She’s France’s best-known relationship expert. But le confinement — or lockdown — has turned Maïa Mazaurette into something of a national celebrity, her frank advice now making headlines in both the U.S. and the UK.
As the sex columnist for respected French newspaper Le Monde, her weekly dispatches have been seized on by readers wrestling with the thorny issues presented by being either separated from their lovers, or forced to spend all day, every day with them.
From télésexualité (sex via a screen) to virtual cheating and how to be seductive when you’re living in leggings, her expertise on all aspects of sexual etiquette in these unprecedented times is hugely valued — as is her column, which is essential reading for hundreds of thousands of French couples over their croissants on a Sunday morning.
She also appears on TV and radio frequently, discussing all aspects of sex, sexual politics and relationships.
France’s best-known relationship expert Maïa Mazaurette gives her best advice for lovers in lockdown
Here, she reveals the French woman’s guide to keeping your sex life sizzling during lockdown . . .
Treat sex as a stress-buster
Our addiction to the constant stream of corona information (I bet you can recite the symptoms of Covid-19 backwards in your sleep by now) doesn’t only tie our emotions in knots — it also allows no space for any other thoughts, especially erotic ones.
And when it comes to sex, anxiety does not make a happy bedfellow — for anyone.
However, the problem is also the solution, because sex is a natural anti-depressant, so if you can get yourself into a frame of mind where it seems appealing — whether that’s through breathing exercises, a prolonged session of kissing like teenagers, or by watching an erotic film together — so much the better.
Flirt at the right time
When you’re living and working in the same house all the time, it can be easy to assume, just because your partner is physically in the same space as you, that they are also mentally in the same place.
They might be physically present, but with their head in a spreadsheet. Ideally we should temporarily apply the same rules at home as you might on public transport: if someone is looking the other way, wearing headphones, or tapping frantically on their tablet, don’t disturb them. When someone is available, they’ll let you know with a look, a smile or a word.
When you’re dressing up for date night, wear the clothes you’d never usually dare to wear in public
The French, with their penchant for flirting, are particularly adept at tuning into the subtle cues and discreet signals that someone is open to your advances.
Focus on feeling good
Try to do something every day that makes you feel proud of yourself. For a start, it helps to drag you out of that pit of lethargy, but also because — consciously or otherwise — we see sex as a reward. And it’s much easier to accept your partner’s amorous advances when you feel you deserve the attention.
So run a mop over the house, take a pebble painting class (yes, we’ve reached the pebble painting point of lockdown) — it doesn’t really matter, just do something that means you end the day with a modicum of self-satisfaction.
Feeling good about yourself doesn’t only mean you’re likely to be in the mood for sex, but that you’ll enjoy it all the more.
Let yourself go
French women have let themselves go, according to multiple surveys, including one that found 38 per cent had stopped shaving their legs, and 8 per cent had almost entirely given up on wearing a bra during lockdown.
More than ever, for your sex life to flourish, you need boredom, because boredom makes you available
Another found that only 12 per cent of French women consider themselves to be desirable at the moment — 10 per cent less than before lockdown began.
It’s OK to have some time off, to give yourself days that aren’t about being sexy and groomed. After all, life is all about light and shade, and those down days will make you all the more eager to slip into something silky occasionally. Because you also need to . . .
Steal a cheeky siesta
Schedule some time for seduction — if you’re slobbing around in a tracksuit, you’re hardly in the mood for romance, so carve out some time that is dedicated to it. It might be a cheeky siesta on a Tuesday, or a ‘night out at a restaurant’ on a Friday — OK, it’s the kitchen, but get out a tablecloth and light a few candles.
Let’s be honest, your diary is pretty empty, so there’s no reason not to set aside certain times every week for you as a couple.
Think about what you’re going to wear, and make sure your focus is on each other, rather than anything else.
This isn’t about slouching in front of a box set. It’s about trying something in bed that you might not have tried before, even cooking something different.
You might not be able to leave the house, but you can definitely get out of your comfort zone.
Find an ‘ooh la la’ dress
When you’re dressing up for date night, wear the clothes you’d never usually dare to wear in public — that dress that’s just a little bit de trop, those trousers that err on the side of risqué, those fishnet tights you bought for Halloween and haven’t worn since.
Maybe now’s the time to experiment with that red lipstick you never wear because you worry it looks a bit too ‘come hither’.
Allow yourselves to step out of the daily grind, to switch up the way you seduce each other — and if those towering high heels or that skin-tight shirt are ridiculous? Perfect!
Ask your partner questions you’ve never asked them before. What one object would they save if the house was burning down?
Stock up on fun chat
In normal life, you each go about your day. You meet different people, you do different jobs, different things happen to you — so you have something to talk about when you come home.
In lockdown, it’s all too easy to know everything that your partner has seen, heard and done. And that is a passion killer. So make the effort to diverge.
Listen to different podcasts and radio shows, watch different TV programmes, read different books and magazines, consume different media so you have something to talk about with your partner over dinner. (And no, devoting hours of conversation to wondering when it will all be over doesn’t count!)
Start by doing the shopping separately, going out for walks on your own, working in different rooms
Ignore each other
As the great sex therapist Esther Perel says: ‘Desire needs distance.’ So how do you put space between you and your partner in lockdown?
