If there’s one thing experts want you to know about your libido, it’s that it’s a fickle friend. That means there will definitely be times in your life when you’ll find that you're less interested in getting frisky, such as during a stressful event — and the coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example. With that in mind, if you have a low sex drive during quarantine, don’t fret: What you’re experiencing is totally normal. The conditions of this health crisis may be negatively impacting your mental health, which actually has a strong link to your level of sexual desire.
There are lots of reasons why your sex drive may have taken a hit during quarantine — beyond just seeing your SO in the same pair of sweats day after day (though TBH that’s probably not helping). Fear of illness, distractions while working from home, financial concerns, worrying about loved ones, conflict with your partner due to less personal space — these are just a few factors that can come into play, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Not only that, but Dr. Klapow notes that the stress from all of these elements can also impact your appetite, quality of sleep, and exercise, which are also tied to your libido.
“Beyond these, more significant conditions like the onset of depression or worsening of depressive episodes, the onset of an anxiety disorder or worsening of an existing condition, can also drive sexual desire down,” he explains.
Depression, in particular, can take a major toll on your sex drive. In fact, a 1995 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology revealed that a staggering 75% of people who are depressed report a lack of sex drive. Not only that, but a 2018 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships revealed that a depression diagnosis is often linked to a slew of intimacy challenges, including difficulties with sexual self-esteem, feeling sexually distant from a partner, trouble communicating about sex, being unsure how to initiate sex, and a flatlining interest in sex in general. The reason for this link is likely that depression involves a reduction in certain feel-good brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine), both of which play a role in your libido.
"When you're depressed, everything gets kind of muted,” says Rebecca Torosian, an intimacy behavioral therapist who helps people overcome a range of sexual issues. “And you just want to isolate and disconnect rather than engage. Sex is usually the last thing on your mind.”
BTW, anxiety — which has been super common during these highly uncertain times — is another libido killer. In fact, research has shown that anxiety can distract you from erotic stimuli (the images, physical sensations, smells, tastes, etc. that typically get you in the mood). It makes sense when you think about it. How are you supposed to be present and enjoy the experience when you’re dealing with racing thoughts that take you out of the moment? When your mind is hijacked by worries about a worldwide health crisis (or why TF it’s taking so long for you to climax), that can obviously make it super difficult to connect with your partner or derive any pleasure from the interaction.
“When someone feels anxiety, they have less access to positive sensations in their bodies — including arousal,” Torosian tells Elite Daily. “Arousal can be better tapped into when you're more at ease, able to relax into it and focus on the feelings from moment to moment.”
The bottom line is, how you’re feeling directly impacts your sex drive. Whether or not you were diagnosed with depression or anxiety pre-quarantine, it’s totally understandable if you are experiencing symptoms in response to this stressful situation. And if you are, it’s equally common to notice a change in your libido.
Another thing to keep in mind is that sex requires an immense amount of trust and on the part of both partners, which can be intimidating if you’re already feeling powerless or unsafe during quarantine due to depression, loneliness, or anxiety.
“Sex puts people in a vulnerable state — which can create its own kind of stress,” Torosian adds. “The payoff afterward (the orgasm) may not be enough to compensate for the fear and the shame.”
If you’re experiencing low libido and it’s bothering you, or you’re quarantined with a partner and a disparity in sexual desire is having a negative impact on your relationship, there are several steps you can take to feel more connected to each other and minimize any negative impact from the change.
For starters, Dr. Klapow highly recommends giving yourself a little reality check so you don’t get carried away with guilt or shame around your drop in sex drive. In other words, cut yourself a break.
“If you are working, distracted, concerned about finances or your health, or not sleeping as well, your sex drive may very well be lower,” he says.
Dr. Klapow also emphasizes the importance of communicating these concerns with your SO. They may be willing to step up and help to alleviate some of the stressors on your plate, which may in turn rev up your libido. While you’re at it, be honest with them about the fact that you’ve been feeling less in the mood lately.
“If you say nothing and avoid your partner, they will not inherently know what is going on,” Dr. Klapow explains. “This lack of specific communication is how something like a temporary lower sex drive can turn into a much more major relationship problem. Let them know your sex drive is low, and tell them what you think might bring it back up.”
As far as intimacy goes, the key is to listen to your body, honor your needs and desires, and be patient with yourself. Torosian says if you push yourself where sex is concerned, you’re far less likely to get turned on easily.
“When people are in their heads too much — it starts to feel like work,” she tells Elite Daily. “The libido is activated when it's not feeling pressured.”
Torosian recommends designating a separate time during which you and your partner can relax together and create an atmosphere that is conducive to intimacy (that means all screens are off, and distractions are put away).
“Often sexual activity becomes a performance," she says. “Find new ways to experience physical touch — like performing a massage or taking a bath together — so there's no agenda. Just giving and receiving touch with no pressure to achieve a certain goal.”
Another low-pressure way to ease into sexual activity if your libido has been suffering is to engage in some self-touch. Torosian notes that with masturbation, you don’t have to worry about your partner’s experience at all, so can simply focus on the pleasurable sensations. Once you find enjoyment in these solo pleasure sessions, you may feel more motivated to seek out sex with your SO.
Both experts agree that no one feels 100% DTF all the time, and it’s not unusual for someone’s sex drive to fluctuate through different phases of life due to stress, hormonal changes, and more. So, even if your libido is lower RN, take comfort in knowing that this dip won’t last forever.
Dealing with an unprecedented crisis like the coronavirus pandemic is stressful enough — so the last thing you need to add to your list of worries is your decreased sex drive. The best thing you can do RN is show yourself a little kindness and compassion, and when it comes to your lowered libido (and the conditions causing it), repeat after me: this too shall pass.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist
Rebecca Torosian, intimacy behavioral therapist
Beck, JG. “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder: an Overview.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 63, no. 6, Dec. 1995, pp. 919–927., doi:10.1037//0022-006x.63.6.919.
Delaney, Amy L. “Sexual Intimacy Challenges as Markers of Relational Turbulence in Couples with Depression.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 36, no. 10, 2018, pp. 3075–3097., doi:10.1177/0265407518809488.