It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that the changes we’ve experienced these past two pandemic-heavy years don’t stop at the bedroom door. In fact, scientists have coined the word “coronasomnia” to describe the sleep deprivation brought on by COVID-related stress and worry.
That deprivation extends to other bedroom activities as well, as studies show that couples are less inclined to engage in romantic activities now than before the pandemic. One study, for example, found that 37% of respondents felt their sexual lives had worsened during the past year. An Australian study, meanwhile, found 53.5% of those surveyed reported having less sex during lockdown.
So when you hear a variation of “not tonight, Honey, I have a headache” a little too often, what can you do? If you’re feeling a lack of spark in the bedroom, we’re here to help with tips and suggestions that can turn that spark into a roaring blaze — and may even help you sleep better afterward.
What Drives Bedroom Chemistry?
You know how it goes: someone walks into the room, and your heart starts beating a little faster. Your palms become sweaty, and it’s all you can do to muster up the courage to go and say “hello.” When you get a smile in return, it’s suddenly the best day of your life.
Call it chemistry, call it mutual attraction or charisma; it’s the feeling that you just want to be with someone. Romantic chemistry is a mix of science and imagination, bundled up with a good dose of psychiatry. Substances in our body, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, not to mention the hormones testosterone and estrogen, drive our desire to be together. Our level of self-esteem plays a role, as do our emotional responses to stressors, both good and bad.
So what changed during the pandemic? Your ability to meet potential partners, for one thing. With restaurants and bars closed, as well as many workplaces, and few people out on the street, it was nearly impossible to meet anyone new.
If you were already in a committed relationship, sharing a living space with your partner 24/7 while you both worked from home took away some of the excitement of being together. Many people were focused on job and food insecurity or health worries, leading to chronic levels of stress that left little time for romance. For others, the pandemic intensified existing cracks in the relationship, leading to breakups.
But the situation isn’t all bad news. It’s possible to introduce new elements into any romance to coax that fire higher. Many have been trying to survive on embers since the pandemic began, but being proactive can help restart any relationship. And the bedroom is a great place to start.
What Does a Romantic Bedroom Look Like?
What does your bedroom mean to you? Sure, it’s the place where you sleep, but does it fulfill other functions, too? For example, is there a TV in it? A playpen for your toddler? Your pandemic workspace? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these, be aware that they can put obstacles in the way of a romantic evening.
You may have no choice: in a small apartment, for example, that ironing board might not fit anywhere else. But hold this idea in your head: a bedroom can and should be a haven for intimacy. Your romance doesn’t necessarily start or end in the bedroom, but it does conduct a great deal of business there, and it can pay off to make that fact obvious.
7 Ways to Make Your Bedroom More Romantic
- Make your bed inviting: a soft pillow, freshly-cleaned sheets, and a good mattress set the stage for a night of romance. The larger the bed, the better: a queen or king will give you more room for foreplay than a double.
- Declutter your bedroom: Other than the contents of a clothes closet or dresser, anything not related to sleeping should be relocated, if possible. That includes toys, laundry prep items, and, yes, the TV. Although watching TV in bed is common, it is not conducive to a night of focusing on your partner.
- Remove your electronics: the same holds true for cell phones and tablets. Electronic devices are distracting, plus they emit blue light that can interfere with your sleep habits and keep you from getting a good night’s rest.
- Establish bedroom boundaries: to ensure that your bedroom is a romantic getaway, avoid working in your bedroom, and gently try to keep children and pets from using it as a playroom or sleeping space. Fido should have his own bed in another room, and unless you have small children who may need nighttime comforting, it’s best if they don’t spend a lot of time in your bedroom.
- Pick a romantic bedroom style: Don’t get us wrong: a romantic bedroom isn’t necessarily one that’s all flowers and lacy curtains. Instead, aim for a style that both you and your partner are comfortable with so that it becomes a room that you both want to be in.
- Make it clear that your focus is your partner: If your bedroom is full of photos of family and friends, relocate them to the living room and place in their stead pics of your beloved. And when making any changes to the bedroom, ask your partner to help you make decisions so that the room reflects both of you, rather than just your own style.
