Wellness

Why British couples stopped having sex (and how to re-ignite your sex drive)

As Covid-19 infection rates increased, our libidos apparently shrank – hello, sexual stagnation. Three writers try out ways to bring their sex drives back to life

SEX slump aniation square

New baby = no nooky

New mum Kate Wills and her partner, Guy, ask sex therapist Kate Moyle for sexual healing know-how

sex slump baby illustration

Yes, babies are a miracle – but they’re terrible for your sex life. Guy and I had only been together eight months when I got pregnant, and pre-parenthood, we got frisky every day. Now with a five-month-old daughter, Blake, sex is way down the list, near ‘tidy the kitchen cupboards’.

Sex therapist Kate Moyle (who also hosts The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast) tells me this is common for many new parents. ‘Often, there’s apprehension that it’s going to be painful after giving birth,’ she says. ‘Breastfeeding hormones can cause vaginal dryness and your usual positions might feel different.’ Check, check and check.

First, Kate advises us to prioritise sex by scheduling it in, although, she concedes: ‘You’re not suddenly going to feel turned on at the allotted time, so it’s about creating triggers to get you in the mood. These might be music, lighting, massage or using sex toys as a couple.’

We make a date for sex on Saturday morning, before Blake wakes up. But she’s kept me up half the night, so I’m still snoozing when Guy tries to instigate things. ‘Next week?’ I murmur, as I drift back off.

The following weekend we’re just getting started when Blake unexpectedly wakes up from her nap (in a crib beside our bed). We worry we’ll traumatise her for life if she sees our ‘special cuddles’, so Kate suggests taking sex out of the bedroom. ‘Why not move it to the living room, or have a shower together?’ she says.

So, during Blake’s next nap, I invite Guy to get clean. In a dirty way. Initially, we both feel self-conscious, but under the hot water, I close my eyes and tune in to the sensations. It feels great. We’re soon doing it on a yoga mat in the spare room, on the desk in the (home) office, on the sofa. And because we’re on the clock, before Blake wakes up, it feels like our old, frenzied can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other sex.

What really hit the spot?

To help things go more smoothly, Kate suggested we try a water-based lubricant (I like Smile Makers Generous Gel Lubricant).

Distance is a dampener

Miranda Levy is in a long-distance relationship and enlists sex expert Miranda Christophers to help up the virtual va-va-voom

 

sex slump long distance relationship illustration

The best thing about a long-distance relationship is that our not-often-enough IRL meetings are usually charged and exciting. But a global pandemic threw a bucket of cold water over sexy spontaneity. Now, naughty moments with my boyfriend, Hugo, generally mean scheduling a Zoom ‘meeting’.

So, what to do about feeling frisky at 10pm, UK time, when he’s still at work at 5pm, New York time, I ask sex and relationship therapist Miranda Christophers. ‘You have to “plan” sex,’ she says. ‘But you can start foreplay in the form of sexy teasers, such as texts, photos or emails.’

Emboldened by a glass of rosé, I call Hugo at the office one Thursday evening (2pm in New York). Before he can say a word, I state – in rather explicit terms – what I’d like to do to him. ‘Um, I’m just taking you off speaker…’ he says.

When we finally do get down to it on Zoom, I’m conscious of my stomach – not helped by 52 years of ‘life miles’, a couple of kids and the obligatory lockdown pounds. If you’ve ever been on a video call, you’ll know it’s almost impossible not to spend the entire time looking at yourself, hence the untold contortions trying to show off my ‘good bits’ on camera, while somehow keeping the duvet over the other bits.

‘Many people fixate on one part of themselves on video calls,’ Miranda says. ‘But a loving partner will be focusing on the whole package. Try to take that on board.’ So, on our next virtual rendezvous, I let the duvet slip. To my surprise I feel free, unselfconscious and able to enjoy the – gasp – admiration of my partner, who says he likes all of me. (He’s hardly a spring chicken; and where I haven’t had a wax for six months, he’s been a stranger to the gym.)

At some point after virtual sex, we must press the red ‘leave the meeting’ button, which dampens the intimacy. But Miranda encourages us to use words to ease the goodbye. ‘Tell him how warm and cosy you feel; imagine his arms around you, and invite him to do the same,’ she says.

What really hit the spot?

Overcoming my self-consciousness about the least favourite bits of my body. And learning to use words such as, ‘I really loved that: you made me feel so nice,’ to make up for the lack of physical presence.

Solo sex

Stine Gibson wants to put the sizzle back into self-romance, so calls on the expertise of sex guru Stella Anna Sonnenbaum

sex slump singleton illustration

I haven’t had sex in three years. Well, only with myself. My sex drought coincided with the end of my last long-term relationship and, as a single mother-of-one (Border Terrier) who runs her own business, I’ve been too busy to find a new leading lady.

This preoccupation with productivity also helps explain my masturbation MO – it’s only on the to-do list if I’m in bed by 10.25pm. Half-past and it’s lights out. But with my 40th birthday looming and no new girlfriend on the horizon, it’s time to take matters into my own hands. Literally.

‘A lot of people masturbate the same way as when they were teenagers,’ explains somatic sex educator and sexological bodyworker Stella Anna Sonnenbaum (somatic sexology is all about being more present, aware, and understanding what’s going on in your body and during sex). This makes me feel a bit better about my own formulaic approach. She recommends I ‘let go of the (orgasm) imperative’ and ‘involve more of the senses’.

To awaken my senses, she suggests a guided ‘somatic practice’, with each hand taking its turn giving pleasure to, and receiving pleasure from, the other. Eyes closed, I start rubbing my palms together to create warmth before letting my left fingertips gently stroke my right hand. Playing with pressure, I trace the palm lines and explore the space between each finger before switching. Although seemingly PG-rated, it’s surprising how hot under the collar this gets me. Enough to expedite Stella’s next suggestion: a sensorial self-date.

With a blindfold, bath bombs, and a new vibrator at the ready, I spend one evening a week in the tub, exploring my body in its entirety, without any expectation or time limit. By removing the end goal, I find I’m more in tune with my body than ever before, discovering erogenous zones I didn’t know existed (armpits, wrists, eyelids – who knew?).

My final piece of homework? To engage with erotica – something I’ve tried in past relationships, but not as a singleton. I switch out true crime podcasts for sexier stories on my daily run, which further expand my masturbation menu. It also helps improve my running speed, given my new-found desireto get home and naked ASAP…

What really hit the spot?

The erotic fiction was the biggest game-changer (try weareferly.com). The sheer volume and creativity available meant there was always something new for me to discover. This is quite fitting for a woman who now prioritises the ongoing discovery of her sexual self.

Illustrations: Harriet Noble