Sex & Dating | May 6, 2020 10:35 am

The Key to Quarantine Sex? Creating Space, Says Esther Perel

Good sex is all about playing make believe, especially right now

quarantine sex
The "erotic mind" needs space to thrive, but you can create that space yourself, says Perel.
Karl Tapales

Out of the many conversations surrounding love and sex in the time of coronavirus, two main schools of thought have emerged when it comes to the mating behaviors of quarantined couples. Either they’re having so much sex the world is going to be overrun with a new generation of young, post-quarantine baby boomers, or they’re realizing they can’t stand each other and are headed for divorce. These, society seems to have decided, are the options: a baby boom or a divorce boom.

The reality, as it happens, will probably find itself right about where it usually does: somewhere between our best- and worst-case predictions.

“I think, in general, when people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified,” said psychotherapist Esther Perel in a recent New Yorker interview. “You get an amplification of the best and of the worst.”

Perel is the author of the book Mating in Captivity, which explored sex in the figurative captivity of monogamy well before, as interviewer Rachel Syme pointed out, pandemic lockdowns rendered that captivity literal for many monogamous couples.

While we tend to think sex thrives on space and novelty and starves on proximity and routine, Perel suggests that lockdown conditions don’t have to be a death sentence for the sex lives of monogamous couples. The key is rethinking our understanding of “what actually preserves erotic interest in a couple,” said Perel.

“The idea that there is no mystery because I’m in the same room with you is somewhat true, if you simply think that being away from the person is enough,” she told Syme. “By definition, we need to create that space.”

And while young children may be presumed to pose a particular threat to the sex lives of their parents, Perel actually suggests looking to children’s powers of imagination for inspiration at this time.

“For those who have little kids in the house, look at what they do: they don’t need to leave the house to suddenly become the captain of a ship, or the officer of the fortress, or the driver of the truck. They just enter into a character, and, from that ‘play mode’ through their imagination, they transcend all the borders and the limitations of reality,” Perel told Syme. “It is the same with the erotic mind. It is the adult version of what children do when they play.”

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.