure on the relationship, which could result in more fights, fewer boundaries, financial setbacks, and in some cases, even a breakup.
Experts say it’s important to be careful, and as much as you can help it, avoid making any life-altering decisions during quarantine. Most agree that a little loneliness right now could actually be a good thing, as the inverse—a traumatic experience that negatively impacts your emotional health—may make it harder for you to deal with everything else that’s happening right now in the world.
5. Have date nights
So you’re stuck inside the house and you’re wearing sweatpants all the time, and maybe you haven’t showered in a few days. Don’t feel crappy—that’s just quarantine life for everyone at this point.
But if you’re trying to keep up a steamy sex life with your partner and you live together, you might want to turn the heat up. “If you and your partner are spending all-day at home together, there can be a tendency to stay in the PJs,” says Gabi Levi, who operates Shag Story, a popular erotica site. “A small amount of effort [like getting dressed up] will go a long way in the department of satisfying sex.”
Date nights can help you reignite the spark. Pick a day with your partner and use it as an opportunity to dress up and go through your whole sexy getting ready routine. Treating yourself to some brand-new lingerie can be rad, too, as it adds a level of kink and oomph to your bedroom play but, more importantly, reminds you that you’re still a super-babe, even when you’re feeling bummed out about COVID-19.
According to Levi, another big thing that can help couples is to treat the space they’re sharing like a “romantic sanctuary.” Translation: If you’re the messy one in the relationship, it’s time to start picking up more around the house. “Stress and clutter are things that cloud a sex life, and cleaning up is a way to dramatically reduce stress,” she adds.
If you want to set a mood, start by keeping up with your share of the chores, as nothing kills it quicker than a sink full of dirty dishes. Levi also recommends using candles and dimming the lights as a means of transforming your co-quarantine space into a more sensual setting.
6. Use stuff around the house
Reaching the point where just visiting another room in the house feels like a vacation? Congratulations, you’ve officially hit peak quarantine. But if your usual household haunts are starting to feel too familiar, don't freak out. Experts say there's a way you and your partner can use this to your advantage. “If you’re having sex in the same place, staring at your bedroom ceiling and the same pile of laundry on the floor, it certainly gets monotonous," says Morse. "Sex on the stairs, couch, or in the shower can help with the variety so many couples crave.”
The creativity doesn't have to stop there, either. Using a spatula as a paddle, or some ordinary cable ties you had in your utility closet for restraint play? It may seem wild, but these common household items can make incredible sex toys if you want them to be.
Referred to as pervertables in the kink community, these are innocent everyday products that can be used beyond their intended purpose for the means of getting down and dirty. “[These] are items around your house that can be used as stand-in pleasure products,” says Morse.
Hair brushes, cooking oil, clothes pins, and ginger (although tread carefully with that last one, as figging is not for the faint of heart) are some of the most popular pervertables people use, but you can think outside the box. Also, if you’re hesitant to buy sex toys online right now because of COVID-19, pervertables could help limit your risk of exposure through the mail while still allowing you to explore something new with your partner.
Queen does recommend using some caution though, specifically if you're using cable ties for restraint play. If you zip them too tightly and they cut into the skin, they could cause damage to your partner, so be sure to research beforehand.
7. Write erotica together
We’re all searching for a release more than ever, a chance to slip into a fantasy world where none of this—the pandemic, the social-distancing, the stress of everything else swirling around—even exists. Erotica can help you do it and bring you closer to your lover in the process.
“Think about the hottest time you had sex with your partner,” says Morse. “What were the details? What made it so memorable? You can start off by saying, ‘Remember when we were laying in the sand at the beach, and the waves were crashing around us…?’”
With erotica, you can draw from cherished moments in your shared intimate past and bring your love along for the ride, tapping into what made the experience so special in the first place. You can add more to it—things you’d wished you did more of, less of, and so forth. Or, you could jump right into a new fantasy and describe something you’d really like to do once the quarantine is over—pretend to be strangers meeting up in a hotel, taking a blanket and cuddling up under the stars, or any number of dreamy romantic settings.
Levi agrees and describes couples erotica as a “fantastic bonding experience” and a chance to understand your partner in ways they might never have expressed or imagined before. Never written erotica before and worried that you won’t be any good at it? Nonsense, says Levi. Everyone has the ability to write a sexy story if they want to, all it takes is a little digging into what really turns you on. The benefits are huge, as erotica not only can stimulate your senses, but also works as a form of foreplay. “The romance of creating something together that is based on sensual desire is something that will elevate any couple's sexual experience,” Levi says.
8. Find ways to keep your other partners involved
For couples who are polyamorous—meaning they have multiple ethically consensual relationships at once—the quarantine is hard in other ways, because it might mean falling out of contact with one or more committed partners. “Most polyamorous relationships have a pretty carefully constructed socio-emotional space to help each person avoid jealousy as much as possible and feel as valued as they need to feel in the context of their situation,” says Queen.
Due to COVID-19 though, even the most thoughtfully negotiated poly relationships might be thrown off track, so it’s essential to talk things through and find new ways to make each lover feel special, even if you can’t see one another regularly right now because of the virus.
In cases where you’re separated from a secondary or tertiary partner, experts say non-penetrative forms of intimacy—like phone sex, sexting, sharing erotica—could help you stay connected. Another good option is planning a virtual date via Zoom with a trusted, long-term love and letting your primary partner know that this time is meaningful and you'd like it to be private. That way, it gives you and your non-primary partner a chance to nurture your relationship in ways that are still respectful to everyone involved.
Similarly, long-distance toys for couples, such as the Chorus by We-Vibe or the Desire Rechargeable Vibrator that can be controlled via an app can give faraway partners a sense of feeling close despite the divide.