3 ways Coronavirus is affecting sex drives right now

By Maya Khamala

If you’re weathering the storm that is Coronavirus, AKA, Covid-19, AKA the end of the world as we know it without any observable changes to your sex drive, the stress and uncertainty are likely manifesting in some other area of your life. The reality is, many people are dealing with new and unplanned for combinations of factors that are sending their sex drives plummeting, while some (fewer) are feeling...hornier than ever before. 

Since many of our collective anxiety coping mechanisms involve social places and activities which are currently not allowed under pandemic law, there’s not much left right now—aside from sex. Of course, the physical, visceral, non-virtual act is only really an option for those of us who live with our sexual partnersEveryone else (at least those of us following health directives) has sexting, phone sex, video sex, nude photos and masturbation.

But how many of us are using sex to cope?

The numbers

“We know from a mountain of psychological research that two people can respond to the same situation in very different ways and that the factors that increase sexual desire in some can drive it down in others,” says Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute. He told Vox,“You have a higher percentage of people now who are saying [that] they’re masturbating and having more sex. But you also have a higher percentage of people saying they’re not engaging in any sexual behavior at all. And the people at the low end and not having any behavior—that increase is much bigger than the increase at the other end of the spectrum.” Similarly, in a, NBC News poll of 9000+ people, only 24% said the coronavirus outbreak had positively affected their sex lives, while 47% said it had affected them negatively, and 28% were “neutral.”

Here are 3 ways the coronavirus is affecting sex drives:

1. Your sex drive is down, down, down

“For plenty of people, when they get stressed out, sex is the farthest thing from their mind,” says sex therapist Heather McPherson. Between worrying about elderly parents, figuring out how to exercise at home, and managing a new routine, “a lot of things can point toward not doing it, because you’re so focused on surviving,” she says. Meanwhile, “stress and anxiety and potentially losing your job will potentially take a toll on all relationships.” 

Melbourne sexologist Kassandra Mourikis lists numerous factors that might bring one’s sex drive down at a time like this: ever-present kids can make privacy scarce; increased time with one’s partner can fuel conflict; and direct pandemic-induced anxiety can push sex onto the proverbial back-burner. I mean, if you watch the news at all these days, you’re bound to be affected by the constantly rising death tolls, horrific hospital stories, and projections of more illness, death, suffering, and injustice around the world. And of course, if you or someone you know has the virus or suspects they might have it, that’s a whole other kettle of truly unsexy fish.

According to sex researcher and professor Debby Herbenick, a lack of desire during the pandemic could also have an adaptive purpose, evolutionarily speaking. She suspects that many couples feel hesitant about conceiving right now, especially given the uncertain end date of this pandemic. In spite of speculation that this period of collective quarantine will cause a baby boom, research does indeed show that birth rates tend to decrease in the wake of a disaster.

2. Your sex drive is up, up, up

While most people experience a drop in desire when anxious or depressed, a small percentage feel their desire sharpen, possibly seeking relief through sex, Herbenick says, cautioning that those who fall into this category have a higher risk of engaging in unsafe sex—which, these days, means not practicing social distancing.

If you’re among those of us feeling a particularly heightened sex drive right now, Mourikis offers several very good reasons for this as well: being stuck at home with a partner can create more opportunities for sex; the forbidden aspect of sex (if you live alone or are single) can make it more desirable; being alone more can make one crave human connection; and, the threat of death/mortal harm/the apocalypse can reeeeeealllly fuel arousal.

Speaking of looming disaster being a turn-on, Lehmiller cites a body of research known as Terror Management Theory, or TMT. “The idea behind it is that when we face the prospect of our own mortality…it leads us to change our attitudes and behaviors in a way that it’s designed to cope with that existential threat.” For some, TMT manifests itself in sexual desire, or adopting new ways to express sexuality. Not to mention, many people now have much more time and privacy. Understandably, many people would rather flirt, date, and get it on (online or offline) than think about sickness and death. Men’s Health has aptly dubbed the whole ‘sex as a coping mechanism’ phenomenon the “apocalyptic hornies.” Maybe this is why porn consumption is way up, and the sex toy industry has seen a recent spike in sales.

3. Your sex drive is up and down like a seesaw

During this potentially endless (?!) time of profound anxiety and stress, it’s hardly a shocker if you’re like me and you find your sex drive violently seesawing from one extreme to the other: the apocalyptic hornies to the downcast doldrums and back again. That said, McPherson says many of her clients find that their sex drives stabilize after settling gradually into new routines—something that can occur a few weeks into the lockdown scenario.

Sex therapist Diane Gleim, writing in Psychology Today, says it’s all just a delicate balancing act. “A person’s sex drive needs just enough anxiety/tension/uncertainty to get activated but not too much anxiety/tension/uncertainty or else the person can get overwhelmed, flooded, and then sex drive goes underground,” she writes. “Think of it like the Goldilocks principle: not too much (anxiety), not too little (anxiety), but just (the) right (amount of anxiety).”

Sounds right on to me: enough tension that you can taste it, but not so much that your senses are dulled. 

How to cope with your evolving sex drive during Covid-19

If you’re quarantined with a partner and you’re randy as a goat but your partner would rather Netflix and burrow or make short work of their adult coloring books (or vice versa), there’s a perfectly good reason for this spike in sex drive discrepancies. You’re being tested is all. Ok, I jest. But really: practicing self-kindness and patience and reminding yourself that neither you or your partner has ever dealt with anything like this before is a really good start. Strong and clear communication has never been more key to romantic and sexual relationships! If you’ve both lost interest in sex, you have an opportunity to cultivate other aspects of yourselves and your relationship—with the shared knowledge that you will get past this dry spell. If you’re single or living solo and feeling sexy, it’s time to revamp your sex toy stash and/or embrace the many virtual forms of intimacy available to us: make a sex tape for your partner, have phone or video sex, or meet someone new on a dating app. 

It ain’t easy, but you got this, we got this, and you will get through this with your heart and soul and loins intact! One love, babes. <3

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