Sex: latest casualty of Covid
● The Covid-19 lockdown has hit many men and women below the belt by destroying their libido, and sexologists blame stress, family demands and simply spending too much time together.
“These are stressful times for many couples; many were never used to seeing each other all the time,” says sexual health practitioner professor Elna McIntosh, pictured below, a director at Disa Health Care Clinic in Sandton.
“For some couples, spending time together has definitely improved their relationships. But for the other 50%, things have not been going so well. A lot of couples are just irritated with each other.”
McIntosh says many couples are experiencing “desire discrepancy disorder”, a condition in which one partner wants sex more frequently than the other. While this is one of the most common problems between partners, it has been magnified by close and continuous physical proximity, “resulting in a loss of passion, or worse, disconnection”.
The lockdown has also caused an increase in cases of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which diminishes sexual desire and causes arousal problems.
McIntosh says before the pandemic, imbalances in sexual desire were often masked by busy work schedules.
“Some couples used to have weekend sex, but now sex has become more frequent. That can become too stressful if you are worried about your job security and you are thinking whether you can afford to pay rent or mortgage at the end of the month.”
However, some people have been having more sex, and McIntosh says there has been a surge in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“When the lockdown levels were adjusted to level 3, we started to see a lot of pregnancies and STIs,” she says. “It is scary how people engage in unprotected sex and kissing with total strangers despite the risk of contracting Covid-19, let alone STIs.”
Her practice has also received a lot of inquiries from men and women about sex toys. “People have become more adventurous, and it’s not just young people … it’s sometimes older people above the age of 60 that want to explore more.”
Leandie Buys, a clinical sexologist and relationship counsellor in Port Elizabeth, says sex lives have been affected by the stress and anxiety of lockdown. Women’s sex drive is connected to how they feel emotionally and physically, while men’s is driven by the male hormone, testosterone. Both can be negatively affected by stress.
“If a woman feels disconnected from her partner due to him or her being emotionally absent as a result of the lockdown, her libido will be affected and she will not be in the mood for sex. Or she may feel that she has put on so much weight and does not feel desirable, and this can also affect her sex drive,” says Buys.
“For a man, the stress of lockdown means his testosterone levels might get depleted, which will affect his desire for sex.”
Sexual and reproductive justice consultant Marion Stevens says women have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and bear the brunt of inequalities as they juggle home schooling, parenting and work.
“The best-known spice for increasing sexual pleasure is for partners to take on more of the emotional labour, schooling supervision, cleaning and cooking, so those in the relationship who generally have been bearing this can have the opportunity to enjoy their sexual health,” she says.