CULTURE

Quarantine sex? ‘Don’t do that now. Just masturbate.’

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Navigating love, sex, and loneliness during a global pandemic. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Over the course of the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost every aspect of our lives. As we pass 1 million infections and 50,000 deaths globally, the principles of social distancing should dictate the structure of our day-to-day interactions to help curb the spread of the disease.

One facet of people’s lives that these health guidelines and other measures like enhanced community quarantine will have a huge impact on is sex. While some people might be lucky to be living and quarantining with their partners, many others may be separated from their usual partners or restricted from meeting people for casual sex.

Meanwhile, there’s the problem of the failure of public health officials to specifically address sex and its capacity to spread infections. Thus far, one of the few comprehensive guides on sex and COVID-19 is the one promulgated by the New York City Health Department, and there’s a lot to be applied from it in practicing social hygiene amid a pandemic.

In conversations with a sex therapist, an OnlyFans creator, and various users who are still active on dating apps, we take a look at the ways Filipinos are taking sex online in an unprecedented crisis of touch.

Sex isn’t just physical intimacy

Psychologist and sex therapist Rica Cruz notes the possibility of adverse effects on people’s mental health when they stop having sex. “Of course, you’re missing out on… the emotional intimacy, not just the physical intimacy you get when you have sex. Also, that whole dopamine rise when you start having sex — even the libido, all gone now.”

“If that’s your love language, that could lead, of course, to sadness, and if it aggravates, [it] could lead to depression or anxiety,” Cruz adds. “If that’s your love language, you need that physical touch and that kind of intimacy… to feel that kind of support. If you don’t have that, it can affect your mental health drastically [especially] if it’s gonna be extended for a long time.”

“If I didn't give nudes six years ago, I was never reprimanded. Recently, when I didn't want to show nudes, [a user] replied, ‘There are other women on this platform who would give me nudes easily. Goodbye.’”

Cruz emphasizes, however, how sex is a high-risk setting for almost any infection, from STIs to COVID-19. “There’s a big chance that you could get whatever your partner has, and there’s a big chance that COVID could be one of them, aside from other sexually transmitted infections,” she says. “There’s always a risk when you’re having sex. I think that’s what people should know. Don’t do that now. Just masturbate.”

“I think now is really a good time for people to just explore themselves, so it’s really to focus on masturbation as opposed to looking for other people to do it with because it’s risky, so if you have the time and you’re horny, you can masturbate and explore different things that could give you pleasure.”

When it comes to material to masturbate to, porn sites have seen an uptick in traffic, with Pornhub reporting as much as an 18.5% spike in daily traffic since quarantine measures went into place in different parts of the world in mid-March, noting also how users are accessing the site more often at different times of day. The platform recently lifted the paywall on its premium content to encourage people to stay at home and flatten the curve.

Other platforms such as OnlyFans, a social media service for paid (largely adult) content, have encouraged users to use their time in quarantine to start creating content on the site with the prospect of earning from their content. While making quarantine porn sounds like a tempting, lucrative venture, OnlyFans creators have pointed out that it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Carlos, a Filipino OnlyFans creator (who declined to be identified with his surname), shares that he’s experienced a dip in traffic from his local subscribers since community quarantine started in the Philippines. “I don’t think new subscribers will be like, ‘Oh, I have nothing to do. I’m gonna subscribe to an OnlyFans,’ when they all have… other things to worry about,” he says. “I’m thinking about it, putting myself [in the shoes of] a consumer. With the engagement and the rate of users on my site as a content creator, my observation is [that] it slowed down for the last couple of weeks, and a lot of those people are based in the Philippines.”

Signs of life on dating apps

While dating and hookup apps have set up constant reminders for social distancing, they’re also positioning themselves to be a space for people to continue connecting virtually. A message sent out to Tinder users reads: “Social distancing doesn't have to mean disconnecting… We hope to be a place for connection during this challenging time, but it's important to stress that now is not the time to meet in real life with your match. Please keep things here for now."

In that vein, some Filipino dating app users have reported changes in their experiences on the apps. “People are bored and hungry for intimacy,” muses Trisha*, who says old Tinder matches have been hitting her up to talk, years after matching.

Bumble user Robert* says the quarantine led to his first virtual sexual experience. “About a week into the lockdown, I ended up sexting with someone,” he shares. Pretty sure that was my first sexual experience that I could credit to an app. [It] was just one night and we messaged each other a bit the next day, but haven't talked since. Feels kinda like a one night stand?”

Others like Tinder user Ina* report that the quarantine has led to some drastic shifts in interactions on the app. “I see men becoming more and more entitled,” she says. “If I didn't give nudes six years ago, I was never reprimanded. Recently, when I didn't want to show nudes, [a user] replied, ‘There are other women on this platform who would give me nudes easily. Goodbye.’”

But she adds that the idle time people have in quarantine has led to building some deeper connections. She met someone whom she’s begun speaking to every day. “I think the lockdown affected it dramatically,” she says. “His attention is focused on me, and he checks up on me every morning. Otherwise, he would probably be out working, meeting up with his friends, or doing other recreational activities. He would have probably lost focus having other things to do.”

“I think now is really a good time for people to just explore themselves, so it’s really to focus on masturbation as opposed to looking for other people to do it with because it’s risky"

Grindr user Gian* shares that there are people on the app booking hook-ups in advance, in the hopes of getting it on once the government lifts enhanced community quarantine. It must be noted that even this comes with its own risks, as there is no clear timeline for COVID-19 mitigation even after community quarantine.

In the meantime, Cruz’s advice to people is to consider alternatives such as cybersex — with the appropriate precautions. She says it’s important to keep activities on a secure platform and to make sure you’re only doing it with partners you trust not to leak your photos and videos.

This can all be daunting for people with no experience having sex virtually, but Cruz says you can take it slow. “You can actually start with just sexting, you know how you flirt with other people through text? You can start with that, and that can progress to [a video call]. It can be as basic as taking your clothes off in front of the camera. It can be like that if you’re iffy with going all the way or showing everything… and then it can progress to mutual masturbation in front of the camera, and to other things. If you have toys, you can use your toys and show how it’s done to your partner. It’s also a great time for you guys to learn more about each other.”

As we race to flatten the curve of infections and begin developing a vaccine for COVID-19, the pandemic will force us to rethink every element of human interaction. People will keep fucking and falling in love, one way or another. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll carry on doing it at least six feet apart.

*Names have been changed to protect the interviewees’ identity