Nia Abram & Rita Cliffton
Nia is Rita’s first queer partner, guiding her roommate-turned-girlfriend through the nuances of sex with women. “A lot of times, women are just taught to betray ourselves in sexual situations and give up power to the other person,” says Nia (left). “The beauty of queer sex is that there’s more room and we don’t have to do that.” The dynamic was exciting for a while, but the drain of quarantine curtailed Nia’s motivation in the bedroom. (Nia’s a podcast producer; Rita’s a climate-policy analyst.) Nia wanted to relearn what brought her the most pleasure. So the Brightwood Park couple, both 25, began getting in the mood with things like massage. Adopting a more leisurely pace not only meshed with Nia’s sex drive, it ratcheted up the connection for both.
Gari & Reba Thomas
Before the pandemic, the husband and wife worked on opposite schedules, sharing a single day off in their Cheverly home to go through the motions of sex. (He’s 39; she’s 33.) But when Gari’s restaurant temporarily closed (he’s executive chef at Owen’s Ordinary), the two had the opportunity to slow down and talk through their fantasies for the first time. It was a pretty provocative revelation for Reba, a sex coach—after five years of marriage, she discovered she had a submissive side. “I learned that I wasn’t really connected to my desires—I’m the sex lady, right?” says Reba. “I can tell you all about all the things that you can do, but I didn’t know, out of those things, what I wanted for myself.”
Jonathan Wood & Jenna Phillips
The couple of two years moved into Jenna’s Petworth home at the onset of Covid—a particularly stressful time for Jenna, a 29-year-old fitness and lifestyle coach who had just started a wedding business. Regulars in the club scene, the duo could no longer vibe on the sexual energy of a night out, so they turned to games like Truth or Dare and naked charcuterie nights. “Instead of being emotionally distant when things become mundane, she would throw something in—it was always a surprise,” says Jonathan, 36, director of quality control at a contracting company. The changeup sparked something a lot less lighthearted between the two: They’ve become more vulnerable and vocal in expressing their needs, prioritizing the quieter satisfaction of pleasing the other ahead of instant gratification for themselves. “It’s just more for the other person now,” says Jenna. “I want to cater to Jon’s needs, as he does mine.”
Maleke Glee & Jarvis DuBois
Maleke, 27, and Jarvis, 52, rotated around each other in DC’s art world—Maleke (left) is a curator and arts writer, Jarvis a curator and arts adviser—until Covid forced the creative community onto Instagram, where the two began DMing in the summer of 2020. Joining each other’s Covid bubbles intensified their relationship, but amid the Zoom fatigue of working from their Fort Totten and Takoma Park homes, Maleke became frustrated that sex was waning. “We were realizing that there was no work/life balance, and that affected not only our sex life but intimacy and conversation—period,” he says. They started initiating discussions at breakfast about sex, planning and mapping out openings for intimacy—calculations that actually upped the eroticism. “It’s been challenging in a good way that he’s pushed me to have those conversations that have been at times uncomfortable or awkward,” says Jarvis. “That’s been a big moment of epiphany for me.”
James Dietz & Rebecca Hassell
Rebecca, a catering chef who’s married and polyamorous, and James, a senior accessibility analyst who’s polyamorous, used to see each other twice a week, and sex was pretty much a given. After they began coworking at Rebecca’s Brookland home and James’s NoMa apartment—which effectively boosted the opportunities for intimacy—they found they weren’t always interested. “It got less fun, like eating Halloween candy if you have a whole bucket of it,” says James, 32. “Eventually, we had to start talking about it.” The realization prompted Rebecca to share her desire for more variety and to set boundaries when she isn’t in the mood. “Boundaries make you feel safe,” says the 45-year-old. “Being able to say no to someone I love very much—that’s really important for both of us.”
The perennially single drag performer—“I always say that performing is better than sex”—went all in on toys while quarantining solo and got really into gadgets that have a human feel. After years of finding ways to fulfill his own needs, the 35-year-old was intrigued to find he’s now craving the intimacy of sexual contact with another person. He’s looking forward to taking his discoveries from self-exploration into a partnered setting. “It’s definitely helped me be honest with myself. I promised myself I would not hold back anymore after we’re released out to the wild.”
Hair and Makeup by Sunnie Swann.
This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Washingtonian.