As is often the case, their sex life receded when Tamsin Hewitt and her partner’s first child Simon arrived five years ago.
Yet at least once a month when daughter Tessa was in bed, they made time for each other.
“After six years, things like work and kids got in the way of sex, but it was still important to both of us,” said Tamsin, a 44-year-old writer from South London. ‘Quality was more important to us than quantity, and that worked out fine.’
Working from home and spending all day together every day can affect a relationship
But this all changed when the first lockdown hit last year. Tamsin says, “Simon was on leave and I work from home, so all of a sudden we were in each other’s pockets all the time.
‘We soon started to grate on each other. I hated that he wasn’t doing anything while I was working, and he quickly lost his temper. We started to fight constantly. Then we physically lost interest in each other. ‘
By the summer, the couple had sex once every two months, and not at all in September.
She adds, “ I tried to reconnect emotionally by encouraging physical intimacy, even though I didn’t feel like it. Neither of us particularly enjoyed it – we felt disconnected. He tried a few times, but I was no longer attracted to him. It was heartbreaking. We wouldn’t even cuddle in bed and stick to our opposite sides. ‘
It’s a trend happening in bedrooms across the country, relationship experts say.
Recent data gathered by the long-running National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that physical intimacy between British couples halved during the initial lockdown. Other studies of 35-year-olds have shown that during the three lockdowns, a third of couples had less sex with their partner and a quarter had no sex at all.
Recent data gathered by the long-running National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that physical intimacy between British couples halved during the initial lockdown.
In American polls there, too, a decrease in sex drive was observed in half of the respondents, with comparable results in Italy and India.
Which begs the question: With millions of couples suddenly getting ample opportunity to pop into the bedroom together, why aren’t they? Part of the explanation is not surprising.
With couples locked in one room for so long, exposure to annoying, unattractive habits increases, decreasing desire for your partner. But there’s a biological reason why seeing too much of each other kills the mood – studies have shown that familiarity is one of the biggest drivers of lapsed sexual desire.
“Humans have evolved to be drawn to new things,” says Dr. Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Oxford. “The brain releases a dose of dopamine – one of the reward and pleasure hormones involved in sexual attraction – when we see or do something different from our normal routine.”
While scientists are not entirely sure why this is, Dr. Machin suggests it is an evolutionary tool that has helped humans innovate new methods of survival in ever-changing adverse conditions. Another theory is that once couples have been together for a number of years, they begin to adopt each other’s traits, such as mannerisms.
While this connects them emotionally, studies show that it can reduce feelings of attraction because we are biologically programmed to seek out a partner with qualities that complement ours, but are not identical.
Psychosexual therapist Murray Blacket, who sees more couples than he was pre-pandemic, says, “You no longer recognize your partner’s unique traits that made you feel attracted to them.”
Other specialists say that the everyday routine of lockdown made it difficult to connect with sexual feelings.
“Sexuality is often seen as something different and extra in our daily lives,” says sex therapist Marian O’Connor of the Tavistock Relationships charity organization. “The lockdown routine has meant that many couples find it difficult to get into that sense of otherness or specialness.”
With couples locked in one room for so long, exposure to annoying, unattractive habits increases, decreasing desire for your partner
While women are twice as likely to lose sexual interest in their partner than men, other researchers blame the lack of lockdown libido on that mood killer – stress, according to a study from University College London.
“All polls during lockdowns have shown that women suffer from household stress by conducting home schooling or endless cooking,” says Dr. Machin.
Researchers at Texas State University used surveys to track sexual desire in Americans during the pandemic’s initial spike, and found that as Covid-related “ stressors ” increased – job losses, illness, or childcare concerns – sexual attraction to partners decreased.
Experts say the cascade of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline disrupts the production of other hormones involved in sexual arousal – testosterone, dopamine and estrogen. Studies also show that feelings of anxiety hinder sexual performance and pleasure. When the brain senses a threat, it sends out signals to direct oxygenated blood to the arms and legs in preparation for escape or attack, and away from the genitals where arousal is crucial.
So can you relight the fire – and if so, how?
Dr. Machin says taking a gym class together can help. Endorphins, the stress-relieving chemicals released during exercise, also play a role in helping you connect with other people, as does the hormone oxytocin which has a similar effect and also peaks after exercise.
But according to all experts, touch is the most useful activity.
Blacket recommends an exercise called sensate focus, in which couples take turns placing one hand on top of each other, working down from head to toe, but avoiding intimate body parts.
“It helps couples relax in the sense of touching and being touched without the pressure of sex,” he says.
Experts say the cascade of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline disrupts production of other hormones involved in sexual arousal – testosterone, dopamine and estrogen
‘They are encouraged to talk about what feels good, what increases self-confidence and increases physical connection. Often people have to feel wanted to want sex. ‘
Blacket says that in about nine out of 10 couples he treats, this technique leads to an increase in the frequency – and the pleasure – of sex.
O’Connor suggests talking about the lack of intimacy, but choose your moment carefully. “Don’t start the conversation late at night in the bedroom,” she advises.
Instead, she suggests bringing up the topic during a shared activity, such as cooking, so that the only focus isn’t on the conversation. She also suggests making time for date night or making sure you’re both alone in the house one night. For the more adventurous, experimenting with sex toys or role-playing can also help, as can massage.
Fortunately, with the country slowly returning to normal, experts think our collective libido will soon get back on track.
O’Connor says that even telling gossip you pick up in the office about other people’s relationships will bring excitement into your own.
“People will go out again and come home to their partner, who will feel new and they will be happy to see them,” says Blacket.
She adds, “Some people have less sex than others, and that’s perfectly healthy. It becomes a problem when a partner is not satisfied with the quantity – or quality. ‘
The experts’ tips come too late for Tamsin and Simon, who have taken time for their six-year relationship.
“If the physical connection was still there, I would have hoped that something could be saved,” says Tamsin. ‘But we didn’t want to touch each other at all and were not interested in changing that.
“It was a clear sign that we just didn’t want to be together anymore.”