- Use colors that promote relaxation: this is good both for romance and for sleeping. Choose soft colors for your bedroom, rather than bright or bold ones. If you want wallpaper, choose a print that’s not too busy.
How to Prepare For a Special Evening
So you’ve tweaked your bedroom environment to make it a romantic haven, and you’re ready to welcome your partner home for a night of passion. What next? Consider your five senses: what we experience in the world comes through them, and addressing at least a few of those can help create a multi-sensory experience designed to bring back the spark in your relationship and build it into a roaring blaze.
7 ways to Prepare for Your Romantic Evening
- Do a deep clean: it goes without saying that dirty socks on the floor are a visual turn-off. Clutter happens to everyone, it’s true, but take a few minutes to pick up laundry, make the bed, and ensure that there are no distractions in the room.
- Add mood lighting: If your overhead light has a dimmer, now’s the time to use it. Better yet, turn on a bedside lamp to cast a soft glow over the room. If you have some candles, place them around the room — though not too close to the bed, in case things get energetic.
- Add some scent: if those candles are scented, all the better. Or think about a scented air freshener or essential oils in a diffuser. You can even place a few drops of a soothing oil, such as lavender, on the edge of your pillowcase, away from where your face will rest.
- Consider your romantic soundtrack: For some people, a favorite song will always remind them of their loved ones. Perhaps it was your first dance at your wedding or a song that was popular when you were dating. Other couples may benefit from white noise, such as soft rain sounds or a babbling brook, in the background.
- Use your partner’s love language: there are different ways of expressing love: for some, physical touch is paramount; for others, words of affirmation. Explore different ways of showing your love for your partner and determine what resonates most with them when you are engaging in lovemaking.
- Place rose petals on the bed: for some couples, a physical demonstration like this can enhance passion. If scented rose petals seem like too much work to clean up afterwards, consider adding a bouquet of roses or other flowers to the decor of your bedroom.
- Be prepared: this will vary from couple to couple, of course. If you are using birth control, make sure it’s easily available. If sex toys are an important part of your love play, keep them near the bed. Having to run to the bathroom to grab a condom may be a deal breaker for many.
What Experts Are Saying
Clinical psychologist Daniel Sher, a sex therapy expert at Between Us Clinic, an online men’s sexual dysfunction clinic, agrees that the pandemic has had an “interesting impact” on our sex lives. At first, he says, his clients relished the additional home time, but after a while, this gave way to fear and uncertainty — as well as less lovemaking. “Of course,” he says, “the pandemic also has sky-rocketed rates of psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression, both of which are associated with sexual dysfunction.”
To regain former levels of sexual intimacy, She recommends scheduling times to be together, whether you spend it making dinner or engaged in the bedroom. “What is important,” he says, “is that this time is rendered sacred and that you are both fully present and immersed during the experience.”
Jacob Brown, MA, a couples therapist in San Francisco, believes the best way to deal with pandemic-related dysfunction is to be open to frank, loving conversation about what’s wrong.
“The process of building closeness, trust, and emotional intimacy is different during a pandemic than in normal times,” Brown says. “There are no clear rules; we’re all making it up as we go along. The best thing that couples can do is admit that they feel lost and overwhelmed. That sets the stage for them to work together, as a team, to find the path to closeness that works best for them.”
Rachel Sommer, Ph.D., is a clinical sexologist and co-founder of My Sex Toy Guide, a hub for sexual health and wellness. She seconds the notion that it’s important to find time to work through some of the pandemic-related conundrums that many couples face.
“A colleague of mine confided that they developed a 2-hour zero technology rule in the house. Within the two hours, phones and TVs are turned off so the couple can engage and have an organic conversation without worrying about what’s going on outside their small world,” she says.
Being in a healthy, functioning relationship can be a challenge at the best of times. With that in mind, perhaps the best advice we can offer is just to do what feels right for you, staying open to the needs and desires of each partner even if that means making up new rules to go with your new normal.
If you’re not sure what the new normal even looks like, try implementing some of our suggestions to make your bedroom look and feel more like a place where you want to spend time with your loved one. In the end, remember that you and your partner are a team, and working together to create a renewed sense of intimacy in the bedroom can be a great way to remind each other of why you’re together in the first place.
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