When the pandemic lockdown initially went into effect early last spring, there were plenty of jokes about the "baby boom" that would undoubtedly occur due to couples being home together 24/7 and finally having enough time to get busy. It sounded plausible at first, right? But it wasn't long before the true toll of the pandemic began to weigh on us—on mothers most of all.
The data we collected for our 2021 State of Motherhood survey showed a staggering number of women have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic in every facet of their lives.
While this may not be surprising given that we live in a patriarchal society that devalues the paid and emotional labor of people who are not white, cisgender males, it's incredibly disheartening.
Over 11,000 women responded to our fourth annual State of Motherhood survey, and the data we collected aligned with US Census demographic data to ensure we presented an accurate representation of today's millennial mother. Out of those surveyed, 41% of mothers say they're having less sex as a direct result of the pandemic.
Why are we having less sex when we're spending more time with our partners than ever before?
Just because many couples are home together most of the time doesn't mean things are all rose petals and Kenny G. Lots of togetherness comes with its own stressors as everyone has tried to adjust to a radically different state of normalcy. While it's no secret that moms typically carry a much heavier mental load in households across the US, the pandemic shined a spotlight on inequality at home.
According to the moms we surveyed, almost half (45%) report being the primary caregiver for their children during the day, despite the fact that many male partners are also working remotely. The pandemic has disproportionately affected women of color across the board, and 53% of Black mothers feel unsupported at home. Only one-quarter of mothers (26%) rely on a childcare provider, and only 4% of moms reported having a partner who takes the primary caregiver role. Very few mothers say their partners share the responsibility of parenting equally—just 10%.
"Couples who spend nearly all day together are especially suffering from little novelty which turns into lowered libido and less desire for one another," said Rebecca Alvarez Story, a nationally renowned sexologist and co-founder of The Bloomi, a sexual wellness marketplace. "At Bloomi, we recommend scheduling a date night with your partner(s). Try something new. New experiences activate the brain's reward system which releases feel-good hormones like, dopamine and oxytocin."
Many couples have completely changed their mind about family planning during the pandemic. While some couples have found a year at home to be good timing to add to the family, a majority of couples have altered course due to financial or emotional stress.
In our survey, just 39% of mothers say they intend to have more children—a full 12 points lower than 2019. While most (40%) say the pandemic has not impacted their family planning, nearly one in five say it has, with 13% saying they are waiting for the pandemic to resolve before having more children and 6% saying they are no longer planning to conceive or adopt.
Not wanting to become pregnant during a global pandemic is just another reason a lot of moms are having less sex.
Lack of desire
Now, just because everyone is home together all the time doesn't mean parents are finding much time alone together. Because of pandemic life, parents aren't able to find time for date nights or alone time where the kids aren't present. This has put a major damper on moms' sex lives. While it's incredibly frustrating, it's also incredibly normal for these unprecedented times.
"It's completely normal to not want to have sex right now," Story said. "Our bodies are storing a lot of stress and trauma which directly impacts libido. When we have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), our feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin decrease. Because we are most likely prioritizing things like finances, food, shelter and family–sex usually ends up on the bottom of that list."
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has utterly upended life as we knew it in myriad ways. In addition to the toll its taken on mothers' mental health, financial circumstances, workload and sex lives, it's introduced a level of monotony we weren't otherwise accustomed to. With limited options on safe activities outside the home, it's hard when every day looks almost exactly the same.
"When we're living our day-to-day routines with our partner(s) 24/7, things might feel repetitive and maybe even a little boring," Story said. "That's completely normal. We all need some room to breathe and relax in solitude every now and then. Take some time away from each other. Whether that's making individual virtual plans with friends or taking time to practice self-care, try to find a healthy balance where your time together is meaningful and intentional, but so is your time apart."
Sari Cooper, a New York-based Certified Sex Therapist and Founder of the Center for Love and Sex in NYC, likens anxiety and depression to "carrying an extremely heavy backpack" during an uphill climb. It requires more emotional and physical bandwidth to get through the day, Cooper said. "Desire is squelched by the inhibiting expression of anxiety and depression symptoms like feelings of low self-esteem, apathy, loss of pleasure in formerly fun experiences, disturbed sleep, and increased levels of worry, anxiety and fears."
Helping yourself and your partner
"If at all possible have a date beginning outside of your home," Cooper recommends. "I've encouraged clients to have a friend or relative watch the kids and go for a walk, hike or bike ride together and ask this babysitter to put the kids to bed or down for a nap. If clients are open to outdoor dining then to return to date night and find other topics to talk about besides domestic chores, come prepared with fun or curious topics to discuss."
She suggests couples should try to keep all that good mojo going when they get home.
"Don't get sidelined with mundane domestic chores," she said. "It's a distraction and a turn-off for most people, and especially heterosexually-partnered women who feel more responsibility to maintain the household task list. Finally, take turns creating a scene that your partner has expressed erotic interest in and schedule the time to do it when you have enough energy."
Moms need more support than what they're receiving in every avenue of motherhood, full stop. And while it's always OK to not be OK, there are a variety of resources available to help you and your partner reconnect. The Bloomi is full of sexual wellness content, helpful tips and advice. You could try one of Sari Cooper's webinars exclusively offered from her Center For Love And Sex. Lastly, you could find a sex therapist or marriage counselor in your area or on TalkSpace.