“Gwyneth Paltrow reveals family tensions and hints at sexual frustration during coronavirus lockdown,” read the “Daily Mail” headline. Then came a story about how Paltrow “got fresh air after talking sexual frustration” followed by another about the star advising fans “on the best VIBRATORS to use during coronavirus lockdown … after hinting she and husband Brad Falchuk are sexually frustrated in isolation.” We get it, “Daily Mail,” she’s frustrated. Also, the all-caps on vibrators is gold.
The whole thing started when Paltrow shared footage of an intimacy coaching session she and Falchuk recently took part in. Posted on the star’s lifestyle website, Goop.com, the video sought to help couples navigate sexuality in the age of COVID-19. Paltrow spoke of a friend (or as “The Daily Mail” reported: a “friend”) who wanted to know how to deal with low sex drive in the midst of coronavirus chaos.
Paltrow’s friend, quotation marks or not, isn’t the only one feeling this way. While some may look to sex to help soothe stress, “a lot of people are like ‘I can’t get in the mood while the world is falling apart,’” says Diana Melnick, a registered sex therapist at Toronto Intimacy Counselling. “Either of those responses is so common and so normal.” Here, Melnick offers tips for better connecting with a partner and bringing pleasure to these daunting times.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
Putting pressure on yourself or your partner usually does more harm than good. Instead, Melnick suggests giving yourselves ample time and space. “It might not happen and that’s OK,” she says. Giving yourselves permission not to force it lets you focus on pleasure rather than performance. “It’s all about ‘how much am I enjoying myself regardless of what acts I’m doing.’” Some might find pleasure in a massage or a joint shower, while others may prefer something more playful or affectionate. The idea is to not think about achieving a goal or having an orgasm. “Go slow and listen to yourself and your partner.”
Pencilling in a romp might seem counter to romance, but Melnick insists it can be beneficial, especially now, as spontaneity is out the window for a lot of people. “If you know that Wednesday evening you’ll have a date night, maybe that means that you don’t binge-watch Netflix all night Tuesday so that you’ll have more energy. If there are little ones in the house, maybe split up the roles, where one partner cleans up after dinner and the other puts the kids to bed.” Scheduling allows you to carve out time for each other and prevent all the life stuff from getting in the way. That said, don’t feel like you have to jump right into it. Maybe you cuddle on the couch or do something that fosters relaxation and affection. “There’s no pressure to have mind-blowing orgasms, but if you make [date night] a priority, at least you can walk away with that emotional closeness, which is beautiful in and of itself.”
Find your mojo
It can be tough to feel confident or sexy when life gets to be overwhelming. And while things like yoga, meditation and pampering can help alleviate stress and make you feel good, they’re sadly not realistic prospects for everyone. “I’d love to be able to say schedule time for yourself and self-care, but the truth is, especially for those who have kids around, that’s just not doable,” says Melnick. Instead, she suggests folding some you-time into everyday tasks. “If you’re taking a shower, maybe you turn it into a longer one or a bath. If you’re walking the dog, go for an extra lap around the block.”
Keep the spark alive
“I had a couple I was counselling the other day and the wife said, ‘I just want him to change into his nice sweatpants!’” says Melnick. Indeed, when sleepwear and daywear meld into one and every day feels exactly the same, things can start to feel a bit stale. “This is a new normal, which is why scheduling is so important,” says the expert. Try planning some date-like activities, whether it’s getting dressed up for dinner or going for a drive and making out in a parking lot like a couple of teens. Some of Melnick’s patients will take turns cooking or planning activities for each other and have their partner simply show up. “It doesn’t really matter what you do. It’s all about the intent you put behind it.”
Try new things
“I’ve actually had an increase in clients recently because people are realizing they have time to address things,” says Melnick. “This is a nice opportunity to start exploring your body and your emotions, and just playing and experimenting.” Perhaps you could take turns sharing fantasies or talking about what brings you pleasure. “Some couples aren’t used to discussing these things. This is a great time to hone those skills.” It’s about being attuned to your partner’s physical needs as much as their emotional needs, says Melnick. “When you have a strong emotional bond, sex is a vehicle that can really deepen and enhance your relationship. It’s such a lovely way to show your love and affection.”
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