Sex and Love During Covid 19—A Q&A with Dr. Zhana

Hi everyone, this is Dr. Zhana, professor of human sexuality in New York University and it’s time to answer some questions about sex and love in this very strange time of the Coronavirus pandemic and the life-saving requirements to physically distance from people. It’s a challenging time for pretty much everyone.

pandemic sex and love faq dr. zhana

It’s challenging for single people who want to date, fall in love, and find a long-term partner. It’s challenging for single people who are horny and want to hook up and just have some casual sex with other people. It’s challenging for partnered people who don’t live together, are quarantining separately, and can’t see each other. And it’s challenging for partnered people who live together but are now spending way more time together than they’re used to. So let’s cover these different groups of people and the main challenges each of them face.

How can I meet someone new and fall in love? Is it even possible these days?

Meeting new people is not going to be as easy as it used to be, but I do think it is possible. Obviously for everyone, except the people already partnered and living together, a lot of what’s going to happen in terms of both meeting new people and interacting with those people is virtual communication. And we are so lucky to be living during a time when virtual communication (texts, apps, phone calls, video chats) are so easily accessible to so many of us that social distancing means physical distancing, but not necessarily social distancing. 

So for any new romance or relationship, you would have to start it with meeting each other online: most often a dating app, or maybe social media, or a big zoom party, and starting virtual communication – texting and a virtual video chat date, where you get to know each other a little bit and what your lives are like during this time. 

Eventually, you could potentially meet in person as well. Most of us can leave our houses to go for a walk or exercise, so if both of you decide that you are relatively low risk in terms of your exposure to COVID and you can meet without exposing yourselves to unnecessary risks of public transportation, you can meetup while upholding appropriate measures. Go for a walk, take a bike ride, grab takeout from your favorite restaurant and eat somewhere outside. 

Finally, some of you might even decide to get sexual and physical if you both deem that your risk for COVID exposure is low, and you’re ok with that level of risk. For example, you both live alone, don’t leave your house for work, haven’t come in close contact with anyone else except each other for 14 days, and don’t have any risk factors that might increase your chance of getting really sick. If you don’t live alone and come in close contact with other people (like roommates, family, or coworkers), make sure that everyone else you might be putting at risk is also ok with you taking this level of risk. 

This is obviously not an option for everyone and I’m not actually encouraging people to do this lightly, but I do want to acknowledge that we all have different life circumstances during this time and we have different levels of comfort with personal risk, which means we are going to be making different decisions about our sexual and emotional needs based on these factors. Especially if some level of physical distancing continues for many more months, many of us will decide to date eventually. So if you do make a decision to meet someone new, please make sure you think it through and discuss it with everyone involved.

What if you can’t be physically together? What to do to keep it interesting during time apart?

For many couples who are going to remain physically separated, whether they’re new or existing couples, the main way for keeping sex and intimacy alive during this time it’s going to be virtual communication. There’s so much that you can do virtually and it can be hot in so many ways. You can sext each other using text-based or photo-based messages, or even record sexy videos for one another. You can have phone or video-based live sex where you share with each other your fantasies or instruct one another on what to do. You can play around with domination and submission that way. You can read erotica to one another or watch porn together.

Video sex is also a great opportunity to play around with all sorts of sex toys and vibrators. Especially with hetero couples, many men feel a little threatened by sex toys, and so video sex, since the guys can’t physically be there, can be a great way to introduce sex toys and get the guys comfortable and confident they know what to do with them. And long-distance sex (over video-chat or not) is the perfect opportunity for app-basedm remote-controlled sex toys.

Ways to connect with your partner whilst separated during quarantine? 

Make sure you keep intimacy alive and not just sex. Obviously stay connected on a daily basis with texts or calls to know what’s happening in each other’s lives, but also try to do things together virtually that you would normally do together in person, like yoga, or a workout, or taking a class, or watching a movie, or meditating, or any other activity you’d do together that can be done virtually in some way. And do some special things together or for each other. Have a nice dress up dinner date over a video chat with candles and wine, or mail each other little gifts or words of appreciation in the mail.

What to do with sexual frustration during quarantine? I am solo and slutty and 5 weeks in isolation. 

As someone who appreciates sexual novelty and variety, I feel deeply for the people who like multiple partners, hook ups, sex with strangers, group sex, sex parties and the likewhich during this time is really risky and not advisable. The safest option obviously is masturbation, sex toys, porn, camming, or virtual sex with any existing fuck-buddies or new people you meet on apps and other virtual ways. Of course, while virtual sex is safe from a COVID perspective, it’s not exactly safe form a maintaining privacy perspective, especially if the people you’re virtually hooking up with are strangers you don’t know and can’t trust. So you might have to be a little careful there by limiting your video exposure.

If you’re really craving physical touch and your life circumstances and risk tolerance levels allow for that, I would probably try to find one single fuck-buddy who’s going to be your Coronavirus partner that you’ll see on a regular basis. However, this needs to be someone you trust won’t be seeing other people if that violates your boundaries, so I’d spend some time vetting them and getting to know them before doing anything.

How to make time at home to masturbate whilst living in a flat with family 24/7?

If you share an apartment with multiple family members who are now all at home 24/7, you are going to have to masturbate with other people in the house, as uncomfortable as that may be for some of us. Hopefully, you either have your own bedroom or you can get access to a bedroom that is all yours to use for a few hours a day. Finding your own, uninterrupted space during lockdown is something that I think everybody should be doing, for whatever purpose you want, including masturbation. Work out a shift in a decided room with your family or roommates. They don’t need to know what you’re doing in your alone time, but it is important that everyone has it. If you don’t have a room to spare, alternate when each person can enjoy a long and relaxing bath or shower.

With having too many thoughts in our minds, how to stop sex from going to the back seat?

Of course in all of this, the people who are partnered and living together have a whole different set of issues from those who are single or separated from their partners. And that’s 1) how do we not kill each other now that we’re together all the time, and 2) how do we create some sexual desire and intimacy when there’s a lot of anxiety and fear surrounding Coronavirus. I don’t have a magic bullet that will solve all of it, but I do have four pieces of advice:

  1. Find time every day to completely disengage and disconnect from the news. Turn off the TV, meditate, do yoga, go for a run… Whether you do this alone or with a partner doesn’t matter, just find some time to calm down and disconnect.
  2. Spend some time without your partner. Negotiate with the other household members so that you can get a space, a room, a bedroom that is yours alone, uninterrupted for a certain number of hours to do your own thing. You can also go sit in a car, go on a long walk, or sit in the park. Connect with other people (family, friends) virtually.
  3. Make special nonsexual time for each other. Have a weekly date night at home – a fancy dinner, sunset in the park with takeout food, or at home massage spa. Spend quality time together doing shared interest activities, like going for a run or taking an online class together. 
  4. Make special sexual time for each other. Get out of your routine. Now you have time to do all these things you might have been curious about but never had time for. Bring our the sexy lingerie, the sex toys, the role-play ideas. Commit to trying or learning a new skill, position, toy, or an activity that you’ve never done before. Sext with each other all day while working in separate bedrooms to build up the excitement. 

That’s all for now! Stay safe and checkout these useful and clear guidelines on sex and covid-19 from the NYC Department of Health.

Written by: Dr. Zhana

Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a NYC-based sex researcher who studies casual sex, nonmonogamy, and sexual orientation. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, teaches Human Sexuality at New York University, shares new sex research on social media, and runs the Casual Sex Project, a place for people to share their true hookup stories. She provides daily sex education using the live video streaming app Periscope, and is currently writing a book about the science of healthy hookups.

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