Start by doing the shopping separately, going out for walks on your own, working in different rooms. If one of you is a night owl and one an early bird, indulge that so you have time alone.
It’s essential that each of you has a couple of hours entirely to yourself every day.
Remember, you might have signed up for marriage, but you didn’t sign up to a sentence of months together, 24/7, with no sign of parole. So if they can’t trust you to take a trip to the supermarket on your own, or you can’t go for a walk in the park without wanting them by your side, you might have to have a conversation that confronts the idea of neediness in your relationship.
It’s essential that each of you has a couple of hours entirely to yourself every day while in lockdown
Close the loo door!
More than ever, you need to think about allowing each other some privacy.
If you’re unlucky enough to be sharing a tiny Parisian studio rather than a chateau in Provence, that might be harder, but try.
Not everybody wants to be seen by their partner when they’re puce, partway through a workout, or while wearing a cucumber face mask. So don’t wander into the bathroom without knocking, and do give them space to sweat it out in a sitting room workout. Try to conserve some sort of mystique; the French believe that you don’t have to share everything just because you’re a couple.
Moan about him
‘Socialising’ separately during lockdown is essential — each of you should separately plan virtual drinks with your friends.
Because, at the risk of stating the obvious, you’re probably going to have a few complaints about your other half. Far better to let off steam with friends, who will undoubtedly feel similarly, than to have the mother of all arguments with your partner.
After all, monogamous relationships need space to breathe — mentally as well as physically.
Wear that dress that’s just a little bit de trop, those trousers that err on the side of risqué, those fishnet tights you bought for Halloween and haven’t worn since
These days, your partner is seen as some bizarre Swiss Army knife, expected to take on the roles of soulmate, confidant, lover, co-parent, psychologist, chef and financial adviser in a single day. Even before lockdown that was a lot for any one person to deal with, but now, something needs to give.
If you need to talk, or complain, or get advice, speak to your friends and family instead.
Boredom is a friend
Cutting yourself off from your partner for a while is one thing, but when you come back together, you have to be able to cut yourselves off from the rest of the world.
More than ever, for your sex life to flourish, you need boredom, because boredom makes you available. And your libido is fragile, it doesn’t like competing for attention.
Don’t wander into the bathroom without knocking, and do give them space to sweat it out in a sitting room workout
So find a space where you’re not being bombarded by information, or distracted by social media, work or household chores, and make that your sanctuary.
Make a point every day of making the bed — you need an area of your home that can be dedicated to sexuality.
Put a spotlight on him
There’s a reason the French are known as a nation of philosophers and raconteurs — because, more than anyone, we value the art of conversation. Maybe it stems from the court of Versailles where being clever and having something to say elevated your status, but conversation is king.
MEN NEED TO MAKE AN EFFORT TOO
Bien sûr, men need to be upping their sartorial game, too.
For a start, I’d ban them from wearing dressing gowns.
And, while you might not expect the French to look to Americans for style tips, I wholeheartedly agree with the New York Times, which recently proclaimed that, during lockdown, male trousers ‘should include either a zip or a button’.
There’s also no reason that men shouldn’t use the opportunity to let their wilder side run free.
We’re talking patterned boxers — even the slightly questionable panther print pair that have been languishing at the back of the drawer — the hairstyle they worried might be ‘too trendy’, the hipster moustache they always talked about growing. Now is the time to experiment.
However, after spending approximately 97,896 hours in a home that is beginning to feel no bigger than a postage stamp, you probably want to spend time talking to anyone but your partner.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, how can constant presence not lead to a familiarity that breeds contempt? But all is not lost. Physical proximity can be compensated for by being mentally inquisitive.
See this as an opportunity to learn more about your other half. You might not be able to change the situation, but you can change the conversation.
Ask your partner questions you’ve never asked them before. What one object would they save if the house was burning down? Who would they invite to dinner if they could ask anyone in the world? Can they sum up their life in four minutes? What is their most treasured memory?
And listen — really listen — to the answers.
Sexual tango via text
Lucky you — it’s 2020, not 1920, which means you have an entire raft of technical possibilities open to you if you don’t live with your lover.
Using your mobile phone or laptop to keep a romance alive doesn’t have to be all about teenage-style sexting and risqué pictures. Consider emails and texts as an opportunity for erotic correspondence.
Don’t know where to start? How about discussing what you would be doing if you were together, or making plans for the future by describing — in minute detail — what you will do when you can finally see each other again?
Talk about your fantasies, and make it into a sexual tango that goes back and forth.
Do what feels right
If the coronavirus has made you want to throw your sex life out the window, go ahead. If your partner has no interest in being amorous, let it go.
Forget about the myth of the post-virus baby boom — one doctor has suggested that when a threat is severe and prolonged, the birth rate actually tends to go down.
Talk about your fantasies, and make it into a sexual tango that goes back and forth
A pandemic is enough to be dealing with anyway, so if you want to take the opportunity to swing from the chandeliers in red lacy underwear, go right ahead.
But if you’re just getting through day by day, tolerating being a cook in the kitchen and a school teacher in the living room, it’s OK to draw the line at being a femme fatale in the bedroom.
- Adapted and translated by Claire Coleman from Maïa Mazaurette’s columns in Le Monde newspaper.