COVID-19 is altering lives worldwide, both publicly and privately. Almost six months into the pandemic, scientists are just starting to take stock of how the coronavirus is affecting human sexuality.
Dr. Nicola Döring, a professor of media psychology and media design at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany, specializes in sexuality-related media use and media representations of sexualities. In a recent paper published to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Döring explored a few of the many ways COVID-19 is changing our sex lives, perhaps for the long-term.
First off, it should come as little surprise that there has been far less casual sex between short-term partners. Lockdowns and calls for social distancing effectively put a damper on in-person dating and hookups. This may have a silver-lining, Döring noted.
“The expected reduction in casual sex should reduce the transmission of HIV and STIs, and first evidence of a corresponding reduction in new infections is already available in the literature.”
Though people may not be having casual sex in person, technology has helped bridge the physical distance. Health organizations are recommending video and phone sex and it appears that many are taking their advice.
Another side effect of the coronavirus pandemic: pornography use has skyrocketed. Pornhub, the most popular pornographic website in the world, has been openly sharing its traffic data since March. Compared to pre-COVID averages, traffic is up roughly 17 percent per day and has shown no signs of slowing down even after lockdowns ended and restrictions eased in many parts of the world.
Pornhub data also suggests that quarantines and pandemics are now being eroticized. Viewers are actively searching for pornography related to “Corona” and “Quarantine.” This is to be expected, Döring writes:
Current events are reflected in people’s sexual fantasies and thus also become the subject of pornography. Coronavirus fantasies and porn probably have very different functions: fear defense, eroticization of the threat, curiosity about the bizarre, desire to cross borders, hopes of recovery, etc.
With porn use elevated, casual sex severely limited, and lots more people working from home, we can almost certainly expect that masturbation has increased. An early study out of China supports this hypothesis.
We can also guess that people living with their sexual partners are having sex more often. Less certain, however, is whether there will be a “coronavirus baby boom.” On account of uncertainty tied to the ongoing pandemic and unprecedented economic disruption, couples may have less of a desire to conceive.
This logic was born out in a Turkish study in which married women reported having more sex, but few said that they intended to become pregnant. Come early 2021 we may see hints of a baby boom or bust, or perhaps little change at all in birth rates.
Early 2021 is also when we may optimistically have coronavirus vaccines widely available. Then we’ll find out if our sex lives revert to how they were before or are irrevocably altered.