Celebrating Romance Awareness Month
By Laurie Birkholz, MD
After many months of sheltering in place with your partner, you might find it difficult to feel romantic sparks. Between handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing, home schooling, remote-working and the stress of the pandemic, romance and intimacy are low on the list of priorities. If you find you have little-to-no desire when it comes to intimacy with your partner, you’re not alone. A 2020 poll conducted by NBC News showed that 47% of the 11,000 respondents said the coronavirus outbreak has negatively impacted their sex life. Hence, recognizing August as Romance Awareness Month couldn’t have come at a better time.
Romance and sex: What’s the relationship?
Romance is sometimes defined as the “feeling of being in love” that often results in “courtship behaviors,” according to the Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies. Although historically, the term “romance” is associated with chivalry, in today’s modern world, romance, sexual attraction and sexual intimacy are tightly linked—and research supports that romance can lead to better and more frequent sex between partners. For example, one 2015 study showed that couples who engage in frequent cuddling, kissing and hand-holding – seen as “romantic behaviors” – report having more satisfying sex. Additionally, another study showed affectionate behaviors (e.g., giving compliments or saying ‘I love you’) by men resulted in more frequent and more satisfying sex.
What if you’re just not in the mood?
As long as you and your partner are not distressed by a disinterest in sex, there’s nothing to worry about. Stress, anxiety and fatigue can all contribute to a temporary decrease in sex; and let’s face it, we’re living in stressful times. If your low libido, however, is causing you concern, or you are experiencing pain with sex, it’s time to see your doctor. There are many evidence-based treatments – from cognitive behavioral therapy to medications – that can help depending on the cause.
What can you do? Experts suggest a number of things:
- Keep it safe: Some experts suggest that sex may be more stressful these days because of the fear and anxiety of contracting the coronavirus. Good news: If you live with your partner and neither of you have had or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID 19, you can rest assured that having sex is likely pretty safe. If you’re single, your options might get a little trickier, but masturbation is certainly safe. Earlier this year, many cities put out guidance on sex during the pandemic, and according to guidelines from health agencies in New York and Los Angeles, “You are your safest sex partner. The next safest partner is one you live with.” One resource for healthcare providers published in the Annual of Internal Medicine notes that having sex with someone outside of your household increases your risk, and if doing so, you should wear a mask and shower immediately afterwards.
- Keep it interesting: Now’s the time to explore. Apps like Rosy offer a number of ways to improve your sex life, including educational classes, informative blogs and expert tips on all kinds of topics ranging from anatomy lessons to understanding desire. It also offers access to romantic and erotic stories, and users can filter based on their interests (i.e., married sex, LGBTQ+, strangers, etc.) You also might take this time to order some new sex toys or lubricants from one of the many online providers, or even Amazon.com. Not sure what to order? See Prevention Magazine’s list of “10 Best Sex Toys for Beginners to Try in 2020.
- Keep it real. This is a tough time for everyone – give yourself some grace. Simply acknowledging that you and your partner are doing the best you can right now can be a huge relief. Take the time to connect emotionally – talk about how you’re feeling, what concerns you have, and how important your relationship is to you. If sex feels too daunting, offer up a back or a scalp massage, draw a warm bath, or just nap together. These are all ways to maintain a physical connection without the pressure of performing when one or both of you might not be in the mood.