It’s been a tough 18 months.
Lockdowns, home schooling, Covid, money worries, fears over ageing parents, fuel shortages – is it any wonder our anxiety levels have soared and our libidos come to a grinding halt.
If you’re one of the many couples who have had less sex in the last 18 months than ever before, don’t panic. You aren’t the only ones.
If you weren’t having sex before the pandemic either, you belong in the 15 per cent of all couples who have sexless relationships.
The longer couples go without sex, the harder it is to resume having sex.
While you should take comfort in the fact that the world seems to be losing its libido along with you, don’t be complacent either.
The time to tackle a sex drought isn’t tomorrow, it’s NOW.
Here’s a step-by-step plan to get you both back in bed (and maybe even happier than you were before!)…
Sexpert Tracey Cox reveals 15 per cent of all couples have sexless relationships (stock photo)
Have the conversation
Yes, you really must.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO HAVE SEX RARELY OR NOT AT ALL?
For some, it’s a godsend. For others, it’s a slap in the face.
Here’s what people told me when I asked what it felt like to be in a temporarily sexless relationship.
- ‘I’m too ashamed to tell my friends we don’t have sex anymore. They would wonder if my husband is gay or assume one of us is secretly having an affair. I told my mother and she asked if we were about to get a divorce. What about we’re just not that bothered about sex anymore?’
- ‘I’d rather have a partner who doesn’t have sex than one who can’t keep it in his pants and is unfaithful or watches porn for hours at a time.’
- ‘I hate that we don’t have sex. It makes me feel undesirable and unattractive. I’ve tried luring my husband to bed by wearing sexy underwear and tongue-kissing him but he just pretends it isn’t happening. If nothing happens soon, I’m going to step outside the relationship.’
- ‘I’m 60. I’ve had enough sex to last me a lifetime. It’s never been my favourite part of a relationship. My husband has had 40 years of me having sex to keep him happy, now it’s my turn. I really don’t care if he gets it elsewhere. I don’t want to know and I want him to be discreet but if that stops him hassling me, great.’
- ‘My wife has never been a sexual person, even when she was young. We talk about having sex but she’s always got a reason why we shouldn’t do it. The reasons are lame and it’s really because it’s too much hassle for her. Too many hurdles to jump. It’s fine but I do feel she’s forgotten about me. I miss the intimacy of sex as much as the physical outlet.’
- ‘We used to have great sex at the start. We’d go to bed for hours at a time. Take a bottle of wine and make love for hours. Now, we’re so worn out by the kids, we’d rather do something else like watch a movie or go out to lunch. We still have sex but it’s rare and doesn’t last very long. Sex is like everything else in life. There’s a time when it’s important in your life and there’s a time when it’s not. We’re both perfectly happy with where we are now. Maybe when the kids grow up, we’ll rediscover it again.’
- ‘When lockdown first happened, we had a lot more sex. Then we got bored. That’s all we did: walk, eat, have sex, watch telly. Sex was the first to go. When you’re with each other 24/7 and know you can have sex whenever you want, at any time of day, it loses its appeal.’
Wait until you’re both chatting normally and then say, ‘Have you noticed we aren’t having sex as much as we used to? I miss it. Why do you think we don’t do it as much anymore?’.
Don’t be surprised if your partner gets defensive: it’s normal. No-one likes to think they aren’t ‘sexy’ anymore. If they seem uncomfortable, just say, ‘Anyway, let’s both have a think about it and have a conversation later’.
Don’t blame. Saying, ‘What’s wrong with you! Why don’t you want to have sex anymore?’, isn’t going to solve anything.
Say, ‘I used to love it when we’d…’ not ‘You never touch me anymore!’.
Fix any underlying issues
‘Sex isn’t our problem, anger is,’ one man told me. ‘Everything I do annoys her. It doesn’t help that we’re both working from home and there’s no escaping each other.’
Anger is one obvious toxic lust killer. Stress and exhaustion are others. But so is too much ‘together time’.
Not enough time apart was one of the main reasons why many couples stopped having sex during the pandemic – and haven’t started again.
Create space and do things separately to give yourselves a break from each other. If you can’t resolve your problems, get help.
Lots of therapists now offer Zoom counselling which is turning out to be more appealing to people who previously wouldn’t consider going to a clinic.
Start masturbating if you’ve stopped
It’s one of the most effective ways to kickstart a sleeping libido.
Read an erotic book. Watch a sexy movie or some porn. Think about the best sex you ever had and fantasise about the sex you’d like right now.
Our bodies don’t care who is giving the orgasms, it just likes them! Masturbating reminds us of how good sex and orgasms feel.
Get your genitals back into shape
If you haven’t had intercourse for a while, it might be uncomfortable unless you prepare for it.
Again, this is where masturbation comes in – except this time you’re not focusing on the clitoris but inside the vagina.
If you’ve never found sex painful and are young, you can skip this step. But if you have experienced pain on penetration, it’s a good idea to start massaging the inside of the vagina in preparation for intercourse. Use lots of lube and either use your fingers or a small vibrator and massage inside for a few minutes a day.
