Isolation intimacy image

When we check in with friends these days, there’s so much ground to cover: Are they healthy? Feeling stir crazy? Doing okay with the whole remote-work thing?

There’s another question many of us would like to ask our pals: How’s your sex life?

At a time when the world’s flipped upside down, it’s hard to imagine that our intimate lives haven’t been turned inside out as well, either for better or for worse. And data supports that hunch: In an NBC News poll of nearly 11,000 people, about half said coronavirus has improved their sex life, while the other half reported it has had a negative impact.

Here in Scarsdale, it’s easy to find people on both sides of the divide. Maddy Brown (name changed for privacy) of Fox Meadow said intimacy with her husband is “a thousand times better” since COVID-19 has required them to remain cooped up together. “I’ve never been so turned on,” she marveled. “I’m legit chasing the man around while he’s working! It’s such a turn-on to watch him work.”

Greenacres resident Penny Schulz (name changed for privacy), on the other hand, is struggling to keep the spark alive. “I can tell you that our sex life has gone for a toss, in a house full of college kids that have random waking and sleeping schedules,” she said. “It’s also compounded by the fact that if either of us feels unwell, we really don’t want to pass on an infection — and by feeling unwell, I mean fatigue after a hard week of work in an environment where there is no transition between personal and professional spaces anymore.”

These complaints are familiar ones to Catherine Broccoli, a Scarsdale-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “I am seeing an uptick in intimacy issues and [people] just needing coping strategies altogether in terms of marital relationships,” she shared. “Everybody is at their wit’s end because there is no escape — it’s not sexy to be around your partner 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Indeed, to be one of those couples whose intimate bond is helped rather than harmed by COVID, you need to walk a fine line. Yet it isn’t as hard as you might imagine. If you want a better sex life, both now and after the pandemic, it starts with consideration outside the bedroom.

“‘Small things often’ is a motto I like to encourage,” said Eric Kelly, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Service. “Small gestures of appreciation go a long way. Can you beat your partner to the laundry, or to taking care of something with the kids? Can you do something that’s been on their to-do list for a while? Even just the practice of sitting and talking and spending 10 minutes a day figuring out what’s going on in your spouse’s world [can help].”

Speaking of communication, now is also a good time to have an honest talk with your partner about chores, if you haven’t done so before. With everyone home, there’s more housework than ever, and if the division of labor is unequal or unfair, “definitely put all the issues on the table,” Broccoli recommended. Come up with a roughly equitable plan, since resentment kills desire. And figure out times when each partner can rest and recharge — it’s vital if you’re going to be intimate at other times. “Pick up the slack so that person can take a walk or watch a TV show alone. There is a little bit of our humanity that’s getting lost in all of this,” Broccoli said.

Also find times to do things you enjoy together, since that builds a connection, added Sophia Din, M.D., a physician who lives in Scarsdale. “Cook together, take a walk together, or have a conversation that isn’t about dealing with personal or financial problems,” she recommended. If you’re looking for more ways to build intimacy, try the app Gottman Card Decks, suggests Kelly — it’s a set of virtual “cards” that are full of suggestions for building closeness.

In addition, pay attention to your grooming during this stressful time. Some people “are finding that their partners aren’t self-caring enough,” shared Broccoli. “When you’re talking about sex, it matters. They’re not showering, and none of us are getting haircuts. It sounds so shallow, but the reality is, no judgment, we’re attracted to people who look good.” Take care of the aspects of your appearance that are under your control. Translation: stop wearing your PJs all day long.

Of course, there’s the tricky issue of how to be intimate if you have children with you in the house around the clock. For those with young kids, Dr. Din suggested waiting till they are asleep, and having cameras installed in their room so they can be monitored from a short distance.

Older kids may actually be less of a problem. “My son is a zombie who sleeps till 3 in the afternoon because he’s in college, and our daughter is working in a makeshift office in our house all day,” said Brown. “But I will tell you this — we go into my husband’s bathroom and lock the door and fool around in there. I don’t want to lock my bedroom door and have one of my kids trying to open it!”

It all goes to show that with a little caring and creativity, intimacy can flourish in the worst of times — which these, admittedly, are. Said Broccoli: “This will pass and if couples can just try to dig deep and remember that we’re all on the same team — it can’t be you versus me — this doesn’t have to be another war.”

Should you disinfect before sex?

You wipe down everything from your groceries to your mail these days. Does it make sense for you and your partner to try to disinfect yourselves before you get intimate? “I think couples should test for [COVID] antibodies,” said Dr. Din. “If they have immunity, they can be good for at least the next six to nine months.”

If you or your significant other doesn’t have coronavirus antibodies, “then it’s a different story,” she said. Avoid unnecessary exposure to strangers, she advised, so you can have the safest sexual contact possible. “I don’t think bathing will protect [you] completely, but it will decrease the rate or chance of transmission.”

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