The Ups and Downs of Desire in Quarantine

This is part of a series of stories about sex in quarantine. If you’d like to share yours, email it to

Ahh, quarantine. 

By now we’ve all been staying at home for…a while. Let’s just leave the counting to the mathematicians. 

Much has already been written about how these aren’t normal times. You aren’t *really* working from home, you’re trying to be productive in the midst of a pandemic that’s changing the face of the economy, of healthcare, of the world.  How we might all be in the same storm but we aren’t all on the same boat. All of this applies to your sex life and relationships, too.

What I’ve heard from couples—these in my counseling practice and those who responded to this platform’s call for your quarantine sex stories—is that it feels like being on  a rollercoaster with three parts:

Stage 1: BLISS! You’re in a new honeymoon period, having lots of sex, learning new, intimate details about each other, and falling deeper in love. WEE!

Stage 2: Get. Away. From. Me. You are sick of each other. You bicker constantly. Seriously, why do they chew so loud? Can I just have one damn hour alone?! GRRR.

Stage 3: We’ve got this! You’ve found some sort of tentative rhythm that works for the two of you.  Things feel, dare you say, normal. AHH.

Rinse and repeat.

And again.

And so on and so forth.

Sometimes this rollercoaster happens in the course of a day. Other times, over weeks. Regardless, it reminds me of my favorite quote from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart:

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

What’s so powerful about this Chodron quote is that it’s a reminder both that this too shall pass and also that something else will come up. 

If you’re lucky, COVID-19 will be the most challenging thing you face together. Whether or not that’s true, the spiraling nature of coming together and falling apart is something we already go through regularly. The moon waxes and wanes. The uterine lining builds up and the monthly bleed comes. 

Chodron also talks about healing. We’ve already written about how crises offer an opportunity to grow closer. The thing is, that growing closer won’t always feel like it. 

Yes, some days it’ll be sun-bathed adoration and orgasms. Other days, it’ll feel like nails on a chalkboard, nose to the grindstone, blisters on your feet when you have another ten blocks to walk. 

And that’s OK. Well, it sucks, but it’s part of the process.

Is there anything to do besides hold on and pray? 

Yes: be with whatever arises. To welcome it in and, as my friend says, have tea with it.

Feel whatever comes up. Cry, dance out your anxiety, howl your rage at the moon, scream into your pillow, pace around your living room or backyard in boredom, etc.

Remember that you’re in this together. And communicate well—about the pandemic, yes, and also all of the things that were there before and that are showing up now that aren’t about the pandemic.

One of our favorite tools for navigating this comes from Dr. Nan Wise’s book Why Good Sex Matters. It’s called “I notice___  and I imagine___.” It’s an incredible way to own the stories you tell yourself, give your partner an opportunity to share their Truth, and navigate sticky moments together. In short, when something piques your attention—whether that’s a sigh that sounds heavy, a comment that lands hurtfully, or an inconsiderate action—you share what you noticed and what you imagine it means. This invites dialogue versus a fight/flight response and helps you both uncover patterns in your thoughts and behaviors that might not be serving you.

Studies with cancer patients show that navigating a crisis together is an opportunity to fall even more in love. One of the deciding factors? Talking about your concern—related to the crisis, to your relationship, to your sex life. Sharing is truly caring in this instance—for yourself (because shame thrives in silence and also fucks up your physical, mental, and emotional health) and your relationship.

Kait xo

If you or a loved one is not safe at home, visit Futures without Violence to find services for those experiencing domestic, intimate partner, and gender-based violence.

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