The economic crisis has a huge upside: an opportunity to improve your relationship.
Layoffs, furloughs and shrinking 401(k)s may not seem like natural aphrodisiacs, but according to experts in relationships and sex, the depressed financial picture is leading some couples--and singles--to better appreciate each other.
"The recession brings with it a re-evaluation of what's important in life," says Manhattan psychoanalyst Amy Joelson.
In Depth: Eight Ways The Recession Can Spice Up Relationships
It's too early for empirical studies evaluating the effect of the recession on the sex lives of Americans, notes Chicago psychiatrist Paul Dobranksy, author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall In Love. He says it takes years to compile a meaningful picture of how the downturn has changed the intimate lives of Americans. "See me in five years," he says.
But anecdotal information exists. While many of Joelson's patients, for example, have expressed anxiety about spending money on frivolous items, they still feel good about engaging in physical intimacy. "People wrestle with guilt about indulging in all kinds of pleasures, like going shopping or eating at expensive restaurants; that's seen as politically incorrect," she says. "But you don't need a 401(k) to have sex."
Physical intimacy is also a great way to relieve anxiety, tension and stress, points out Wayne, N.J., psychologist and dating coach Victoria Zdrok, author of Anatomy of Pleasure: The Head to Toe Guide to Better Sex. "People are turning to sex to boost their endorphin levels," observes Zdrok. Tightening budgets means more time at home, says Zdrok. "That allows people more one-on-one time and more intimacy," she says, "which leads to more sex."
Because of all the bad news about plunging markets and escalating unemployment, says Zdrok, some couples may be turning off the television and turning to one another. "It's been shown that people who watch more TV have less sex," she notes. "In one Italian study, when television was removed from the bedroom, couples' sex lives improved."
Another upside of the down economy: With many Americans out of work or on furlough, people have more time to exercise.
"Exercise is one of the ways people deal with stress and anxiety," notes New York City relationship counselor Ian Kerner, author of Sex Recharge: A Rejuvenation Plan for Couples and Singles. "Exercise is also a great libido-booster and a great part of sexual health," adds Kerner. "Exercise increases blood flow and predisposes you to sexual arousal."
Layoffs and furloughs can also shake up the daily grind and introduce the concept of novelty, which can spur spontaneous sex. "Whenever you introduce novelty, it stimulates dopamine transmission in the brain," notes Kerner. "I advise couples to use the recession to break out of routines."
Experts agree that tough economic times can motivate couples, as well as singles, to turn to simple pleasures. For singles, that can mean greater use of dating Web sites followed by low-key in-person meetings that can lead to more intimate conversations and deeper relationships.
"To go out there and use the more traditional method of a night on the town--that's too costly," points out Manhattan psychotherapist and advice columnist Jonathan Alpert.
Couples, likewise, can forgo lavish vacations or dinners in upscale restaurants in favor of affordable pastimes that stimulate bonding, like cooking dinner at home, renting a movie, cuddling on the couch or taking a walk in the park and talking. "All of these activities," says Alpert, "encourage an intimacy and a closeness that improves the quality of a couple's sex life."
Dobranksy agrees. "Anybody who loses a job is going to take a hit to his dignity," he says. "That presents a couple with an opportunity to rediscover the non-material values in life, which are certainly the stuff of love and romance."
Meantime, notes psychoanalyst Joelson, couples should stay focused on the value of an active sex life. "Sex is a great expression of intimacy in a relationship," says Joelson. "It's a really optimistic thing, to have sex; there is hope built into the belief that together, you can create something better."