Making love in the time of corona — considering relationships in lockdown

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social changes that were required to slow the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) have resulted in lockdowns across many countries and led to substantial numbers of people being quarantined. For single people, their opportunities to meet a partner were completely lost. For couples who lived apart, this meant that they were not able to see their partner for many months. However, by contrast, for cohabiting couples, lockdown meant that they were forced to spend 24 h a day with each other, and perhaps their children or housemates, for months at a time. As lockdowns have loosened around the world, the possibility of a second wave arises, and lockdowns are being reinstated in many regions. The prospect of potential long-term lockdowns means that adjusting to this new normal in relationships is an important consideration. In this Viewpoint, three specialists in sexology and psychology discuss the effects of lockdown on intimacy and consider how it can be considered an opportunity as well as an obstacle for making love in the time of corona.

The contributors

Marieke Dewitte is a clinical psychologist-sexologist who had her training in Belgium and the Netherlands and completed her PhD at Ghent University, Belgium. She currently works as Assistant Professor at the Department of Clinical Psychological Science of the University of Maastricht, Netherlands. She teaches several courses and workshops on sexual responding at the university and in post-academic sexology training. Her research involves psychophysiological studies on basic mechanisms of sexual functioning, gender differences, interpersonal dynamics, dyadic interactions between partners, and attachment in relation to sexual responding. The main focus of her research is on the sexual interaction between partners. Her clinical (research) focus is on female genital pain. She also worked as a sex therapist at Ghent University Hospital and now at Maastricht University Hospital.

Chantelle Otten holds a Masters in Science Medicine, Sexual Health/Psychosexual Therapy from the University of Sydney and is a European Federation of Sexology (EFS) and European Society of Sexual Medicine (ESSM) certified Psycho-Sexologist. Chantelle is passionate about empowering people to feel great about their sexual health, self-esteem, communication and education. A Melbourne local, Chantelle comes from a Dutch background. Having spent time living, studying and working in the Netherlands, Chantelle has grown up with the European mindset that talking about sex, pleasure and relationships does not have to be shameful or taboo. With a background in scientific research, sexual medicine and counselling, she believes that sexuality and self-esteem are an integral part of life, to which everyone is entitled. Good sexual health should always be enjoyable, pain free and without prejudice. Chantelle is the director of the Australian Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, where she and her team of sexologists work to positively change the sexual lives of Australians, and she also uses social media to spread sexual empowerment to all.

Lauren Walker is a clinical psychologist with 10 years of experience in sexual medicine. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor and directs the Oncology Sexual Health Lab at the University of Calgary. She conducts research creating and evaluating sexual health resources for cancer patients. She has over 35 publications in the area of sexual health and cancer. She supervises research trainees and regularly speaks at local and national educational events for patients and for health-care providers. Dr Walker operates a private clinical psychology practice in the community in Calgary, AB, specializing in sexual health for patients and couples. She also uses Instagram to increase the accessibility of sexuality education — check out her account @drlaurenwalker.

L.W. The bottom line is that during times of stress, everyone reacts differently in terms of their interest in sex. We are seeing vast impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of individuals, including health anxiety, financial uncertainty, threat to safety, social isolation, and increased demands associated with full-time caring for children, to name just a few. For some people, any one of these factors can be a significant ‘libido killer’. For others, sex (alone or partnered) can be a source of managing stress11, one that allows empowerment to feel pleasure, control during a time of uncertainty, energy release, and bonding with someone we love. Whatever level of desire you are feeling or not feeling is fine — do not add more stress to your life by thinking your level of desire is too high or too low; there is no ‘right’ level of sexual desire.

Another thing to consider is how you are showing love to yourself during this time. Self-care has never been more important than it is now. If one of the ways you can care for yourself is to be sexual (whether this is alone or in a safe partnered scenario), then give yourself permission to do so.

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Correspondence to Marieke Dewitte or Chantelle Otten or Lauren Walker.

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Related links

Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine: https://ashm.org.au/covid-19/clinical-care/harm-minimisation-approaches-to-casual-sex/

NYC Government: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-sex-guidance.pdf?utm_source=morning_brew

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Dewitte, M., Otten, C. & Walker, L. Making love in the time of corona — considering relationships in lockdown. Nat Rev Urol 17, 547–553 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41585-020-0365-1

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