This article was scientifically fact-checked by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz.
As the invisible virus keeps spreading globally, infecting people and transforming our reality into a new and unknown one, there is another virus threatening us – the virus of anxiety. To fight it, we must mobilize one of our basic survival mechanisms, and that is the ability to love and care for each other.
Let me tell you about my last week. On Saturday, 21 March, strict lockdown measures were declared in my city, Zagreb, Croatia. My wife and I went to sleep that day with a heavy feeling that things were about to get much worse in the weeks ahead. We were quite right in our prediction, but we were way off with our timescale. On Sunday, 22 March, we were awakened early morning by a massive earthquake that shattered much of the city center, killed one person, damaged hundreds of homes, rendered at least one major hospital unusable and partly collapsed one of the two towers of the city’s iconic cathedral.
In one of the most frightening days of our lives, the whole quarantined city was once again evacuated to the streets. As we stood underdressed in unusually cold weather, with wind and some light snow, we waited for one thing – clear instructions from the authorities on what to do in this situation. Unfortunately, there were none – the bizarre combo of the two contradictory disasters was something that government agencies seemed to have completely overlooked as a possibility. We were instructed to stay outside, but keep our distance from each other, with the absurdity of our situation best captured in a viral joke: ”Everything will be OK, just stay at home and leave the house.”
However, in the days that followed, I and many people around me realised we actually felt calmer than before the quake, regardless of the fact our situation was now much more complicated. And the reason was simple – for the first time in weeks, we felt the agency of love. As reactions began to pour in from various dear people and as we ourselves worriedly inquired about the safety of others, we were quickly reminded of the thing that was easy to forget in the past weeks: We might be physically separated from others, but we are not alone in this.
As the unreal scenario of the pandemic began to unfold, cutting us off from the others, our minds began playing tricks on us, extending the threat of the invisible enemy to those around us, making us feel suspicious towards each other, increasing our sense of being alone and anxious.
Separation procedures that require us to isolate physically from one another in order to halt the spread of the virus were ineptly named “social isolation” by someone who is likely more proficient in dealing with viruses and procedures than with actual human beings. In reality, there is a major difference between social and physical isolation. Even though we do need to keep physical distance from one another for the time being, now it is crucial to reduce social distance.
Luckily, as we are quite adjustable and are getting adjusted fast to our new situation, we are finding completely new ways to have a social life online. Because that is how our minds work, and that is what keeps us sane in the insane situation. We are getting accustomed to new ways of keeping in touch, working, expressing love and, of course, having sex, enabling us to transcend the physical distance with technology the best we can. Even those people that used to resist technology before got a crash course in online socializing. Apart from realizing we can do much of our work over the Internet to the point where it might forever change our work environments, things like celebrating birthdays and anniversaries online, meeting each other for online drinks, dating our partners remotely and, of course, sharing moments of intimacy have gone mainstream in unimaginably short time.
In the past week, I have heard a number of heartbreaking stories of couples, friends and families physically torn apart by the new isolating reality. Like international couples separated for an indefinite amount of time after being a single day too late to book a bus or plane ticket before countries went into a complete lockdown. Or even people stranded in different cities after a ban on local travel. This might be frustrating or even terrifying, but we need to realize it is also temporary.
Love and care for each other form the invisible connective tissue of society that resists being broken apart by physical distance. So instead of despairing, turn on your laptops and call your parents to tell them you love them, then have a conference call drink with your friends, and cap it all with a joyful video call masturbation marathon with your lover.
Because, while isolated, the last thing you want to be is lonely.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Laurie Mintz
Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida, teaching Human Sexuality to hundreds of students a year. She has published over 50 research articles and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Mintz also has maintained a private practice for over 30 years, working with individuals and couples on general and sexual issues. She is also an author and speaker, spreading scientifically-accurate, sex-positive information to enhance sexual pleasure.