During the months since the coronavirus pandemic forced the world to largely shelter at home, most loving couples have been spending considerably more time together. That might be a boon to lovemaking. Presence, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.
But staying home also poses significant challenges. Everyone feels stressed, and stress often compromises sexual desire and function. In addition, couples whose lives have been upended must negotiate how to live together during these times. They may become irritable and turned off to lovemaking.
Fortunately, distinguished Seattle sex therapist and radio host Diana Wiley, Ph.D., has published a timely little book, Love in the Time of Corona. It focuses on sexual issues during the pandemic, but its sage counsel applies to any time.
Eye Gazing: Deeper Intimacy in Just Five Minutes
Intimacy involves self-revelation. Clinical psychologists usually focus on self-revelation involving conversations about feelings. But intimacy-enhancing self-revelation need not be verbal. Massage-based erotic play can also deepen it. So can simply gazing into each other’s eyes. The proverb says the eyes are the windows to the soul. Wiley offers a quick, simple eye-gazing exercise that can enhance intimacy surprisingly effectively in just five minutes.
- Arrange two chairs so you sit comfortably facing each other with your knees touching. That puts you close enough to look into each other’s eyes.
- First, close your eyes, empty your mind as best you can, and take 10 slow, deep breaths. This is meditative breathing that calms the nervous system and primes you for greater intimacy.
- Then open your eyes and look into your partner’s. No talking, just mutual eye-gazing, which may feel more challenging than you think it should. Breathe slowly and deeply. Feel free to blink. Smile.
- Continue eye-gazing for five full minutes. If you like, set a timer. If your attention wanders, gently return it to your partner’s eyes.
- After five minutes, close your eyes again and together take 10 more deep breaths.
- Open your eyes. Stand. Hug your partner.
In some people, this simple exercise elicits powerful emotions of connection and mutual appreciation. In others, it doesn’t, at least not consciously. Whatever you feel is fine. Profound or not, meditative breathing and eye-gazing reduce stress and irritation, and focus lovers on each other. This helps to reduce interpersonal tensions caused by Covid-19 or other stressors.
The Sex Menu
Before anyone undresses, sexologists urge couples to talk about the sexual repertoire they enjoy, what turns them on—and off. Unfortunately, what often precedes lovemaking is alcohol, sometimes too much, which can preclude constructive conversation about erotic wishes, and interfere with sexual function—erection and ejaculatory control in men and self-lubrication and responsiveness in women.
Wiley’s book offers a quick, non-threatening way for couples to discuss their sexual likes and dislikes: The Sex Menu. It’s a handy, three-page checklist that lists 41 erotic moves, everything from hugging to genital caresses to kink. Each person completes the checklist, declaring which moves they enjoy receiving and/or providing, which they might be willing to try, and which they can’t imagine. Couples trade their lists, and quickly see each other’s likes, dislikes, and maybes. The Sex Menu provides an easy way to start discussions that might lead anywhere—during the pandemic or after it’s over.
Canadian researchers interviewed 117 long-term couples. By far their top sexual complaint was conflict about frequency, reported by 36 percent of the women and 39 percent of the men.
When couples fall in love, they can’t keep their hands off each other. But the hot-and-heavy period rarely lasts more than a year. Then desire differences almost inevitably become issues, often causing rancor, and in severe cases driving people crazy. Desire differences are one of the leading reasons couples consult sex therapists. The myth is that men are sex-crazed, and that women can take or leave it. But in one-third to one-half of couples who consult sex therapists for desire differences, the partner who wants more sex is the woman.
Independent of age and all other demographics, sexual frequency varies widely from never to daily or more. But the consensus of studies generally shows the most typical frequency for couples under 40 is around once a week, and for those over 40, about two to three times a month.
In long-term relationships, negotiating sexual frequency is a key task. Once you’ve decided how often, therapists like Wiley almost universally recommend producing calendars and scheduling it.
Wiley writes that when she suggests scheduling, people often recoil, insisting that sex should be “spontaneous,” that when they’re “in the mood,” they should “fall into each other’s arms.” Alas, that’s a Hollywood fairy tale. When desire differences have festered a while, sex is never spontaneous. One person is almost always is the mood while the other rarely is. Instead of falling into each other’s arms, there’s rancor and hurt feelings—especially when couples are sheltering in place spending so much time together at home.
Wiley’s exhortation to schedule sex and stick to your schedule can help couples navigate life during the virus—or any time.
The Joy of Mutual Massage
Many people mistakenly believe that “sex” is largely about joining genitals. Actually, sexologists agree that the best sex is based on leisurely, playful, extended, mutual whole-body massage that eventually—after 20 minutes or so—extends to the genitals.
Wiley urges couples locked down by the pandemic to share more loving touch—in bed and all day as well. Mutual touch is reassuring, comforting, and stress relieving. She suggests several extended hugs and kisses every day. She also urges couples to cuddle while watching TV, and trade neck, shoulder, and back rubs at least once a day. This is great advice during the pandemic, or any time.
Good sex guides don’t have to be tomes. Love in a Time of Corona is only 145 pages. Yet it provides sage counsel about transforming lovemaking.
For more, check out Wiley’s weekly radio talk show “Love, Lust & Laughter.”
Sutherland, S.E. et al. “A Descriptive Analysis of Sexual Problems in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2019) 16:701.