Too Stressed For Sex: Making Space For Intimacy
Intimacy is a complicated matter, and with everything going on in the world, it can be hard to come by. We decided to sit down with Jennifer Seip, a licensed marriage, family and sex therapist, and Founder of Be Well Therapy, to learn more about intimacy – both as it relates to those in relationships and those who are single.
What are some of the most common issues couples come to you with as it relates to sex and intimacy?
I would say that the most common ‘presenting issue’ is almost always incompatible sex drives. But sexuality is so complicated and mismatched libidos is not always about what people think it is. It sounds cliche, but sex and intimacy go hand in hand (I’m talking about intimacy with a partner who you’ve been with for a while, not just started dating.) So, when there is a desire discrepancy in the relationship, the first thing I want to know is what else is going on in the relationship outside of sex. Then I want to learn their sexual histories and understand more about the nature of the issue.
Some people emotionally connect through intercourse, while others need to feel connected by engaging in communication. If you have two people who aren’t connecting sexually because their needs aren’t being met, we have to figure out why, and then learn new ways of cultivating desire.
Can you talk a little bit about the connection between stress and sex drive?
Yes. Sex is all about fun. It’s adult play time. In order to have fun with intimacy we must also be present. But when we are stressed out, our brains activate an alarm system. The alarm will sound louder depending on how bad the stressor is. When was a time you were able to have fun while a fire alarm was going off? Probably never. The higher the stress, the more your need for intercourse is going to decrease…unless of course you have an orgasm. Then it can act as band-aid, temporarily relieving stress.
We are all living through unprecedented times of stress, anxiety and uncertainty (not to mention many people having kids at home 24/7!) This is no doubt, likely affecting our ability to make room for intimacy of all kinds, including and especially sex. What can couples and individuals do to ensure they maintain a healthy relationship right now?
Honestly, take 15 minutes every day to engage with your partner. Put the kids to bed early, find a comfortable spot, and talk about your relationship. You would be shocked to learn how many people don’t want to talk to each other. It makes sense given that over time, adults have more and more responsibility. Not to mention the tremendous increase in anxiety due to Covid fears, among other things. The last thing most people want to do at 9pm is have a conversation about sex. They’d much rather find something good to watch on Netflix and zone out.
But in the long run, 15 minutes is nothing. If you can make it a habit, I guarantee your relationship and your sex life will improve.
Do you have any "quick tips" for improving your nighttime routine to make space for more intimacy?
Limit the TV. Put down your cell phones and computers. Don’t shy away from physical touch or sending a flirty text or two during the day.
How about the room environment itself? Are there things you've seen couples do that have helped create a more intimacy-friendly space?
Just make your room a place that you want to be. Some people like to light candles, and create romance, and all that jazz. But honestly, that isn’t realistic for the long term. Instead of focusing so much on the actual room, I would focus more on your mindset and your willingness to change-it-up and be available both emotionally and physically.
For those who do not have a partner, what advice can you give them on making room for intimacy when they aren't able to meet people as they normally would?
I love this question. Covid has really forced people to get creative. I encourage most to try online dating. I know that it can absolutely suck sometimes, but there are some opportunities that come with it that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Plus, people are virtual dating now, so they are meeting up virtually and getting to know one another through the computer. It’s easier, and safer.
If they aren’t up for dating that’s fine too. There are a ton of virtual clubs that have formed where you can meet people and create friendships. Some examples are book clubs, movie clubs, some people play board games over the computer. Or you can have an “experience” with someone by purchasing one through Airbnb, doing virtual museum tours, etc.
Whether or not someone is single or in a relationship, I like to encourage people to reach out to a social network. Intimacy is not just about sex, it's emotional connection too. During this time, it’s a lot easier to allow ourselves to sink into our introverted-ness, and that could result in increased feelings of loneliness and depression.
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Illustration Credited to Lauren Schouten. You can find her work here