Why sexual activity took a pandemic hit, and what to do about it

In the age of Covid-19, our sexual stock has plummeted.

Ian Kerner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, writer and contributor on the topic of relationships for CNN. His most recent book is a guide for couples, "So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex."

(CNN)When Covid-19 first hit, I stopped getting as many inquiries from new patients for sex therapy.

"Finally," I thought, "people are having sex!"
None of the old excuses -- like working late, dinner obligations, a rough commute -- to get in the way. And with nothing else to do on a Friday date night, why not sex?
    Boy, was I wrong. Our libidos are like the stock market.
      At a high level they go up or down, but when you look closely, there are numerous factors -- physical and psychological -- affecting those fluctuations. And in the age of Covid-19: We're exercising less, eating more, drinking and smoking and vaping to escape the anxiety -- all of which affect our sexual health and self-esteem.
      We might not change out of our pajamas or shower as regularly, which affects attraction. We're largely shut off from the outside world and its external stimuli, and more on top of each ever than ever before. And that's leading to anger, resentment and a sense of relational claustrophobia.
      There's research to support what we've all been feeling: One meta-analysis of seven studies from the United States, China, Turkey, Italy and the United Kingdom examined the effects of Covid-19 on people's sex lives and found a decrease in partnered sexual activity during the pandemic. Other research found that the effects of forced prolonged cohabitation during the lockdown led partners to turn to more masturbation and porn use and less to sex with each other.
        But spring -- and optimism -- is in the air, and it's time for a sex recharge. In my work, I help people fix their sex lives by really paying attention to what works and doesn't work in what I call the "sex script." From the first moments of initiation to the final moments when someone rolls over and reaches for their cell phone, every sexual event tells a story that has a beginning, middle and end.
        My goal is to help couples rewrite their sex scripts, often away from pain and toward pleasure. Prompted by my questions, patients will describe a recent sexual event in step-by-step detail. For example, "So, how did you get started? Who initiated? Of all the things you could have been doing at the time, how did it end up being sex?"