COVID Social Distancing Horny

Vikentiy Elizarov/Shutterstock Twitter (Licensed) Ana Valens

Social distancing is making everyone hornier—sort of

It's not as straightforward as it seems.

Apr 12, 2020, 1:08 pm*

Internet Culture

Ana Valens 

Ana Valens

Here’s a brief summary of my month in quarantine: depression, binging Animal Crossing: New Horizons, playing VR games for hours on end, finally catching up on my reading backlog, and lots of sexting. I’ve been sexting with old friends, new friends, queers I met on Lex, gays I met on Twitter, crushes I’ve had for years, even friends I never realized I was attracted to (and vice-versa) until now. One month later, we have a name for this coronavirus-induced phenomenon: quarantine horniness.

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I noticed it during my first weekend social distancing. I was alone and bored, so I made a post on Lex asking for nude swaps. By the time all the DM sliding slowed down, I had collected 30 message requests on Instagram—and that’s from respondents I decided not to hit up. I had to silence my phone because it was buzzing nonstop.

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Lex Nude Swap
I originally added the inbox number as a joke while responses were slow. That is, until I got a lot more than 17.

For many people, the coronavirus pandemic seems to have introduced the perfect cocktail of stress, isolation, free time, and touch starvation, which can radically alter just how horny we are.

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There’s no better example than Rose, a queer woman based in Massachusetts. Rose has long practiced social distancing as a remote worker, and she was prepared for the COVID-19 breakout because she took initial coronavirus news reports seriously. But on her third day of proper social distancing, she “started noticing the horny creep into [her] thoughts.”

“I have a high sex drive as it is, and things get out of hand real quick, and since then it’s been a slow descent into horny on main madness,” she said. “I started noticing myself liking horny tweets I saw more and more… a lot of people I follow and even reserved people I know started posting lewds and full-on tiddy and I was shocked.”

Social distancing has encouraged flexible boundaries around sexual communication, as well. Rose’s messaging groups usually have “generally strict-horny-is-prohibited rules,” but because she and her friends are alone and pent-up, these group chats have a hard time containing themselves lately.

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“It is infectious as heck, just spirals out into a kaleidoscope of horntown,” she said.

But old habits die hard. Rose complains that ghosting is still a common problem among queer play partners. While this isn’t anything new for dating apps like Bumble and Lex, she suspects the coronavirus has made things worse because of how much uncertainty lingers.

“People aren’t sure what the hell is gonna be around anymore so they’re even more skittish about putting any roots down,” Rose said.

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Boston-based sports reporter Britni de la Cretaz has an equally classic social distancing story. Initially, de la Cretaz’s partner was planning to move in with her in September, and they planned to ease into the transition for her two young kids. But when coronavirus hit and social distancing began, the two decided to quarantine together. As de la Cretaz puts it, “he brought over his cat and he’s basically thrown into co-parenting with me and we’ve been thrown into cohabitation.”

In theory, de la Cretaz and her partner should be all set for emotional and sexual intimacy. But it’s impossible for the two to have private time for each other between their work schedules and de la Cretaz caring for her kids. So while having sex is off the table, sexting has become another outlet.

“The two of us have always sexted a lot. Not in explicit bursts, like with discreet scenes/narratives, but throughout our day, interspersed with our regular texts,” she told me. “So sexting has remained part of how we’re sexual with each other, whether it’s me sending nudes from the bathroom while he works in the office, or sending texts from opposite sides of the couch while watching TV.”

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When we talk about quarantine horniness, stories like de la Cretaz’s or Rose’s are commonplace. But erotic intimacy isn’t just for allosexual folks, or people who experience sexual attraction, and “horny” means different things for different people. Games critic Violet Bloch is “kind of a confusing shade” of asexual. Bloch doesn’t experience sexual desire, but they seek out physical and sensual contact with others. So for them, it’s not so much that they get horny as they long for deep, intimate connection. “And being stressed out also turns me into even more of a sub than usual,” Bloch told me, “so there’s that, too.”

Bloch began quarantining in January, and after they were laid off in late February, they continued social distancing while working in games journalism. Their coronavirus story mirrors Rose and de la Cretaz’s at first: They would hop on Lex and exchange nudes with girls or hit up their partners in their polyamorous relationship. But then Bloch came down with a fever, followed by what appeared to be severe COVID-19 symptoms. This “sort of did and sort of didn’t” make them less horny.

“Like, it’s very weird looking back through my camera roll now, because I have all these topless pics with my face in them, and I’m like, visibly flushed red because my fever was already so high by then,” Bloch said. “When I really crashed, I ended up losing touch with my Lex girlfriends, since I wasn’t about to be committing my body to digital film for somebody else anytime soon.”

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On the one hand, being extremely sick with coronavirus destroyed any desire to exchange nudes or flirt with other queers. But as time went on, Bloch experienced a strong need for emotional intimacy, something they claim is rooted in “the trauma of being that sick.”

