Female Sexuality During COVID-19

What can women learn about their desire during a global pandemic?

Posted Apr 27, 2020

Source: DAVIDCOHEN/Unsplash

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo, is a powerful book. Taddeo spent eight years interviewing and following three women who went through intense, transcendent, and ultimately destructive sexual relationships.

The group is homogenous—white, cis-gendered, and mostly straight—but their situations vary. One woman relates being seduced by her high school English teacher. Another reconnects with an old flame while in a sexless marriage. The third brings a male friend into bed at her husband’s request. 

While it’s not uncommon to crave and enjoy the taboo in sexual relationships, there was something deeper and more disturbing that tied these real-life tales together. All three women felt that their sexual fulfillment was held by others—namely, the men in their lives, who could give it or take it away at will. When the relationships ended, the women were left despondent, and in at least one case deeply traumatized. They were also harshly judged by those around them. 

This book is anecdotal, but it connects to the frustrations, shame, and lack of agency that many women feel about their sexuality. Studies show that female sexual dysfunction (a rather vague diagnosis in itself) affects more than 40% of women. It’s getting better—30 years ago, it was 76%—but it’s still shockingly high.

Given the lack of research around this topic, many women have been forced to deal with it on their own. Researcher and author Emily Nagoski shared in her bestseller Come As You Are: "So many women come to my blog or my class or to my public talks convinced that they are sexually broken. They feel dysfunctional. Abnormal. And on top of that, they feel anxious, frustrated, and hopeless about the lack of information and support they've received from medical professionals, therapists, partners, family, and friends." 

I wondered about this important issue in the midst of COVID-19. For many, increasing sexual pleasure is likely low on the list, underneath scrambling to meet one’s basic survival needs. The pandemic has revealed the immense structural and support issues in our country, and many are suffering as a result. 

But the effects on others have been less acute. Sheltering-in-place may even be providing an opportunity to reflect more deeply on their current lives, and what needs to change after lockdown lifts. It can be easier to do this when there's a break from the normal messaging we all receive out in the world, whether from subway ads or overhearing coworkers’ conversations. In this absence, there’s space to allow for deeper and more authentic questions and longings to emerge. 

I checked in with popular sex and dating coach Myisha Battle about what she’s been hearing from her contacts and clients. She responded: “I have clients who have decided that they cannot focus their attention on this part of their life right now and I have others who are doubling down on their efforts to find partners and improve their sex lives. Each person is interpreting this time differently and for very different reasons, but it seems that they are all going through major moments of self-evaluation.” 

In the coming weeks, I’d like to explore what this time could mean for women who are interested in understanding and supporting their sexual selves. I’ll offer specific ideas and exercises to facilitate self-healing around desire and pleasure. I will also discuss how trauma may affect this exploration, and offer ideas for additional support.

I would also like to hear from you. What has been coming up for you during shelter-in-place? How has this crisis affected you, sexually or otherwise? What would you like to learn more about, or share? Please leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you. You can also contact me directly at juliabartztherapy@gmail.com