You know what doesn’t make for great foreplay? A global pandemic. If your libido has taken a tumble in recent months, you’re not alone.
Cohabiting couples may be craving space, while those in long distance relationships are wondering when they’ll meet next. Dating has been destroyed for anyone single and hoping to mingle. And if you’re a parent, you probably just really, really want some sleep.
As a nation, we’re experiencing a “low level of sexual activity” during the pandemic, according to a study by Anglia Ruskin University – despite all those jokes about daytime shags and lockdown babies we heard in spring. If it’s been a while since you had sex – or even thought about having sex – don’t panic.
Almost half (44%) of people have experienced a lack of intimacy with their partners as a result of the pandemic, a survey by Happiful found, while the Counselling Directory has seen a 1061% increase in people looking for advice, questioning whether relationships can survive without intimacy.
“Everything is more challenging in the middle of a pandemic, including sex,” says sex educator Ruby Rare. “Please be kind to yourself and those around you – we’re all trying to get through this as best we can, and the stress of such a colossal situation is bound to impact our ability to feel sexy in one way or another.”
If you’re content without sex right now, you carry on: some sex therapists say a period without sex can actually boost your relationship.
But sex – or at least, feeling sexy – does have the power to uplift our spirits. So, how can we put it back on the menu if we’ve started to miss it, either by ourselves or with a partner?
Rekindle your intimacy
“There are numerous reasons why intimacy may have suffered during the pandemic,” says therapist Beverley Blackman. “Date night disappears because we don’t actually remember what day it is! We have lost things that punctuate our weeks, and it’s not always easy to find new ways of being intimate.”
Furthermore, you may not want to share your worries with your partner, leaving you feeling cut off or alone, and anxiety – which has been rife throughout the past year – is “one of the most prolific passion-killers that there is”.
So what can you do if you’re facing intimacy struggles? Firstly, don’t be too hard on yourself. “Lockdown is an exceptional situation and it’s proved a difficult one in many, many ways,” she says.
Now, start building up intimacy slowly. Reintroduce date night and put it in the calendar. Try to find ways of making it special so that it stands out from a usual lockdown evening, the therapist suggests.
Getting yourself in the mood
Looking the part can help you to feel the part, says Sangeeta Pillai, founder of Soul Sutras – a platform empowering South Asian women to explore sex and more. Wear something that makes you feel amazing.
“It’s a lot easier to feel sexy when you’re wearing a silk dressing gown, some other sensuous fabric or even sexy underwear under your leggings,” she says. “So I’d suggest, make small ‘sexy’ additions to your wardrobe, something that feels easy to do. And I promise you, it will instantly shift how you feel.”
You’re probably sick of your house right now, so Rare also recommends finding small ways to improve your environment.
“Something as simple as changing your bedsheets or playing some sultry music you’ve not heard in a while can shake up the space you’re currently spending 99.9% of your time in,” she says.
Finally, remind yourself how good it can feel to be touched. Pillai recommends investing in a sex toy or two if you have the budget – whether you’re single or coupled up. Alternatively, get reacquainted with your body the old fashioned way.
“Make sure you set the mood for self pleasure: have a bath, burn some candles, play music that soothes you,” she adds. Don’t focus on the orgasm, just focus on how good self-touch feels, whether you use your fingers or toys.”
Reigniting the fire with a partner
If you’ve had a lull in your sex life, diving for your partner’s genitals unannounced is not the way to get things moving. Nor is bringing up the topic when you’re already in bed, suggests Pillai.
“Start when you’re chilling or eating together, and say something encouraging to begin with. For example: ’I love it when you do...” Then introduce what you’d like to do differently, during sex,” she says. “For example: ’You know, I’ve always wanted to try...” Be kind, be supportive and encouraging. Rather than pointing out your lover’s shortcomings.”
Once you’ve broached the topic, set time aside to reconnect.
“It gives you both something to look forward to and allows you time to mentally prepare to step back into a sexy area,” says Rare. “And don’t feel like you need to go from little/no sex to ALL the sex in one go – take your time, allow yourself to ease back into things in a way that feels gradual.”
Another top tip: stop trying to have sex right before bed. “If you wanted to get better at any other activity, would you wait to do it at the end of the day, when you’re knackered, full from a big meal and a glass of wine or two? Absolutely not,” says Rare. “Setting time aside in the morning or afternoon takes the pressure off and makes things more leisurely and indulgent.”
Other tips from Pillai include sharing your fantasies, talking about past sexual experiences you’ve enjoyed, suggesting new positions you’d like to try and masturbating in front of each other.
“In a nutshell: talk, talk, talk,” she says. “Talk dirty, talk sexy.”
Staying sexy if socially distanced
There are lots of people who simply won’t have access to their usual sex lives at the moment: perhaps dating has been put on hold for you, you usually have multiple partners you can’t see right now, or you’re not able to bubble with your partner. We’re often taught our sexualities are tied to other people or a partner, but “reconnecting with your own sexuality is a way of claiming agency over your pleasure”, says Rare.
To get in the mood for solo sex, you could try out audio porn. “There’s something incredibly sexy about hearing sexy stories,” says Pillai. Or, of course, regular porn, but “use ethical or feminist porn sources where performers are treated well,” she recommends. If porn is a step too far for you, a sex-filled TV show (hello, Bridgerton!) could do the trick. Or, if you’re looking to stay connected with long distance partners, Rare is a big fan of a sexy voice note.
“They’re so intimate. You can leave your phone recording and have a glorious wank, narrate what you’re doing or throw in a bit of dirty talk for good measure,” she says. “And unlike phone sex, you have the joy of listening to the audio whenever it suits you (perfect if you’re on different schedules/time zones), as well as being able to play it back over again. Just remember that once you’ve sent it, you don’t have total control over the content.”
This article was part of Here, Try This, our month-long plan in January, with a new idea each day, spanning easy ways to engage your body and mind, inspiration for your food and home, and tips for boosting how you feel – inside and out.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.