Don’t jump straight from no sex at all to full penetration, take it slow. Start by kissing more, touching more. Maybe offer a shoulder massage. Get used to touching each other intimately again; start sleeping naked.
If you’re struggling with body image issues after lockdown, both go on a health kick. Eat well, exercise more and watch the positive effect both have on your sex drives.
Come up with an action plan
Talk about how you’d like to resume having sex.
Think of it as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean of any bad habits. Discuss what you both like most about the sex you used to have and what you’d like more of. When is the best time to instigate sex for each of you? What needs to happen to put you in the mood?
Tracey (pictured) said the longer couples go without sex, the harder it is to resume having sex
Sex doesn’t have to include intercourse
Most people think of ‘sex’ as something that must include intercourse. It doesn’t.
Intercourse might be the ‘good bit’ for men but it’s often the least interesting for women. Sex that focuses too much on penetration as the main event is often the reason why women lose interest in having it.
Give foreplay a promotion: a sex session that consists entirely of stroking and mutual oral sex can be even more satisfying.
Use lots of lube
Even if you aren’t having penetrative sex, lube makes everything feel better – especially if you are experiencing dryness (common if you haven’t been having sex).
On the same note, don’t be surprised if he has a few erection wobbles. Even if he’s been masturbating solo, sex with you is going to be anxious if you haven’t had it for a while. Penises reflect the mood of their owner: if he’s nervous, it will be as well.
Don’t make orgasm the goal
THE TWO-STEP PLAN
US sex therapist Stephen Snyder is the architect of this technique which he nicknamed ‘the world’s easiest sex practise’.
It might be easy but it does require a rethink: the aim here is to experience arousal for arousal sake. Not to have sex.
Snyder believes too many couples assume that every time they get aroused, they have to extinguish it with an orgasm – as if arousal was something irritating or unpleasant that has to be got rid of right away.
He encourages couples to stay in the arousal stage for as long as possible before acting on it.
Step one: Lie in bed and do nothing. Get naked if you’d like to, if not, don’t. Talk. It can be about anything but keep it simple: just enjoy lying beside each other with no agenda. Or just lie quietly and notice your breathing. You might like to stroke your partner’s skin or your own. Keep the touching non-sexual at this point. Do it for as long as you’re enjoying it. You will feel awkward to start: that’s OK. Just acknowledge it then let it go.
Step two: If you got aroused in step one, just enjoy the feeling. Let your arousal take care of you. Be a passenger and let it take you wherever it wants. If it takes you to a place where you both decide you do want to have some type of sexual stimulation, go for it. Otherwise, hold onto the stillness and intimacy and enjoy the moment. Get used to being naked together and aroused together.
And…that’s it! Do this once a week for a month or two and then take it further if you want to.
This is a great technique for any couple to use, if you want to hit refresh and take sex back to basics again.
Think of it as a sex detox as well as a gentle way to ease back into being erotic.
‘The first time we did it after two years of pregnancy and parenting a young child, neither of us climaxed,’ one young mother told me. ‘My wife and I just mucked about and had fun. It took a few times before I was relaxed enough to orgasm but the touching and kissing was just as satisfying.’
The goal is intimacy, not climax.
Recreate the habit
Sex is a habit. If you’re in the habit of having sex once a week, your body reminds you to do it once a week. If you’ve stopped having sex, you need to get your body used to expecting it regularly again.
This means sticking to a regular schedule – at least for a month or two until your system resets itself.
Agree on a frequency that suits both of you and press ‘start’.
Have sex during the day rather than at night
‘Too tired’ is the excuse most given by couples when asked why they don’t have more sex.
Sex is often the last thing we do at night – and if it’s last on the list, is it any wonder it often gets bumped right off it?
Have sex in the morning or mid-afternoon on the weekends instead.
Take a holiday
Couples have more sex on holidays than at any other time. No guesses why: you’re more relaxed, you have more time and you’re in pleasant surroundings.
If you can’t afford it or can’t bear the form-filling, how about a night at a hotel near you?
Take turns to initiate sex
Who initiates sex is a big deal.
‘If she really enjoys sex as much as I do, wouldn’t she be the one to suggest it at least sometimes?’ is something men frequently say to me.
Sex often stops for this very reason: one person gets tired of being the only one driving sex and simply gives up. The other person, who isn’t used to initiating, rarely picks up the ball.
Flip the switch
As well as doing the physical exercises, work on changing your head space.
Emily Nagoski (author of ‘Come As You Are’) says instead of thinking ‘I don’t like sex anymore’ think ‘How would I think if I was a woman or man who loves sex?’.
Connect it to your identity. ‘Don’t just run, be a runner. Don’t just have sex, be a deliciously erotic person who is curious and playful about sex,’ she says.
Think: ‘If I was a person who loved sex, how would I deal with feeling too busy/sad/tired/lonely for sex?’
You’ll find more information about sex and relationships on traceycox.com, along with info about her weekly SexTok podcast, her two product ranges (available at lovehoney) and books.