sex during the pandemic
(Photo: iStock)

We are never going to stop having sex and during the pandemic is no exception. But the coronavirus has dramatically changed the dynamics of most couples. Those who saw each other often, see each other less and those who live together see each other much more.

According to data from the May 2020 Sexuality and Covid-19 Survey, compiled by the Mexican Association for Sexual Health (Asociación Mexicana para la Salud Sexual, A.C), sexual behavior in the Mexican population has decreased by 43% during lockdown.

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Alone or accompanied?

The decrease in sex was recorded, even by those who live as a couple. This occurred for 36% of women and 25% of men.

Those who live together may have been presented with a decrease in personal space. For example, children and the extended family are present 24 hours a day, so the number of sexual encounters is reduced.

For those who do not own their own home or live far from their partner (if quarantine is respected), the spaces in which sexual encounters are possible – such as hotels – have been closed.

Regardless of whether one is living through Covid-19 with a partner or not, why has there been a reduction in sexual activity?

Eusebio Rubio-Aurioles, Director General of the Mexican Association for Sexual Health (AMSSAC), explains that the survey showed the impact that quarantine has had on sexual life in relation to depression, anxiety, stress, and violence suffered.

The AMSSAC study does not explore the range of variables that may be affecting people individually. The survey was done at the beginning of the quarantine, but it exposes a basic problem: “most people simply do not feel like having erotic encounters when they feel physically or emotionally bad, so that reduces the number of sexual encounters,” explains Doctor in Sexology Armando Escalante.

Zoom into the brain

To understand the relationship between mental health and sexual desire, we will zoom into the brain.

Alejandra Evelyn Ruiz Contreras, an expert in cognitive neurogenomics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explains that this is where the ‘axis’ of stress comes into play. “Anxiety, depression, and violence have specific mechanisms. However, they share the activation of the HPA axis (Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal). This has also been called the stress axis,” she says.

The neurochemistry in each of these states is different. A brain exposed to stress increases the production of cortisol. This hormone activates our body’s survival mode and keeps us in a state of alert, but it decreases sexual desire. A person with anxiety also secretes cortisol and experiences a drop in GABA receptors, which promote calmness and tranquility.

Sexual apathy

In the case of depression, staying in a predominantly sad state of mind leads to low sex drive, as well as apathy and tiredness towards daily activities in general. “During depressive states, there is a significant reduction in the production of serotonin (the happiness hormone). Serotonin also actively participates in sexual function,” explains UNAM psychologist Augusto Martínez Ruvalcaba.

Another reason why sex has declined during quarantine is violence. According to the Sexuality and Covid-19 Survey, 8% of those interviewed said they had “perceived” intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, 9% said that violence had continued in their relationship.

“Cortisol and therefore stress is increased when suffering aggression. The search for pleasure is reduced If someone is in danger, there is fear and therefore increased cortisol, adrenaline and vasopressin, which are the opposite of oxytocin (the love hormone),” says Augusto Martínez Ruvalcaba, an expert in clinical psychology.

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Sexting and other pleasures

Sexuality is transformed along with pleasure. Humans, thanks to technology, have more options for sexual stimulation. During Covid-19, the use of sexual video calls and sexting has increased in 38% of the 1,785 participants in the Mexican sexual health survey.

The brains of people who engage in sexting or sexual video calls (or any other sexual stimulation) for the first time experience an extra load of dopamine (a hormone related to pleasure) and oxytocin (the love hormone).

Since our sex life is not reduced to a moment or a part of the body, experts recommend exploring everything that sex offers us. Conversation, words, looks, caresses, flirting: all of these can also be extremely enjoyable, and there is no reason to stop practicing them alone or in company.

The paradise of fluids

Sex is one of the activities that releases the most neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, which cause a feeling of pleasure and tranquility. Dopamine is related to the expression of emotions and the body’s motor function, but it also plays an important role in motivation and seeking reward.

Sexual activity lowers cortisol (stress) levels and modulates serotonin, thus improving mood. When experiencing pleasure, there is an extra load of oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also related to attachment. When doing something that was already pleasant, the logical thing is to repeat the activity again, to re-experience the same feeling.

So, if your lack of sexual activity is due to the extended family, this is the advice of Dr. Eusebio Rubio:

If you live as a couple, establish limits with the family. Maintain privacy, establish spaces for you as a couple. Implement schedules to be with the family and as a couple. If you live far away from your partner, increase virtual sexual encounters.”

Rubio says that when sexual activity decreases in quality (and quantity), the causes must first be recognized. “It could be due to stress, depression, violence, or anxiety. Acknowledge the circumstances, find a logical explanation. If there are none, go to an expert.

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