En español | After a pandemic job loss in March, Susan Esco decided to focus on romance. Esco was single and did some virtual dating for the first three months. Once she found her partner, her sex life took off.
"My favorite aerobic exercise by far,” jokes Esco, 50, of Spokane, Washington. She was cautious over the threat of contracting COVID-19 but not scared.
"I am a strong, independent woman who refuses to live in fear, so COVID did not dampen my dating/sex life,” Esco says. “In fact, it increased it as my time was free and the sexual connection actually brought with it a grounding effect during a tumultuous time.”
Esco is not alone. According to an NBC News poll of more than 9,000 people, 24 percent said the COVID outbreak has positively affected their sex lives. And in a separate poll of more than 24,000 U.S. adults, conducted by YouGov, 13 percent of those 45 to 54 and 5 percent of those 55 and older reported having more sex during the pandemic.
It makes sense, says sex therapist and sexologist Gloria Brame, of Colbert, Georgia. “[People] have more time for intimacy; they are more bored and more inclined to want to spend time [together],” she says. “There's been more sex-positive advice out there … that has encouraged people to maintain sexual activity during this time.”
Expressions of gratitude
Of course, COVID-19 presents new and interesting challenges for some, such as couples quarantining with others who don't typically live with them, and those who live far apart and cannot be intimate. Plus, some people are finding it difficult to find private moments because children (both adult and younger) are spending more time at home.
But couples 50 and older continue to find ways to surmount COVID-19 hurdles.
Diana Wiley, 77, of Seattle, lives 30 minutes from her husband, Brian, 73. The couple married more than two years ago but opted to continue living apart. They typically get together about three times a week. Since the coronavirus hit, they limit contact with others so they can still visit.
Wiley, a board-certified sex therapist and author of Love in the Time of Corona: Advice from a Sex Therapist to Couples in Quarantine., says the couple's sex life was always great, but COVID-19 has made it even better. “We're more in touch with our mortality with this life-and-death COVID crisis,” she says. “So we express a lot of gratitude for each other."
There's a whole other set of challenges for those residing in assisted living facilities and retirement communities. Many of these residences limit or bar visitors and mingling to protect older people, who are more at risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.
That said, sexual pleasure should not be taken off the table, says Joan Price, author, speaker and self-proclaimed advocate for ageless sexuality, who lives in Sebastopol, California. Seniors “deserve as much empowerment to find sensual pleasure as possible within the restrictions that you have to have during this time,” she says.
Barriers to a healthy sex life
Not everyone is finding it easy to make time for intimacy; indeed, for some the pandemic has had a negative impact. Work, family, parenting and COVID-19 itself can all be points of stress. What's more, financial pressures, the loss of jobs and health concerns can dampen the urge for sex.
"That stress basically can have an effect on pleasure and sexual connectivity and desire,” observes Lexx Brown-James, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The current negativity bombarding people “can pretty much kill libido."
There's no right way to feel, but experts agree that some type of sex is beneficial to your overall health. Research has shown that sex can provide a plethora of benefits, including lowering blood pressure, increasing heart health, strengthening muscles and reducing risk of heart disease.
"To me it's about as much shame as brushing your teeth or flossing,” Brame says. “It's just part of your body's health.”
The key is to be proactive about your sexual needs no matter what situation you are in. If you have a sexual partner, continue to prioritize sex. For those who are single or in a long-distance relationship, creating your own pleasure through masturbation is another good option, Brown-James suggests. If you are living in close quarters with other people, be honest about your needs for privacy and personal space. That can be as simple as asking your guests to go for a walk so you can have personal time, Brown-James adds.
Or you can get creative. One 82-year-old California woman and an old friend adapted after a planned trip to revive some romance was derailed by the pandemic. Instead, they have embraced letter writing as a way to share their fantasies, desires and anticipation for the day they can connect sexually in person. The unexpected romance has been thrilling. “This is a totally new experience to me,” she says, “and I'm loving it.”