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How The Virus Crisis May Impact Your Sex Life Forever

Are people having more or less? We've got the answers.

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Stephanie Rausser/Trunk Archive
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By now, many of us have experienced both the hardships and blessings of this quarantine time as a result of COVID-19. And people’s sex lives are not immune to the effects of the pandemic.

While we all easily could make assumptions — such as either people must be having a ton of sex with all this spare time or who feels like having sex at a time like this? — there’s actual data and anecdotal evidence that tell the real story of sex in the time of pandemic.

I spoke with Ashley Winter, M.D., a urologist who specializes in sexual medicine, to ask questions to filter fact from fiction. She is an attending physician in Clackamas, Oregon, and cohosts the podcast The Full Release with her fiancé, comedian Mo Mandel. (Two recent episodes have dealt with the topic of sex and COVID-19.)

Are most people having MORE sex or LESS?

It’s funny, but there is a TON of speculation or unsubstantiated declarations and headlines about this. As early as March, I was seeing nonstop tweets about an impending ‘COVID baby’ explosion, due to theories that bored or confined people will have nothing to do other than have sex (and by extension procreate).

Slightly better (but also overreaching) extrapolations are exemplified in titles such as the recent BBC news headline, “Coronavirus: People are having less sex in lockdown, says Durex boss.”

So, sales of Durex condoms are down; does that mean the Durex boss KNOWS how much sex people are having? No, not really. Maybe it means people are having fewer casual sex partners? Or maybe they are just out of cash? Or maybe they are afraid to go to the store? Or had their mind on toilet paper rather than getting busy the last time they went to the drugstore?

There are many commonsense assumptions we can make, of course. It is reasonable with lockdowns and social distancing that people who are dating will have fewer options for having sex. It’s possible that people who cohabitate with a partner might have an increase in sex due to freeing up of time — say, if they have reduced work hours, are telecommuting, or have lost their jobs — or boredom (I recently was reading a nice review article confirming that boredom is linked to hypersexuality). Conversely, long-term relationship folks may be having less sex due to anxiety, irritation with their partners or self-imposed intrafamily quarantining (which I know is happening for many frontline workers who do not want to get others in their families sick).

What do we actually know about how COVID-19 is affecting sexual activity?

I was lucky enough to come across a study — I believe the first of its kind — that got responses from 270 men and 189 women in China (from ages 15 to 45) between March 13 and 15. The majority of respondents (61 percent) had an unchanged sexual desire, 25 percent had reduced sexual desire, and 14 percent had increased sexual desire. Interestingly, the percent of men who had increased desire was about double (16 percent) that of women (8 percent.) More respondents reported less frequent sex than more frequent sex. Twenty percent of women reported increased sexual satisfaction — compared with only 11 percent of men, and similar percentages of men and women reported reduced sexual satisfaction (average 35 percent).

While this cannot be universally applied, it’s a start. Overall, it appears that sex is down. I am sure there will be much more — and really interesting — information to come.

How are people who are dating dealing?

Dating is changing — the way many things are — and going more virtual. There are stats that indicate messaging in dating apps like Bumble and Hinge increased from February to March, and use of video chat functionality in dating apps has increased dramatically (or app makers are scrambling to add these options where lacking).

For many people who are casually dating or on the fence, COVID-19 has led to decisions to shack up or enter monogamous arrangements. Anecdotal evidence indicates friends have reported such arrangements expediting desired relationship progression, while for others, the need for companionship has produced suboptimal intimacy partners.

Is your practice seeing a decrease in sexual-based appointments — maybe due to time or money constraints?

For the last month, there have been tight restrictions on office-based appointments for nonemergency conditions (which encompasses the majority of sexual medicine diagnoses), as such appointments reduce social distancing (let’s be honest, there is no WAY I can examine your genitalia and stay six feet away), and also would lead to use of PPE such as masks and gloves (which we needed to save for emergency rooms and ICUs!).

Interestingly, I have kept almost EVERY SINGLE sexual medicine consultation on the schedule — and just moved these visits virtually! A tremendous amount of the care of a sexual medicine concern (such as pain with sex, erectile dysfunction, Peyronie’s disease) can happen with discussion and photos. I am able to order testing, prescribe medications and develop an action plan for procedures and surgeries (once these can happen). I would definitely encourage all your readers to seek out local doctors if they need help with a sexual complaint — most insurances (and Medicare) are covering video visits and telehealth!

Any message for readers on how to manage their sex life during quarantine?

Don't put too much pressure on yourselves with sex. These are challenging and stressful times, and if there are ways sex is helping you stay safe and stay sane — then keep it up! If you are not feeling your sexiest … I think that’s perfectly OK! Remember, intimacy can be manifest through sex, but also through hugs, kisses, phone calls and kind words.

Data is suggesting that alcohol and marijuana (from states where recreational marijuana is legal) are being consumed in record capacities since the onset of COVID-19. While both booze and marijuana can be social lubricants and improve certain aspects of sex, large quantities are known to produce negative sexual side effects. So enjoy your cocktails ... but just not too many!

In terms of “Coronavirus safe sex” tips, please check out great info from your state and local health departments.