Against the advice of public health fact sheets and incessant texts from my parents, I have instinctively chosen to do a lot of hugging and embracing in the past 48 hours. Many of my friends and colleagues have promptly left campus and returned to their respective homes because in-person classes ended abruptly.
I traded staying six feet away for sharing six seconds of embrace because I didn’t know if or when I would see some of these people in my life again. Given the severity of a global pandemic, it’s quite a silly reason, but it’s a human one nonetheless.
As I pressed my body up against another, I retroactively thought about a scenario in which one of us was sick. Would these six seconds of embrace have been worth it then?
While guidelines from health officials are helpful for teaching Americans how to wash their hands, they don’t tell us much about the correct protocols for preserving our humanity as we learn to do away with our daily practices. Indeed, when I think about the ways in which I can continue to show love and go about my day with dignity, I know that accomplishing these seemingly impossible tasks requires more than just taking in news and information.
As COVID-19, more colloquially known as coronavirus, looms over our heads, dating and having sex have become incredibly difficult tasks that demand a feasible solution. Moreover, horniness apparently doesn’t stop for anything, which we can evidently tell by the frightening speed by which porn sites have turned the coronavirus pandemic into a viral marketing scheme.
Sex permeates our lives. This means that sex — for my own purposes, this includes masturbation — might be a really great way to preserve our humanity in this scary, uncertain and unsettled moment. The question is how we can do our part to “flatten the curve” at the same time.
Rather than panicking and practicing an every-man-for-himself attitude, we can actively think about the ways in which we can continue making love while also keeping everyone safe, even if these two things seem paradoxical.
Just as you don’t need to panic-buy the entire catalog of grocery items from Trader Joe’s, it is not necessary to practice celibacy and avoid dating and romance as we wait for the coronavirus curve to flatten. To some extent, normal life cannot stop for one thing, even if that thing is an outbreak. Humans must continue being human.
For monogamous couples, continuing to physically touch one another while a highly contagious acute respiratory disease is being passed around involves an immense amount of courage and trust. Hookups and one-night stands can be even riskier, since the communication that characterizes these interactions is relatively shallow — maybe, avoid this as much as possible.
Regardless of which context one has sex in, a global health pandemic opens up an opportunity for us to practice paying attention and being really honest and open with each other. As honesty is key to any healthy sexual relationship, being communicative about whether we’ve developed a cough in the past couple of days opens up doors for us to practice being honest about other things, such as whether we are open to certain sexual acts. It sounds silly, but the link is there.
To me, this honesty and attention to detail feels eerily regular and familiar in a time of such unmatched uncertainty. We speak so much of the ways in which we should distance ourselves that we forget we now have so much time to find a regular humanness in one another.
When I’m not busy feeling incredibly sentimental about this semester and longing for human touch, I find sanity in words from an essay by C. S. Lewis, “If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.” Lewis just forgot to include “having wild, primordial, and perhaps even loving sex” on this list.
Lewis tells us that a virus can break our bodies but not our minds. So, let’s stay safe and be healthy. Maybe don’t go to that packed bar looking to get lucky Thursday night, if only to keep your loved ones safe. Keep it in your pants if there’s even a small part of you that feels unwell. In sum, we must do our part.
But we cannot stop being human. If, for you, this means having sex with your partner, then have sex with your partner. If you’re self-partnered and practicing responsible social distancing, then take more nudes! Have more phone sex! Masturbate!
Being human involves doing our part. In the face of adversity, continuing to make love, choosing humanity over self-preservation, is our incredible victory over a microbe.
Laura Nguyen writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]