Last Saturday Harlan and I took our dog for a hike in the hills of San Anselmo. The wide fire road allowed us to keep the requisite six feet of distance between ourselves and the other hikers, while we enjoyed the stunning views of San Francisco Bay. I was in my happy place for the first time since the coronavirus turned everything upside down. Grounded and at peace, I laughed as I watched Riley bounce around, running from smell to smell and rolling in the grass.
As we looped back towards the car I mentioned to Harlan that it had been a minute since our last roll in the hay. His response: “There’s nothing sexy about a global pandemic.”
Even before COVID-19 sex was a challenge in our marriage due to my compromised immune system. I was often on my mind. But I wasn’t daydreaming about it in eager anticipation. Mostly I fretted about how to make it happen, as I didn’t frequently have the energy for it. I worried about how Harlan and I would maintain our connection without regular hanky panky. I mapped out ways of conserving my energy and fantasized about sneaking in some lovemaking while the kids were at school, Harlan was between meetings, and I was feeling well enough to enjoy it. In the shower I scrubbed myself squeaky clean, hopeful that fooling around might happen that day. Sometimes I even put on sexy underwear, only to take it off before bed, un-admired. I didn’t usually tell Harlan about the undies. It just seemed cruel.
Now that we’re in the midst of a global health crisis, engaging in a celebratory act while people all over the world are sick and dying further complicates things. It feels disrespectful of the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. The collective mood is somber, not celebratory. And having three teenagers in the house 24/7 hasn’t helped. Intimacy requires a relaxed mind and body, both of which are diminished at the moment. And it benefits from playfulness, which is also in short supply. But sex is life affirming. Now more than ever, we need to feel alive, vital, empowered. Sex releases the love hormone oxytocin and mood-boosting endorphins. It strengthens the immune system (which I could certainly benefit from). And, during a time when we have to physically distance ourselves from most of the people in our lives, it can be a precious gift.
So the day after our hike, while the kids slept in, we pulled down the shades, shut out the animals, locked the door and slipped under the sheets. While our escapade may not have been footloose and fancy-free, it did provide us with a sense of well-being and brought us closer to one another. So we will do our best to prioritize this act of self-care during this extraordinary, unsettling time.