I am social distancing. That means no bars, no clubs, no yoga classes, and three feet of distance outdoors. Most importantly, to me, it means that I have no place to flirt and no outlets for my sexual impulses. Sure, COVID is changing the way we date, but it’s not changing biology. Being self quarantined is not, in fact, straining my libido in the slightest. For me, the combination of isolation and anxiety is making me hornier than ever. I talked to my favorite sex therapist to find out why.
“Physiologically speaking, our bodies do a lot of things without our awareness,” says Dulcinea Pitagora, a New York City-based psychologist and sex researcher. “The brain wants oxytocin. This is always true, but when we are feeling vulnerable, we are more susceptible to what our body is craving. For some people that craving is expressed as horniness.”
Part of what’s happening, then, is that my body and brain are hungry for the feel good chemicals that are released during physical contact, and I am more aware of this hunger, or horniness, because I am feeling vulnerable and also because I am alone and am, generally, less distracted by external things and more focused on my internal experience.
Something else that may play into pandemic thirst is the cultural sense that maybe we shouldn’t be feeling sexy right now. Some people have the attitude that the world is on fire, how could anyone possibly want to have sex, but it’s exactly that attitude that makes some people feel horny. “Sexuality is natural and normal,” Pitagora says. “The more we try to push it down, the more it intensifies. When we see sex as a way of acting out, it doesn’t necessarily make us want it less.”
The sense that maybe we shouldn’t want sex right now combined with feelings of vulnerability is a great cocktail for creating horniness. “That’s not true for everyone,” Pitagora notes. But it might feel more intense for people who strongly identify with being sexual (it me). “When you add that identity component, that makes the experience feel more urgent because it feels like your identity is at stake,” Pitagora explains.
The sense of urgency that accompanies horniness, like so many other kinds of panic we are experiencing right now, is not that helpful. It’s also not reality-based. “Some part of our brains thinks that we’re never going to have sex again,” Pitagora tells me. “We need to slow our brains down and remember that this is temporary.” Having a horny sense of urgency may feel exciting, but Pitagora tells me it can be dangerous if we don’t second guess our impulses. “We can be very good at rationalizing risky behavior when we’re horny,” Pitagora says, and adds, “If you are a person that likes and cares about sex, you are probably going to have sex again.” Praise Beetlejuice.
So what should thirsty folks stuck home alone do? Porn and masturbation are not really cutting it. “I think it’s important to remind people that it’s okay to be horny and masturbate,” Pitagora says. “There are people out there who feel like they shouldn’t feel sexual at all right now.”
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but repressing your healthy sexual urges is not going to help us beat coronavirus. Please masturbate. Try video sex. It may not work for everyone, but if it doesn’t make you feel icky, Pitagora says, it might help.
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