How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday evening, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I live in a small apartment in New York City, and I’m currently “sheltering in place”/self-isolating with my family (husband, two small kids). I was sent home from my job that I love, with no idea if or when they will ever reopen. My parents fall in the coronavirus “at risk” category of 60+ with underlying conditions. I, myself, have a rare lung condition, and I don’t know if that puts me in a higher risk group, too. So, having said all that, I’m struggling with thoughts of existential anxiety 24/7 and have zero libido. My husband, while largely in the same boat, does not have this problem and his sex drive is as high as ever. He thinks I should try to take my mind off things, and the best way to do that is with an orgasm. I think the odds of me orgasming right now are … zero. I can’t turn my brain off. Even during foreplay, I find myself worrying about my parents dying, worrying about the upcoming bills we have with only one income, worrying about going grocery shopping and contracting COVID-19, even if we take precautions. I feel guilty for denying my high-sex-drive husband sex, but I just don’t know how to relax enough to enjoy myself while we’re staying inside for the next weeks during this pandemic.
Rich: So, I think it’s important to establish that diminished interest in sex at this time is common and natural.
Stoya: Completely. A recent Daily Beast article is coming to mind: About how ~20 percent of anxiety and depression patients are doing significantly better, ~20 percent are doing significantly worse, and the other ~60 percent are about the same. I suspect there’s a similar phenomenon occurring with stress and sexual interest.
Rich: Yes, indeed. Another recent piece highlighted this very point. Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist and author (whom I previously interviewed for this column), reported via the Kinsey Institute that they’re seeing data on both sides: “You have a higher percentage of people now who are saying [that] they’re masturbating and having more sex. But you also have a higher percentage of people saying they’re not engaging in any sexual behavior at all. And the people at the low end and not having any behavior—that increase is much bigger than the increase at the other end of the spectrum.”
Rich; A lot has been made about HOW HORNY EVERYONE IS but there are people who are having the exact opposite response in the same crisis.
Stoya: Not to mention that our response may change over the course of the crisis.
Rich: Yes, absolutely. I am mostly not horny lately.
Stoya: It comes in waves, but I’ve felt my libido impacted for sure. At first mine was way down, then it spiked way up, and now I’m just resigned to the fact that my dude is states away, and my roommate leaves once a week for groceries, so partnered sex isn’t an option and masturbation time is rare.
Rich: I’m oddly zen about it. There are bigger things to worry about at the moment, and I’m OK with listening to my body. That’s not always an easy thing to do, especially being gay and understanding the ideals of masculine sexuality (you’re supposed to be HORNY ALL THE TIME), but all things considered, I’m OK with whatever my body wants or doesn’t want to do. Let it have a break, I say.
Stoya: So our writer should listen to her body.
Rich: I think so.
Stoya: Which is saying “no thanks.”
Rich: Given the range of responses to this pandemic, it’s inevitable that some couples will find themselves with temporarily divergent libidos. It’s important to remember that the situation is extraordinary, and these feelings are not necessarily forever. It certainly doesn’t necessarily signal problems in the relationship. It could just be a response to the greater problems in the world right now.
Stoya: Totally agreed. Sexual connection is an important thing for most people. But there are other kinds of connection you can focus on right now. Loving, nonsexual touch. Quality time.
Rich: Yeah, cuddling, extended embraces.
Stoya: To borrow from sex educator Vonka Romanov, memes.
Rich: I’ve been programming multiple film series for my boyfriend and I. We watch related movies and then talk about them, it’s been really nice. I feel closer to him than ever in many ways, regardless of whether we’re having a corona-based sex drought or not.
Stoya: That’s adorable!
Rich: I think it’s also important, too, to verbalize appreciation. I don’t know how I’d make it through this without him, and I tell him that a lot.
Stoya: That’s another great one. Our writer is having a perfectly normal and understandable reaction to extreme stress, and so is her husband. There are loads of ways to stay connected and express love that don’t require sex. Her husband could focus on masturbation on his side.
Rich: I would definitely keep talking about this with my husband, if I were her, but he should understand that sex in fact will not take her mind off this, at least not at this point.
Stoya: Should we deal directly with the guilt?
Rich: For sure.
Stoya: You aren’t denying your high-sex-drive husband something he needs. You’re listening to your own body and giving yourself the space you need. Your needs and emotional state matter just as much as his desire for partnered sex.
More How to Do It
My fiancée and I like to keep things fun and exciting in bed. Over the last two years, we incorporated porn into our love life every once in a while and take turns picking videos. My fiancée loves interracial porn. So far this has all been a great addition into our sexual relationship, but now she wants to buy a large black dildo … which has me feeling a bit inadequate. I’m average in size (six inches long and decent girth), but the dildo she wants is way bigger. I can’t compete with that size. I’m unsure how to proceed.