The Effect of Coronavirus on Modern Relationships

This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.

We’ve got no choice: This decade will now be defined by the only thing anyone has spoken about for weeks: the new coronavirus. When this period is studied in the future’s history books, it won’t be the advent of commercial space travel, or the coming of age of virtual reality, or the birth of the Internet Of Everything. It’ll be Covid-19, and our awful preparedness for it.

effect of coronavirus on relationships

Right now, a lot of people are spending more time than they usually would with their partners, as we are mandated into self-isolation and quarantines together. There is, of course, another side of the coin: there are plenty of couples suddenly forced to remain apart from one another too. 

Regardless of how much you love someone, being in their company with no reprieve twenty-four hours a day will have an impact on your relationship. It can put something of a damper on your sex* life too, and that’s normal in this claustrophobic time. There is such a thing as too much intimacy, and sometimes, constant closeness can breed resentment more than affection.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to all people in all circumstances though. Some respond to periods of anxiety and threat with a desire to protect our loved ones, and we become closer both emotionally and physically.  Some people are reporting increased sex drives during this unprecedented period. An increased sex drive could be due to many factors related to the pandemic including simply having more time with one’s partner, or the newfound freedom that comes from being released from the mundanities of business lunches, extra meetings, commuting. Also, interestingly, literary and psychological writings have also long posited a connection between an awareness of one’s mortality and sex.  For some people, when faced with the terror of death, having lots of sex is the best way to affirm life.  

These two opposite reactions are reflected in my own professional life. When I asked my twitter followers if they were having more or less sex, they unanimously said less. On the other hand, LELO’s sales have increased substantially in recent weeks.  Clearly, some are more driven and some are less driven to sex during this time. 

Explaining why some people are more horny and some are less horny during the pandemic is what a person’s sex drive is controlled by excitatory and inhibitory processes.  The excitatory processes are the things that get us going (e.g., watching an erotic video, seeing our lover looking especially hot) and the inhibitory process are those that turn off our sex drive (e.g., awareness of a pressing work deadline). Think of these as your metaphorical sexual gas and brake pedals.

While for some, the highly contagious coronavirus outbreak has put their foot on the metaphorical gas pedal, for others it has put their foot on the metaphorical break because it has added a whole new set of sexual inhibitors into the mix. A lot of people are asking questions related to their anxieties. Will I get sick? If I do, will I get better? Is my family going to be ok? Is my job safe? Is the economy safe? This level of powerful and powerfully confusing questions can override any feelings of lust or desire, or in other words, put the brakes on one’s desire. Other inhibitors include partners not being on the same page about the risk of the virus being brought into the home, each partner now being able to view the other’s shopping habits (which is an oddly personal experience for most), and the belief that a partner is not taking the threat seriously enough. These all cause relationship friction, another common inhibitor of sexual desire.

Other brake and gas pedals related to the pandemic are simply our circumstances. For example, couples who usually live together but are separated by circumstance, are reporting a much higher interest in sexual activity with each other than those stuck together by force. In other words, as you might predict, the desire for sex is highest right now in people who can’t have it. Those who are forced together and thus can have it readily are generally having less, according to the sex therapists who contributed to this article. 

So, what’s the take-home message? If you’re extra horny right now, that’s normal.  If your sex drive is in an ultimate low, that’s normal too. Still, given that sex is a great stress reducer, you may want to actively work on taking your foot off the break pedal and give sex a try.  You don’t have to be horny to have sex. You can use sex to get you horny and you just might find it takes your mind off of your anxiety.

*In this article, for ease of reader understanding, we are using the words sex and intercourse as synonymous, as is done in popular culture in general. Similarly, we use the word “foreplay” the way it is used in popular culture (i.e., the sexual acts such as oral sex that come before intercourse). However, as aptly pointed out by our sex expert Laurie Mintz, we would also like to acknowledge that such language exalts men’s most reliable rout to orgasm and linguistically erases women’s most reliable route to orgasm—clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, only between 4% and 18% of women reliably orgasm from penetration alone. We look forward to the day when such language is not commonly used in culture.

Facts checked by:

Dr. Laurie Mintz

Dr. Laurie Mintz, Ph.D.Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida, teaching Human Sexuality to hundreds of students a year. She has published over 50 research articles and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Mintz also has maintained a private practice for over 30 years, working with individuals and couples on general and sexual issues. She is also an author and speaker, spreading scientifically-accurate, sex-positive information to enhance sexual pleasure.

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Written by: Stuart Nugent

With 16 years in the adult industry, including many years at LELO, it's fair to say Stu has been around the sex toy block a few times. As LELO's resident sex geek, he's been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and anywhere people talk about sex. Here on Volonte, he turns his spotlight onto the important events affecting sex right now in a regular op-ed. Views are his own.

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