“For me eroticism and desire are really rooted in nonsexual touch, and communication, and shared fantasies. It has a lot to do with like, having butterflies and chills down my spine,” they explained. “It has less to do with the specific sexual acts I feel like most [allosexual] people are into, and more to do with the ways my body physically reacts to intimacy.”

Bloch pointed out another interesting dynamic: Allosexual people are dealing with quarantine horniness in ways that are similar to asexual peoples’ experiences with eroticism. Sexting becomes focused on ideas, fantasies, or just the idea of interacting with someone you feel a sense of erotic, emotional, or sensual desire for. “I can’t see it being much of a cultural change—the New Yorker’s not going to start publishing thinkpieces about how all single people are suddenly ace in the pandemic or anything,” Bloch said. “But even so, it’s cool to be… understood a little bit more, even if it’s indirect.”

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Coronavirus Social Distancing Toilet Paper
Jack Lawrence/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

But not everyone is getting hornier during social distancing. Tech worker Lexi Saber began working from home in late February after her company instituted a remote work policy ahead of time. With plenty of alone time on her hands, her sex drive skyrocketed. She began sexting with friends and partners in the interim, and became so overwhelmed by her libido that she bought a Japanese fleshlight “just to deal with it.”

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But once her polycule began social distancing two weeks later, her libido “dropped off to nearly nothing.”

“I think the point it crashed was around the time everyone ELSE started going into isolation,” Saber said. “I started delving more into [mutual aid initiatives] between work and meetings that I got less and less pent up or horny.”

In an article on quarantine horniness for Vox, social psychologist Justin Lehmiller explained people are experiencing both and less sexual behavior. But, according to Lehmiller, there are more people experiencing less sexual behavior. He points to Terror Management Theory, a psychological theory that suggests people change their values and actions to survive against an “existential threat.”

“Something we’re seeing in our data is that people are incorporating more online sexual activities that maybe they’ve never done before into their sex life as a way of getting some sexual fulfillment and also connection with other people,” he told Vox. “So it definitely does seem to be the case that there is more sexting, for example, going on right now. And more sending of nudes and other things like that.”

Coronavirus couldn’t have come at a worse time for Mistress Snow. Snow, who works as both a professional dominatrix and a professor, was in the process of transferring from one dungeon to another when social distancing began. With independent work off the table and online sex work a nonstarter, her work “pretty much ground to a halt.” Even prior to social distancing, the fabric of her dominatrix-client sessions started to change.

“There was one client who refused to hug me because I was so obviously sick but had no qualms sucking on my feet for an hour,” Snow told me.

In the meantime, Snow has noticed parallels to Lehmiller’s claims in her friend circle. She says friendships and relationships are going through “a very accelerated timeline,” as “the more we’re physically distant, the more we crave intellectual and emotional intimacy.” With an environment that feels apocalyptic, our grasp on time, space, and the world at large has changed so significantly, Snow said, that “things that we may have been shy about previously seem far more urgent now.”

“Not to get too ‘queering the quarantine,’ but I think the way the pandemic both accelerates and stalls time… mimics that coming-of-age, coming-out time a lot of queer millennials hit in our late-teens. Like, oh, this is what’s important, this is what feels good, this is what life is supposed to be like, and yet for some reason I have to hide it?” Snow said. “We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end or if we as individuals will even survive it [so] we feel another chance to chase that desire and curiosity we had previously written off as childish or silly or irresponsible.”

Ana Quarantine
Me, unprepared for another Lex nude swap. Ana Valens

I’m a bit of an outlier from my sources in that my sex drive is already higher than average on a regular day. So as the world gets hornier, I’m chilling at my baseline. But that’s only because I had a tumultuous relationship with my sex drive up until the end of my gender transition when I came into my own as a pervert and leatherdyke. I learned then that there’s no “right” way to respond to stressful life circumstances like social distancing, and there’s no use forcing your libido to come back if quarantine has destroyed your sex drive.

“I think it’s counterproductive to try to will it back. It just stresses you out more to sit unsatisfied with your vibrator until it dies in your hands,” Snow told me. “This is going to affect people in wildly different ways, and while it can seem like we’re running out of time, worrying about it won’t bring back your sex drive or any lost time. As with the pandemic as a whole, we have to ride it out.”

In other words, this pandemic is traumatic, stressful, and disruptive. But it can also be an opportunity to better understand our own sexual needs and desires. Going through an overwhelming Lex nude swap taught me that an emotional connection is important to me when I sext. Now I know that I prefer flirting with friends over strangers. Everyone has their own unique relationship with sexting and social distancing that’s driven by a variety of factors, from their physiological sex drive to their relationship with stress, and now is a great time to start exploring what that means for you.

If sexting is the right call for you, embrace it. Just as there’s nothing wrong with feeling no sexual desire, it’s perfectly fine to be horny as hell.

“Time spent horny is time locked into thinking only about that and it is a very welcome outlet for energy and thoughts and feelings,” Rose said. “And an orgasm and a freshly baked sourdough bun are about the only earthly pleasures available anymore.”

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*First Published: Apr 11, 2020, 6:00 am