You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal?
Normally I’m an incredibly horny person. Even a few months ago, I was incredibly horny. While most people were stressed out by the pandemic and didn’t feel like “getting it on,” I was more turned on than ever. My boyfriend and I live together, so we started having sex upwards of two to three times per day. I guess I just wanted to be around him all the time, and that includes physically.
But now it’s been a few months, and my sex drive has totally dwindled. He’s really confused—I am, too! How can I go from wanting to have sex all the time to not at all? I guess I’m experiencing a different type of stress now (i.e. getting really sick of staying inside!), but I’ve always considered myself a sexually healthy person. Any advice?
—Not Down to Get Down
Dear Not Down,
Ah, sex. One of life’s most enjoyable and pleasure-inducing activities, right? Not necessarily. Similar to sexuality, sex itself can be very fluid—meaning what we enjoy one month might be different the next month. It’s true for our sex drives as well. While one month you might be totally in the mood, the next you might prefer to watch Netflix without the chill.
Short answer: Yes, you are normal, because a shifting sex drive is one thousand percent normal. As for the reason why? Well, that depends.
“Regardless of if you’re in a relationship(s) or not, there are many different reasons that a person might lose interest in sex,” says Isabella Frappier, sexuality doula, who often works with clients who want to discover and reclaim their sexual identities. Frappier also notes that desire and arousal are two separate things—arousal is being physically/mentally aroused for sex, while desire means feeling called towards it for emotional or mental reasons. Desire, Frappier notes, is particularly vulnerable to stress.
“When you’re in an adrenal response—i.e. a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response—it’s very hard for the desired system to activate for most folks. A small percentage of people find that stressors trigger desire, but for most people, it’s the opposite,” Frappier says.
So because we're in the middle of the pandemic, it makes complete sense that your sex drive might've gone down. “Living through a pandemic, systemic racism and oppression, job loss, [and] economic uncertainty are all stressors to the nervous system. [This can] create stress in the body and affect [sexual] desire,” Frappier adds.
Keep in mind, it could be that you are reacting to the stress differently this time around, too. Maybe it feels more intense because the pandemic has been going on for several months and you’re starting to feel a little stir crazy. Other factors could be at play, too. Frappier adds that hormonal changes, changes in relationship dynamics, body image, and more can all play a role in desire—but that the most common one is stress.
“I wish people understood how closely linked stress and desire are,” Frappier says. “When I speak about stress, folks think I mean work deadlines and traffic, which can play a role. But larger, systemic stressors are a big factor, too.”
This means that some of the stress you’re experiencing—like the current state of our social, economic, and political systems—could be affecting your sex drive without you even realizing it.
I, too, am a person who experiences an inconsistent sex drive. Sometimes stress or anxiety makes me want to be more physical with my boyfriend as I view sex as a way to relax and take my mind off things. Other times, I just want to go to bed early and cuddle, which is perfectly okay.
If I were you, I’d look at some of the various facets of my life from an objective perspective. Is there the possibility that you’re experiencing hormonal changes, like a new birth control? Have you and your boyfriend been getting along okay? Are you feeling exhausted with one another? Are you taking time for yourself to decompress? Are you looking at the news before bed? Giving yourself a mental “check-in” can help you identify what specifically might be behind your sudden lack of sex drive.
If it is stress or anxiety, there are a few different options that Frappier suggests.
“The best thing you can do is support your nervous system through evidence-based strategies for completing ‘stress-response cycles,’” she notes. “Tools such as exercising, moving, stretching, deep breathing, having positive social interactions, laughing, being affectionate, having a good cry, and playing. At least some of these should be done daily to help resolve the stress in the body, because life is always going to throw us more stressors!”
Either way, try to go easy on yourself and practice self-compassion. Our sex lives are not one shade—they are multicolored and ever-changing. Recognize that you are human, and approach your shifting sex drive with curiosity rather than criticism.