The social distancing behaviors recommended by public health authorities pose a severe challenge to those who crave the physical intimacy of sex.
We know from the HIV/AIDS epidemic that people were slow to adapt to the dangers of HIV transmission even when the vectors of transmission were well understood. Over thirty-five years into our grapple with the HIV, a few people are virus chasing and bareback riding. If you need such risks to get satisfaction, no amount of evidence-based advice will be of much help. But if you are concerned about your health, there are things you can do to manage your risk.
Have sex with fewer partners and only with those who you know are managing their risks well. Because the COVID-19 virus has a 14-day incubation and hardly anyone has been tested, it is very difficult to know who is a carrier but not yet symptomatic. While obviously ill people can be avoided by simply moving away from them, being intimate with a non-symptomatic carrier creates a high risk of transmission. Mostly, that is a matter of trust, not certainty.
Practice R.A.C.K. — Risk Aware Consensual Kink. This term from BDSM is a method used by people who commonly deal with sexual risks to manage those risks as ethically as possible. RACK entails disclosing your concerns and desires to partners, discussing your risks with each other, and contracting to act strictly within your partner(s) and your own desires and limits. You do not need to be kinky to do this, and it is a great idea because all sexual activity carries some risks. The only new element here is the COVID-19’s risk characteristics. Even with a thorough examination of the risks and benefits of any activity, be aware that you may feel very differently if it goes wrong than you anticipated during contracting. Drive slowly, in the fog, your headlights only extend so far.
Often, you will make a more rational decision if you take the advice of others rather than just relying your imagination and making your best guess. Reading articles like this really can help make more rational decisions if you follow the advice given. But no advice is perfect, and in an ambiguous situation like this one, there are no guarantees. The people who write well meaning advice like this do not get the direct consequences of your decisions, even if psychological research says taking advice is more rational.
Use barriers. Jokes about having sex in skin-tight latex bodysuits and hazmat gear are meant to be funny, but they are correct that barriers are essential when dealing with infected people. And many potential partners have limited control over their exposure due to work or living circumstances. The biggest risks are through body orifices, especially eyes, nose and mouth. It is not yet known how many cases have been sexually transmitted. Expect other openings and wounds to be vulnerabilities.
The smaller the social groups in which you solicit, the better. Sex with your long term monogamous partner really is safer than using Tindr, and within your polycule is safer than with most new partners. The more partners you have, the less statistics are on your side. And risk is determined by actual behavior, not by verbal claim or psychological identification. If you or your partner cheat, or fail to use protection, the risks are real.
Grieve the loss of intimacy and connection that social distancing entails. Lots of funny memes are circulating that Love in the Time of Corona is the party introverts have been waiting for all their lives. But these enforced changes are scary, stressful, and involve sacrifice, even for introverts. Having the kids home all day means no private time for your sexual relief. Partners are unavailable who you could count on before. The electronics you like to use for sex need may now need to be shared. And all those stirred up emotions can have a deadening effect on your, or your partner’s sex drive. Acknowledging feelings of loss is important in managing them.
Being psychologically flexible is an advantage, but takes a lot of energy. If your risk tolerance means you must change your way of being pleasured, this takes real emotional labor. Give yourself as much time and leeway as you can to make difficult changes. Be tolerant with yourself and your loved ones when you or they can’t do everything you ask right away.
Be creative with getting pleasure at a distance. Porn, teledildonics, phone sex and reading erotica are all ways of preserving some of your pleasure when your favorite activities are too unsafe to use right now.
Clean yourself, your toys, your clothing, your electronics and your bedding much as you would wash your hands. If you have studied how long the virus can survive on various materials, wait to use them again until after a period in which the virus would naturally have expired.
Tolerance of delayed gratification, ambiguity, your anxiety and the anxiety of others are all important lubricants that smooth the dramatic changes social distancing requires. Others are going to handle this differently than you do and in ways that you cannot anticipate or control. Be sure to manage your psychological distance from these things if they become too frustrating.
Give yourself permission to try to preserve as much pleasure, touch, sensuality and fun as you can. That is what this post is all about, and one of the rich sources of meaning that makes necessary sacrifices bearable.
Many of these sexual coping strategies have a huge amount in common with psychological resilience.
Sex is an important part of life. Despite the fact that sex can be over-regulated and heavily socially stigmatized, many of the principles that make your general life more effective and satisfying apply to sexuality, too.
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