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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Sexual recession heightened by social distancing

Staying six-feet apart in the streets and in the sheets

Sex is a highly taboo subject in American culture. We would rather use euphemisms like “sleeping around” than that one syllable, three-letter word to avoid judgemental eyebrow raises from the stranger next to you. 

But I’ll just go ahead and take advantage of its lexical simplicity and say “sex” roughly 69 more times than you would typically hear on a daily basis. I’ve already said it twice… uncomfortable yet? 

Through memes, social media and word of mouth, it’s evident that the pandemic has made individuals sexually frustrated. 

“Now we’re just chilling and forced to realize how freakin’ horny everyone is,” said one third-year human development major, who requested to remain anonymous. 

Our libido has skyrocketed in the past few months, but because of the stigma around sex, nobody is really emphasizing the pandemic’s effects on our sexual well-being.

Nevertheless, Dr. Nicole Polen-Petit, a professor of human sexuality in the human development department, views the act of sex as “beautiful” and “wonderful,” contrary to popular belief. In an ideal world, sex would not sound and feel dirty spoken aloud, but rather be “seen as positive where it’s acknowledged in its different facets and importance throughout the lifespan,” she said. 

According to Polen-Petit, humans are sexual creatures and require connection with one another from the very first to the very last breath. Without being touched, held and cuddled, we cannot thrive as infants. Without touch, “we cannot sustain life,” she said.

Our sensual nature in infancy flourishes into sexual desire, where “sexual touch and interaction become more important,” Polen-Petit said. She describes human sexuality as a journey rather than a stopping point or destination.

“What I would like to see is that we move away from a fear-based understanding and instead, understanding how much it can add to our lives rather than this discourse about taking away from it,” Polen-Petit explained. 

Initially, Polen-Petit was saddened by the idea of a COVID-19 sexual recession. There was evidence of a sexual recession prior to the pandemic, according to The Atlantic, and Polen-Petit believes that social distancing will only further negatively impact our sexual connections. 

“To know that there is yet another force that is moving people away from each other rather than bringing them together is sad,” she said. “For me, the hardest thing about this situation is the distance that it’s causing between human beings.” 

Confirming Polen-Petit’s fears, one anonymous animal science major predicted that, as time went on, her sexual restlessness would increase as a result of social distancing. However, she’s “so used to the fact that [sex] isn’t an option” that she’s not as sexually inclined overall.

“I always thought [sex] was just a fun bonus,” said one second-year animal science major, who also requested anonymity. Although sex is important to her, it is not the most significant part of an intimate relationship — it’s moreso the icing on the cake. The change in her libido is a result of many different reasons, but is significantly due to stress. 

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, normal routines were inundated with deadlines and anxiety. These external pressures hindered relationships, and social distancing measures make people even more fearful of contact with others.  

Polen-Petit worries that this social distancing and constant vigilance may seriously harm our mental, emotional and relational health. In order to prevent this from happening, she recommends focusing on emotional literacy with our intimate partners we are sheltering in place with during this time. 

“We act on fears, we act on those emotions, and we often take them out on those that we love the most,” she cautioned. 

It is important to name the stressors and talk them out rather than act them out in order to ultimately grow our communicative, emotional and relational well-being. Learning about our sexual desires, however, doesn’t always need to involve others.

“[The current pandemic] can really be a time of self-reflection and self-understanding, and that can really improve our health and our sexual well-being,” Polen-Petit said. 

According to the human development major, he has taken this time to consider his own sex drive and how it can be observed rather than always responded to. 

“It’s good practice to settle down, take a breath and realize it’s not as important as we once thought,” he said. 

Social distancing has forced him to engage in less meaningless sex and convert that energy once dedicated to hook-ups to exercise and meditation. He has even realized that as a heterosexual male, he sincerely enjoys female company and that he misses that platonic connection maybe even more than the sexual one. 

Some individuals, however, are taking a more hands-on (as hands-on as we can be) approach. 

“I’ve been sending and receiving more nudes than I ever have,” said the animal science major. 

She is in a committed relationship and is viewing this time apart as a test to her relationship. As physical beings, she admits that although there are sexual barriers that restrict the physical aspect of the relationship, she still communicates with her partner frequently. 

For those not engaged in a committed intimate relationship, these solitary times can be tough without social scenes creating opportunities for potential relationships. But with advanced technology, many individuals are “shooting their shot” by sliding into DMs or utilizing the Tinder app more than ever. 

While some are just waiting to get back in the game to make up for lost time, others are engaging in do-it-yourself approaches. If you thought that sex was the only taboo subject I was going to whip out, just wait until this next one — masturbation. 

If you cringed a little while reading that, you’re not alone. The taboo around masturbation has existed for hundreds of years — to the point where it was thought to cause mental illness and hysteria, according to Polen-Petit.

“Despite masturbation’s notorious reputation, it’s a great way to get to know your own body, understand your own anatomy and learn what feels good so that you better communicate with partners,” Polen-Petit said. 

“It’s all positive,” she said. “We need lots of tools in our toolbox during this time, [and masturbation] can certainly be one of the more interesting tools to help us cope in a healthy way.”

Self-orgasm is a powerful method to “keep some of those passions alive” amid the sexual obstacles of the time. Orgasms are pain relievers and release endorphins like oxytocin, a hormone in our body which helps our emotional bonding with partners — all good things. 

It’s a common adage that it’s best to have sex with someone you love, so who better to love than yourself? It is certainly the time to “masturbate while you isolate” because it is safe, educational and satisfying. 

Polen-Petit highlights the positive health aspects of masturbation since coronavirus has seemingly taken precedence over sexual healthcare. 

“What we’re seeing now is that behavior is actually translated to individuals not seeking care for themselves, and we’re seeing lots of problems going undiagnosed,” she said. “If you need something, seek it out.”

Although our healthcare seems to be limited right now, there are online resources providing care even while social distancing orders are in place. Many providers are utilizing Zoom and phone call appointments to limit contact. That said, do not hesitate to reach out to your healthcare providers if you have any questions or concerns.

“Put your sexual health as a priority,” Polen-Petit said. 

Polen-Petit is optimistic that the coronavirus pandemic will positively impact attitudes surrounding testing so that people are more comfortable getting tested, in general, whether for the flu, COVID-19 or sexually transmitted diseases.

“We have an opportunity to emerge from [the pandemic] better human beings,” Polen-Petit said. “Thinking more of each other having taken this time to think about ourselves and learn about ourselves.”

You’ve made it through, congratulations. Twitter memes were simply the tip of the iceberg to this inevitable conversation. Although I had to do the dirty work (no pun intended) to get there, here we are. 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org


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