Some of us are mating in actual captivity. Some of us not at all. The pandemic raises lots of issues around safe intimate physical contact, and what it may look like in the future.
By Jen Gunter
These are not sexy times.
As an obstetrician and gynecologist in the Bay Area, I’ve been caring for my patients via telemedicine for the past three weeks because of the new coronavirus pandemic. When I ask patients about new sex partners — a standard question for me — the answer is a universal “no.” They are taking California’s shelter-in-place very seriously.
In fact, many of my patients are more interested in updates about the virus than the medical (and often sexual) problem for which they were referred.
The pandemic has most of the world practicing exceptional hand hygiene and social distancing. This coronavirus is so new that we don’t know what we don’t know, and while fresh information is coming at an incredible pace, one medical recommendation has remained constant: the need for social distancing.
This time has been an exercise in prioritizing needs from wants. So where does sex fall on that spectrum?
Are we even wanting sex these days?
It’s hard to know yet. While some people may turn to sex for comfort or as a temporary distraction, these are unprecedented times and we don’t have much data.
Depression and anxiety have a negative effect on libido. Some people are out of work, too, and unemployment can affect sexual desire. The kind of worry people are experiencing crosses so many domains: job security, health, friends’ and family’s health, retirement and the ability to have access to medical care, to name a few.
One study that looked at the effect of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in China on the reproductive health of married women found sexual activity decreased significantly, and not just in the week after the earthquake.
Before the earthquake, 67 percent of married women reported they were having sex two or more times a week. One week after the earthquake, that number fell to 4 percent. By four weeks, only 24 percent reported they were having sex two or more times a week, well below the baseline.
While this study is retrospective data — women were asked to recall their sexual activity eight weeks after the earthquake — and an earthquake isn’t the same thing as a pandemic, it seems unlikely that sexual activity overall will increase.
However, trauma — and these are certainly traumatic times for some — can also lead to sexual risk taking, like unprotected sex or sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What is considered ‘safe sex’ right now?
Your risk for infection with the new coronavirus starts as soon as someone gets within six feet of you. (And of course, if you do have sex, your risk for pregnancy and S.T.I.s remains the same, and the previous definition of “safe sex” still applies.)
You’ve read this elsewhere: Covid-19 is transmitted by droplet nuclei, tiny specks of infectious material far too small to see. They are sprayed from the nose and mouth by breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing.
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