The Effects of COVID-19 on Sex Lives

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic late last year, the world has suffered through over 32 million COVID-related cases and over 980,000 deaths, resulting in panic, pain, and instability in the majority of the world’s countries. The obvious consequence that comes with this pandemic is the fear of getting sick yourself, as well as getting others sick. As we know now, the symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, achiness, and more. Evidently, the world is uneasy about how vague the symptoms are and how similar they are to the flu as well as an everyday cold or virus. These issues have been brought to light by countless news networks and papers.

However, one of the biggest effects of the coronavirus, in my opinion, is the social aspect. People are used to being with other people. Contact between people yields wonderful things such as intimacy, collaboration, and friendship. Without those additions to society, what is society? A key piece of this problem that stood out to me was the impact on our sex lives. With little permitted contact and mandatory mask-wearing, how are people developing their sex lives and intimate relationships? In order to answer this question, I conducted a virtual interview with a local sex therapist Sage Bolte, who as her own private practice. I asked Ms. Bolte a series of questions to see how COVID-19 has truly been shaping, or in reality, deforming, sex lives.

Ms. Bolte, could you tell me a little bit about your job and what you do?

I am currently the Chief Philanthropy Officer and President of the Inova Health Foundation (the fundraising arm of Inova Health System). However, I am a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist and also hold a private practice.

What made you choose this line of work?

Becoming a social worker was something I knew I was called to. I am very justice-oriented and have been a long time advocate of equality [and] the LGBTQ+ community, and [I’m] passionate about health inequalities and access to care for all people and wanted to be part of helping people with chronic illness improve their lives. I spent the first 16 years of my career working as an oncology counselor and helping individuals cope with a cancer diagnosis, the losses associated with them, and the challenges (and opportunities) the diagnosis and impact of treatments can have. As I witnessed the ongoing challenges that many patients experienced related to their sexual health and relationships after a cancer diagnosis, I realized that no one on the care team was addressing these issues. I felt compelled to learn more and decided to pursue a certification in sex therapy through AASECT [American Association of Sexuality Education, Counselors and Therapists] and have been on a mission ever since to train health care professionals how to talk to their patients about their sexual health as well as provide direct care to these patients to help improve their sexual health. In my private practice, I also see LGBTQ+ youth, couples, and individuals with sexual dysfunction.

Since COVID-19 began, have you noticed any shifts in your patients’ sex lives?

COVID has had an interesting impact on people’s sex lives. At the beginning, there was so much fear around touching and getting close to people that it also translated into couples, especially those who were still needing to work outside the home and their fear of “giving COVID” to their partner. This has been especially prevalent in those working in health care, as many frontline workers at the beginning of the pandemic were sleeping at hotels, friends’ houses, or the hospital out of extraordinary precaution of bringing COVID home with them and giving it to their families and/or partner(s). Certainly, as we have learned more, this anxiety has lessened and they are back to more normal routines, but sex is still impacted for many due to fatigue, different work schedules, increased needs of kids virtually schooling from home, and lack of time/separation from each other when still fairly isolated. Dating has also changed during COVID because of the opportunities to meet really only in public places, so even sex with single people has changed as there are not the same “opportunities” that there were before. However, that seems to be changing back and more people feeling comfortable going to someone’s house or apartment or eating at a restaurant.

Why do you think this has or hasn’t changed?

As stated above, the unknown, fear, and fatigue. However, for some younger people, I believe we are going to see a bump in babies born in the next six to nine months from “COVID” babies. … Others found a lot of time to have sex during the initial lockdown, and with the social distancing and isolation, some of their only contacts are their partner(s).  

Has the presence of COVID-19 made your job harder or busier in any way?

No, it hasn’t made my job busier or harder, but it certainly has added a new layer to my patients’ experiences of intimacy and sexual play, and for those who can’t be together, they have had to get more creative using technology to connect.

Lastly, what advice have you been giving patients who have been affected negatively by the presence of COVID-19? 

I encourage them to use the greatest skill we have — communication. Ask for what they need, communicate what they need, get creative with ways to be intimate if time and children are running interference. If they aren’t able to be with their partner due to distance or choice, use technology to connect sexually (if they are comfortable with that). To take time away from the house, walk away from the desks, go for walks, close the computers, [and] set boundaries on “work time” and “couple time,” because when both working from home, the lines can get blurred and they forget to reconnect as a couple. 

 

Based on Ms. Bolte’s responses, trouble in sex lives due to COVID-19 is definitely evident and is, unfortunately, taking tolls on peoples’ relationships. However, thanks to Ms. Bolte and others like her, there is hope. Ms. Bolte makes it clear that it is far from impossible to keep your relationships and sex lives alive with some communication and understanding, and that is all we really need to hear.