Sex & Relationships

Pandemic Making You Horny? Here’s Why

It’s not just you. Experts share the intriguing reasons behind the recent rise in thirst levels

COVID-19 has inspired a multitude of emotions. Terror. Boredom. Worry. Fatigue. And…lust?

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It’s early days, so there are no studies to prove that this particular pandemic is making people increasingly horny, but there is some pretty telling data emerging—sales of famed toy The Womanizer have skyrocketed by 135% in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic—and plenty of anecdotal evidence. Social media has seen a massive influx of thirsty memes these past few weeks, and COVID-related imagery is starting to fill our hearts with desire: Quarantine-themed porn is already being produced, and the plague doctor costume (yep, it’s a thing) is getting lots of folks all worked up.

What’s the deal with our sudden collective surge of arousal?

Sex experts agree—pandemic horniness is definitely a thing

J. Matsui De Roo, a Vancouver-based anti-oppression counsellor, works with queer and trans clients, including many folks from sex-positive communities such as BDSM and non-monogamy, polyamory and relationship anarchy. “I’m seeing this [increased desire] both in my clients, and in social media. Cruising apps, including queer apps like Grindr, and Lex, a queer-woman- and trans-centred cruising app, are very busy,” they say.

Swiping was already a national pastime but, now, our thumbs are working overtime. Dating app Bumble announced that these past few weeks they’ve seen a 42% spike in adoption amongst Generation Z users, along with a 36% increase in messages sent and a 21% increase in Bumble Video Call usage.

Blame it on our evolutionary impulses. “It makes sense in times of uncertainty for us to want our genes to carry on: Even when we’re having non-reproductive sex, sex drive is connected with reproduction,” De Roo says. “Or, look at it from a spiritual perspective and recognize that sex is deeply life-affirming and connecting. Whatever the reason, there’s a long-documented history of humans becoming more amorous under conditions like this.” The 9/11 attacks, for example, resulted in a surge in horniness among many in the populace, while baby booms often occur in U.S. areas prone to hurricane warnings.

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Lust is a direct response to the current state of emergency we’re enduring, according to Edmonton-based psychologist Tami-lee Duncan of Transcend Psychological. “In many ways, feelings are like energy—they can neither be created nor destroyed, but rather are transformed. Emotions are often redirected or misunderstood: Intensity can be misinterpreted as passion and that persistent, low buzz of anxiety we’re all feeling can be redirected into desire.”

Living through such an unsettling period means a lot of heightened, primal emotions, and their accompanying physical feelings (like, say, a racing heart) can make you horny, too. “Fear causes physiological arousal, which can intensify sensation and urgency, making for some pretty engaging sex,” Duncan says.

When stress is sexy

Corporate communications manager Carissa, 35, who is straight, thinks her recent thirst correlates with an increase in anxiety and urgency at work. “It was around when repercussions of the virus began creeping into my assignments. I became aggressive about turning matches and conversations on dating apps into in-person dates,” she says. She also started masturbating more.

“For some people, heightened stress will heighten their arousal response,” says Canadian sex and relationships researcher Dr. Kristen Mark, director of the sexual health promotion lab at the University of Kentucky. “In times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to experience the calming effect that sexual arousal and orgasm has.”

Orgasms, in particular, offer a bounty of self-care, according to Duncan. There’s the  huge blast of dopamine (the happy neurotransmitter), endorphins (the brain’s natural version of an opiate) and serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for mood and relaxation), she says, as well as engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is essential to self-soothing.

On her apps, Carissa says conversations that stalled months ago are now being restarted—by the men. She’s not responding, though: “I’m not here to entertain them when they’re freaked out about suddenly having to spend time with their own thoughts.”

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All fear the sex drought

We always want what we can’t have. Bisexual editor Maris, 43, has experienced intense arousal during this time (and has the orgasm track record to prove it). She chalks it up to scarcity. “Before, you could make plans with someone, and that would somehow satiate it a bit, like, knowing that you would be dealing with it would take the edge off. But you can’t do that. For all we know, we’ll be self-isolating for months, so it just ends up feeling like this looming thing.”

According to De Roo, “There’s likely going to be a feeling of sexual scarcity for many as our in-person interactions become more and more restricted.”

