Sex and the Coronavirus

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Since everyone’s thinking about the coronavirus, here are some thoughts about sexual aspects of our lives in a time of pandemic.

Anxiety often leads to risky sex

Dealing with the coronavirus has brought an epidemic of two awful feelings—helplessness and anxiety. That’s a bad combination, which for many people will result in fatalism (“what’s the difference what I do?”). We’ve seen this before with other recent plagues, such as the spread of HIV in the 1980s and the spread of Islamist terrorism after 9/11.

Of course there’s a risk of catching the virus from an infected person during sex—especially from tongue-kissing. But sex with a person who isn’t infected still carries the same old risks: unintended pregnancy. STIs. A broken heart. No matter how much our lives are being disrupted, the coronavirus has NOT suspended the laws of the universe. Don’t let your despair or loneliness drive poor sexual decision-making.

By the way, anxiety and fatalism can drive higher levels of alcohol and drug use—which can also lead to risky sexual choices.

Anxiety can undermine desire

While some people eat too much when anxious, others lose their appetite. It’s the same with sex—when anxious, some people want more, but others just lose their appetite for it.

Additionally, lots of people are stuck with their kids home from school all day, which is the ultimate anti-aphrodisiac.

If you have a mate, talk with them about maintaining whatever level of sex the two of you are used to. This may require a little extra emotional bonding, or a little focused breathing as part of preparing for sex—anything to get our minds off of the 24/7 pandemic attention cycle, and into the temporary sacred space of sexual connection.

It’s probably a good idea to watch less news right now. And it’s always a good time to use Facebook less.

Talking to kids about sex

With most public entertainment shut down, some people suggest this is an excellent time to get that garage cleaned out or to catch up on your perennial to-do list. I don’t really think most people have the mental energy right now to collect and neatly stack their screwdrivers, put fresh batteries in their flashlights, or alphabetize their spices.

But if you do want to do something productive, add “talk with my kids about sex” to your list. No matter how old they are (OK, you can skip it if they’re over 30), they need your input.

Parents continually ask me at what age they should have “the talk” with kids. I tell them two things: (1) it’s not one talk, it’s a very long series of talks—the same way that talking to kids about nutrition or manners is a long process, not a single event; and (2) if you haven’t done it in the last twelve months, it’s time now. Why? Because your kids have changed since last year, and have new needs and new questions—whether they’re asking them or not.

Contraception and the morning-after pill

If you use contraception, stock up on it now—whether condoms, pills, diaphragm cream, etc. For years I’ve been saying “If you’re fertile and you have penis-vagina intercourse, get and keep some Plan B (“morning-after pill”) in the house for an emergency.” If you haven’t done that yet, do it today.

It’s hard to believe, but most people have scoured store shelves for toilet paper rather than condoms—except in Australia, where people are panic-buying condoms to put on their fingers when pushing elevator buttons.

We can live without sex, but not without touch

Many people will be having less sex in the coming months, whether because of anxiety and depression, or isolation, or a lack of privacy, or feeling unattractive due to lack of exercise and healthy eating. Since sex offers people way more than pleasure—validation, closeness, escape—many people will struggle with this loss.

But let’s remember that people can manage without sex far easier than they can manage without touch. If there’s someone with whom you can hug and be hugged, do it, even more than usual. If not, stay connected with people who care for you, and imagine the hugs you’re sharing. Yes, imagining hugs actually stimulates the nervous system in important ways (although it doesn’t feel as good as the real thing).

Masturbation, of course, continues to be an option throughout this pandemic. Slow down and create a special, longer event around it, perhaps with music or extra-warm socks. Come to think of it, put lube on your shopping list. Amazon prime still has plenty in stock.

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