https://www.smh.com.au-Samantha Selinger-Morris–Lifestyle writer
The world is burning, but make it sexy.
Such are the messages we’re getting lately.
“Are you having enough sex?” reads a Vogue headline from last month.
Many people have found their libido has plummeted, during the pandemic. “When Greg* asks if I want a massage, I RUN,” says one Sydney woman. *Name has been changed.Credit:iStock
“Go forth, be horny, and prosper,” states another article, accompanied by a run-down of every sex scene in the cult BBC series Normal People.
Because I’ve not so much been feeling foxy, during the pandemic, as I have been feeling like a rabid beady-eyed fox, curled up on its haunches, and ready to pounce at the merest hint of a need from someone else. Like, say, my much-loved husband wanting to speak to me, once the kids are in bed.
People are in a much worse situation than us. But six months of grappling with uncertainty, soaring unemployment rates, and the enmeshing of work time and hometime – while being with our kids, aged 14, 11 and 7, far more than usual – has been stressful.
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After work (and during lockdown, during work), darting from kid to kid with the reflexes of a drunk ninja – preparing meals, placating fears, breaking up fights – and then, at bedtime, trying to peel my littlest one off me like a mollusk on a rock, with the tone of Mister Rogers, while feeling, inside, like the unhinged mother from Mommie Dearest, I am not so much in the mood for romance, as I am for, say, other things. Like watching an endless loop of makeup tutorial videos on YouTube until I’m drooling and in a state of mental oblivion. (This helps, also, to block out the guilt I feel when my youngest son slips me notes, under my office door, like a POW in wartime, with messages like: “mum plees cum back I am getting veree un hppay wiv awt you”.)
“Am I the only one whose libido has plummeted like a lead zeppelin during COVID?” I asked a few girlfriends, the other week.
“You’re not alone,” said one, looking at me over the rim of her glasses, like a battle-weary lawyer telling her client that the greedy company owners have poisoned their well, again.
“When Greg* asks if I want a massage, I RUN,” said another friend.
“How can they do it when there are people in the house – kids awake?” said another friend, with irritation, referring to the reality that while many men we know are thrilled to have sex with children only a tent-thickness wall away from the bed, us ladyfolk are more comfortable with a Nagasaki bomb-blast radius between ourselves and our children, when contemplating getting tangled under the sheets.
This is not something I would usually ask about. When not living during a pandemic, I would just as soon bring up the topic of sex as I would ask a nun about the last time she was escorted out by security.
But, lately, there seem to be a lot of people feeling the pressure to – plague or no plague – retain the libido of Tom Jones being pelted with G-strings, during a Las Vegas concert.
“Feel like they’re taunting us,” wrote one man, on Twitter, in April, after a Hong Kong zoo posted a picture of two entwined pandas, who had finally had sex, despite years of encouragement by their handlers to mate.
“Never thought I’d be jealous of a panda,” wrote another person, adding the crying emoji.
Add to this a new Australian survey about the impact of COVID-19 on our sex lives, which has found that 76 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men said that it has had “no impact”. (Six per cent of women and 10 per cent of men, according to the study, by eHarmony, an online dating website, which surveyed 2000 Australians across the country, are having more sex.)
Say what now?
Sharon Draper, a Sydney psychologist and eHarmony’s relationship expert, admitted she was “surprised” by the findings – “The people that I’m speaking to are highly stressed, and when we’re stressed, we’re less likely to have our libido increase, usually it does plummet” – but that for some people, sex can be a coping mechanism.
“Wow, what an amazing coping mechanism, but it ain’t mine, sister!” I said, with the giddiness of a new AA-meeting attendee, worried about being kicked out.
“It’s not mine, either, don’t worry,” she said, surprising me with her candidness.
She’s far from alone, in telling it straight.
When British author Zadie Smith was asked in July about Normal People, which has become famous for its 15-minute-long sex scene, she responded: “I haven’t, I have not watched Normal People yet,” she said. “And Sally” – Sally Rooney, the book’s author – “is a friend of mine. I love that book, but I just, I don’t think that I’m the only middle aged person who felt this, I was just like, ‘In the middle of lockdown, it was like, do I need to see really good looking young people having sex?’ I do not. I do not need to add that to my day,” added Smith, 44, almost stumbling over her words, as though grappling with how to figure out the space-time continuum during a commercial for Space Wheeties. “There will come a time when I’ll be like, ‘I feel solid enough to enjoy people’s enjoyment of each other, but not right now.’”
I nearly swooned, as did friends of mine. One, a mother of two, called Smith her “patron saint”. Another, also a mother of two, wrote on Facebook: “I LOVED her more when she said that!”
This is no surprise to Sharon Draper, who says that revealing vulnerabilities to each other is a crucial aspect of building intimacy. And it’s this, she says, that should be any couple’s goal, rather than focusing on how much or how little sex they’re having.
“Our relationships, it’s all about showing vulnerability and going, ‘Hey, I actually don’t feel that great in myself’, just being open and communicative with your partner,” she says. “So that you can keep learning. It’s an opportunity to build bonding and closeness.”
This would explain why, despite my resolutely unsexy foxiness, I have never felt as close to my husband as I have in the last few months. (When we’re not praying aggressively for silence, we’ve been nearly falling over ourselves with gratitude that we have each other’s particular qualities to help us through this time.)
This experience has taught me another unexpected lesson, by curing me of a nugget of ignorance that I’ve secretly been nurturing, like a chia pet.
For the last six months, I’ve had the sneaky belief that I’ve been suffering more than my friends without children.
And then one of my closest girlfriends, who is single and lives alone, called me one day.
“When will I get a hug again?” said my friend, who is normally averse to revealing anything intimate and vulnerable about her life.
It pierced me, as all truths do.
We’re all suffering in different ways, now.
And this is why we need to tell the truth.