Sex life struggling in lockdown? Here’s what to do.
Been swinging from the chandeliers recently? Let's be frank, Covid's taken a toll on all our important relationships. Sex and relationships expert Gaylin Tudhope to the rescue!
Remember the last time you gazed romantically into each other’s eyes? How about the last time you hopped on the good foot and did the bad thing? If the answer is ‘this morning’ you probably don’t need to read any further. But for most of us, in between Covid anxiety, working from home, home schooling and arguing with the other half over what you’re going to gaze at glassy-eyed with a bucket of vino collapso come 5pm, it’s safe to say the fires of passion are far from being stoked.
But fear not, for help is at hand. Muddy grilled Sussex and Harley Street therapist Gaylin Tudhope, co-author of How To Become The Perfect Couple, with all the questions you’re too embarrassed to ask. Read on to find out what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to getting jiggy, what to do if you can’t remember the last time you got naked together, and why fairy wings, tiaras and milkshakes might be just what you need to get the passion back.
Do people actually have sex anymore or was that just a 90s thing?
It is an interesting one – and it very much depends on your age group. If you have babies or young toddlers, sex becomes something you talk about because you’re not having enough, or any, of it! But going from having young children to teenagers, things do seem to settle down into a more structured once or twice a week. The thing to remember, though, is every couple has a different way of managing their sex lives. That’s where we all get hung up – is everyone having more sex than me? When really the question should be, what works for me and my partner?
So instead of comparing ourselves, we should be asking ourselves if we think we’re having enough sex?
Exactly. You do always get that one person at the cocktail party or girls’ night out who says ‘oh yeah, we have sex six times a day!’ They may well be, and that may work for them. But then on the other hand I know of couples who have sex once a month, they schedule in a special date night. And then I have couples who come saying ‘we haven’t had sex in 18 months’. It’s about what’s healthy for us.
What if my partner wants more sex but I’m exhausted and not in the mood?
Sit down and have a chat, maybe over a coffee but definitely don’t do it at night. And don’t go in saying ‘OMG we never have sex, it’s terrible!’ Choose your moment, out on a walk, or during some quiet time, and start gently without blaming. Something like ‘I’m feeling unhappy and a few things aren’t working for me – what’s going on for you?’ A good question to ask yourself is, has this been a long-standing issue or is it something that’s developed due to the stresses of Covid? I’m seeing a lot of that, and lot of it is sheer anxiety, work pressure and the difficulties of working from home.
I read somewhere that space is where attraction grows, so is it a surprise if lots of us stuck at home with partners, kids, maybe even grannies too, aren’t so up for it?
You’re not going to be wanting sex so much! Esther Perel has this lovely way of describing seeing your partner in a cocktail party or business environment, watching them being themselves, talking to other people – that’s often the time we look across the room and think ‘that’s the person I fell in love with and I really fancy them.’ Of course we’re not getting those moments in the midst of Covid. But I do know of couples who are going off and having picnics in the woods, or the park, and being a bit affectionate – not too affectionate obviously, I’m not advocating sex in the middle of the park! But you can definitely create those moments and a lovely frisson of sexual connection. At home, when you’re walking past your partner stroke their neck, give them a squeeze, let them know you still fancy them even in joggers walking around looking terrible.
What about if my partner isn’t interested any more – is it me?
We know that all of us have different libidos. Think back to your sex life when you first got together and ask if it’s changed since then and if so, why? Is it children work, stress? Have a think about what else it could be before assuming things like ‘OMG it’s me, I’m too fat’ and so on, because usually that has absolutely nothing to do with it. What is it about the pair of you that isn’t working? And do get help – please get help sooner rather than later.
Do you think we all still see relationship counselling as the beginning of the end?
I think we’re moving away from that. I do a lot of relationship coaching and get a lot of younger couples, early in their marriage or even pre-marriage, coming to me. I had a couple at Christmas who got married last year and were thinking of having children so they came to me to discover what they might experience and how they could strengthen their relationship and fire-proof it – which is super responsible of them.
Relationships need to be taken care of. We can’t just expect them to last. Think of it like a business – you wouldn’t let a business run down, so don’t let a marriage or relationship run down.
My partner won’t talk about our sex life at all, and refuses to come with me to counselling. What can I do?
Usually what I’d suggest here is you come and see me, or another qualified therapist, and have a chat and do a bit of work. If one of you starts to change, by sheer force of that, everything else starts to change too. We also suggest that if one person comes to see us, we say to their partner come for just one session to help us look at this, and we can often develop a relationship from there. But it’s true that if both of you aren’t prepared to work on it, then there is a problem.
Are there any other ways I can entice my partner to open up and talk?
I often say to my clients if you’re worried something isn’t working, send your partner a text or an email! It sounds a bit weird but much like writing a letter, it gives you the space to say what you’re feeling. People text a lot – sexting has become really popular because there’s a divide, it’s not the real thing and it’s not wholly personal. The other thing I would suggest is sit them down and say look I’m feeling really stressed – can you help me? Don’t blame, make it a reasonable discussion and ask for their help.
How can we improve our intimacy?
I run workshops for couples called Playing with Intimacy because often people don’t really know how to be playful. Intimacy becomes scary. But intimacy is about being a bit silly, like kids. Go put on tiaras and fairy wings, dress up as cowboys, have a milkshake together. That’s the start of intimacy, to just be able to do that. It’s about being silly and childlike and vulnerable. Sex comes right at the end, it’s that touching and feeling and connecting that’s important. Anything that’s silly can help you connect, drink illuminated gin, put stardust in the bath. Don’t focus on the sex. Just try and connect. To bring somebody into a childlike place creates deep connection and requires a lot of trust.
Sex is actually the easy bit – anybody can do it. The more important thing is maintaining and sustaining long term relationships in a fun way. I think we hugely confuse sex with intimacy and they are two different things.
What if I just want a bit of excitement every now and again, like it was at the beginning – can we recreate that or is it about adjusting expectations?
There’s an argument out there that while you can recreate it, you can’t create the same thing. It is possible to get that feeling back and have a really good sex life, but it requires imagination and putting yourself consciously in that zone of, we’re together, we haven’t got the kids with us or work on our minds, and we’re just pleased to be meeting each other. In normal times I would often advise couples to go to a hotel bar and sit down, have a drink and just chat each other up. You can do that at home, on walks, or even just over a glass of wine at the bottom of the garden, yes, even if it’s freezing cold.
During Covid the enclosed space and lack of differentiation between work and home means everybody’s boundaries are intermingled and that’s wreaking havoc. You need to restructure firmly what is children time, what is work time, what is your time. Fit in movie time together, shower or bath together – make those moments happen. And each of you also need time on your own, because if you’re with another person all the time how can you possibly appreciate them?