Of course, single people or those separated from their sexual partners due to social distancing will be most impacted by this. Maris says this has led to many of her ex-partners trying their luck lately: “The number of exes that have come crawling out of the woodwork, you know, ‘just to check in!’ I hadn’t been on the apps in ages, which I’m pretty sure means my profile sits way at the back in swiping land, and, all of a sudden, I was getting so many notifications like ‘X new people think you’re a catch.’”

According to Caleb, a 28-year-old gay designer, “In the past when the thirst level has hit these heavenly highs, I could have a dude ringing my buzzer in under 10 minutes. Now the only guys coming to my door are UberEats delivery-men who ask me to remove my own food from their bag.” For now, he makes do with planning his first post-quarantine hook-up—however far off that may be—and, he says, “as everyone in isolation has already acknowledged, jacking off approximately 85 times a day is just the new normal.”

The other epidemic

Many have fallen victim to the bored-horny phenomenon. “I quite literally masturbate out of pure boredom. I’M SO HORNY ALL THE TIME,” says Sammy, 25, a straight marketing consultant. “How am I dealing with this? By changing the batteries in my vibrator often,” she says. “I have to get my dopamine somehow: I’m lonely and all cooped up in the house with almost nothing to do.”

Many people are not working or have reduced work hours right now. Schools are closed. Social gatherings are cancelled for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has slowed life’s pace for many of us, leaving us with nothing but time on our hands. And sometimes having that space allows us to fill it with things we’ve neglected when we’ve been maniacally busy.

Trans bisexual novelist Corinne, 32, wonders if her libido has increased because she’s alone more now. “I don’t usually let that happen, so maybe I don’t think much about what it’s like to be in my body (which is something I try and avoid both consciously and subconsciously, thanks to being a transsexual and dysphoria). There’s something about stillness. I have been in motion my whole adult life in one way or another, and having nothing to do for the first time in, like, nearly two decades probably forces me to be present and listen to what my body is hungering for more than usual.”

“Since this pandemic started it’s like someone’s been piping cock-loving photons into my room,” she adds, revealing she has been masturbating all the time.

Arousal is up, morale is down

In addition to the fact that you may be unable to sate your desires, perennial pandemic horniness can have some potential negative effects on your mental health. First off, touch deprivation is real—and awful. “For people who are single or not isolated with their partner, the challenge of lack of physical touch during a pandemic can be difficult,” Mark says. This lack of physical connection can have devastating consequences, as the temptation to go out and get some may overpower our desire to do the right thing, social distancing-wise.

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Up until now, De Roo says, most sexual risk assessment has focused on our own personal factors…but that’s going to need to shift. “There are bigger factors than ‘is this person worth getting sick for?’ We’re going to have to acknowledge that we all have a responsibility to reduce community contagion, regardless of our personal risk factors, and act accordingly. And that’s harder to do when your body is surging with desire!”

Your physical well-being isn’t the only thing at risk. It’s hard to be isolated and it’s natural to feel lonely and crave connection, but it’s still important to be careful, Duncan cautions. “Times like these can lead to riskier sexual behaviour, not just in regard to disease transmission—including COVID-19 and STIs—but also in making emotionally unhealthy choices,” she says. This could be anything from reaching out to an ex to having sex without protection or having more casual encounters than you’d normally be comfortable with. Straight mother Sarah, 37, for example, just got back together with her ex-boyfriend—despite the fact that, not too long ago, he dumped her and moved all his stuff out of their apartment in the middle of the night. On New Year’s Eve. Which is her birthday.

“A health crisis of this proportion is deepening a sense of unity in the world, which is wonderful. But in the romantic sphere, there is the risk of overestimating or inflating the sense of connection to someone, which can possibly lead to unhealthy, inappropriate or unsustainable bonds,” Duncan says. “So it’s also important to monitor emotional attachments.”

The silver lining

But being perennially, painfully horny can also be a good thing. To be horny is to be hopeful. “Sexual pleasure and orgasm feels good, reduces stress and helps us feel connected with our bodies,” De Roo says. “And sexual contact with someone else, whether it’s in real life or in virtual space, can help us feel connected in a time when we may be feeling more isolated.”

If we’re still horny, we’re still hungering for experience, for connection. We’re still alive.

*Names have been changed to protect the ultra-horny.

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