Lucia F. O'Sullivan Ph.D.

At First Blush


Sequestered Sex: The Coronavirus Outbreak and Your Sex Life

Social isolation is creating some interesting challenges to intimacy.

Posted Mar 21, 2020

Ahhh, COVID-19—you have provided us with challenging times on so many fronts, but not least of which is adjusting to being cut off from our social worlds.

Never have we felt so... cloistered. Although for many of us, there is the strange contradiction of feeling as if there is no escaping those with whom we are socially isolated. 

Our needs for intimacy do not turn on and off like a tap, despite the shocking speed with which we have found ourselves locked away from others. For all our scorn of the myriad ways that digital technologies have morphed our interactions over the past two decades, many of us are now deeply grateful to the various ways we can now see and hear those most important to us.

The daily dose of heightened anxiety brought to us courtesy of the news can leave us needing comfort that is human in form. Sure there is a place for getting distracted in Netflix or organizing an online "quarantini" hour with friends, but we are programmed with needs for physical contact.

Becca Tapert/Unsplash
Source: Becca Tapert/Unsplash

If you are fortunate to be secluded with your intimate partner (or partners, for those who live beyond binaries), in the abstract, it might seem like a great opportunity to catch up on all that sex that sometimes gets put on hold from the demands of work, family, and racing around town like tasered chickens, as we are wont to do.

Do not underestimate the accumulative stress of this isolation, however. While you might feel a great need for comfort and closeness, it often requires a very different mindset to be interested, aroused, and ready for sexual connection specifically. A fairly carefree mindset. Many people, but especially many women, report trouble separating from the anxieties of their world during sexual encounters.

On the other hand, sex provides a great means of connection and has some fantastic distracting and entertaining qualities to it as well. Consider making a plan with your partner for sex later in the day, then work toward minimizing your wallowing in coronavirus updates. Think ahead—anticipate connecting sexually. Think some sexy thoughts, visualize what you might do or try. And if you can, add some touching throughout the day, even comfort touching, hugs, a little pat on the butt, to draw closer physically.

Research shows that those who engage in these little intimate touches over the course of the day have stronger relationships and sexual connection. It’s not a chicken-or-egg question: Start reaching out and intimacy heightens.

Dmitry Bayer/Unsplash
Source: Dmitry Bayer/Unsplash

“That’s great,” you say, “but what if I have no partner or I’m away from a partner?” If you have no partner, consider reaching out to your crush, that someone for whom you feel a little spark, or that person in your past (even distal past) for a little intimate boost. Maybe remind that person of a time you shared. In research, we call these “Back Burners” or “Attractive Others,” meaning the individuals in our lives with whom we share a wee attraction or with whom we have had something in the past—they make us feel connected, attractive, and alive.

And if you have a partner, but you are separated at this time, or if you are avoiding all physical contact with everyone (even a partner under the same roof), this is a perfect time to experiment with social media and various forms of sex technologies. There is virtual reality porn, sex robots, internet-connected sex toys, such as partner-controlled “smart” vibrators. Even long-distance kissing devices. Do some homework; you will be amazed.

Remember, we are very different from each other, as are our needs for intimate connection. Do not apologize or feel guilty for wanting to connect sexually—we come from a long, long line of ancestors who clearly drew benefits from sex. It is part of our programming, and now more than ever, we need to give it some time and attention.