Healthy pleasurable sex in the time of COVID-19

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HEALTH letters on a rainbow backround

I wanna coronasex you up

Dr. David Yarian, Ph.D., 72, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist and sexologist in private practice in Nashville, says the term “healthy sex” can open up the door for judgments. Whereas an evangelical pastor might say sex before marriage is unhealthy, a libertine might claim more sex of any kind is healthy. A better alternative to that phrase, he says, is “sexual health.”

“Sexual health is defined by congruence with overarching values about sexuality and mutual respect,” Yarian said.

Yarian says when these values are honored within a sexual interaction, it can take many forms. He says it’s up to the participants to develop their own understanding of what sexual health is for themselves. During the current pandemic, new fetishes are even possible. “The diversity in human sexual behavior is enormous,” said Yarian. “It’s a huge spectrum.”

Many in the LGBTQ population are simply more open about their desire for sexual interaction, and what they would like, says Yarian, contrasting them with heterosexuals as a group, who are more dismal at talking about their sexuality, their needs and desires. Straights are not always empowered in seeking what they would like, according to Yarian. “Heteronormativity can be a burdensome and limiting legacy.”

This outbreak and its consequent self-isolation has been extremely difficult for everyone, particularly single persons living alone. They are struggling with loneliness and often feel cut off from meaningful sexual connections. Yarian said a person’s customary way of expressing themselves sexually, whether anonymous interactions with strangers or partnered activity, can vary.

“Sex provides many benefits,” asserts Yarian. “People who have sex regularly are often healthier, more fit, happier. Sex is commonly used to temporarily soothe all kinds of painful emotions, including boredom, loneliness, anxiety, fear, stress, depression, frustration, yearning for adventure and escape.”

A lonely person, seeing no end to the quarantine, may be tempted to take risks, said Yarian. They may venture out and connect with others, turning a blind eye to scientific consensus, or how to stay safe in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and Yarian says it is tempting to dismiss health advice as inaccurate, or not applicable.

It’s interesting to note that many partnered people find they are having less sex now, even though there is more time and opportunity as they shelter in place. OB-GYN Lyndsey Harper, founder and CEO of Rosy, an app for women with decreased sexual desire, tells Healthline that stress can really shut down everyone’s libido.

“Sometimes a looming threat with unknown and possibly dire consequences makes it difficult to relax into intimate connection, even with a beloved partner,” said Yarian. “It’s hard to dial down the vigilance for possible threat or danger.”

Sexual intimacy is highly influenced by emotional states

An online survey conducted in April at the beginning of shutdowns by Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health found many men having sex with other men reported challenges in accessing HIV testing, prevention and treatment services during the pandemic.

“Sexual intimacy is highly influenced by the emotional states of the participants,” said Yarian. “Some are too anxious to relax and play, while others may be galvanized into action, seeking adventure and risk to distract themselves from unknown dangers.”

Yarian’s advice is to take this time as an opportunity to reassess who you are and what you want in your life. Acknowledge your strengths and your fears and worries. It’s not a weakness to acknowledge gaps in your skills or education, or to face the reality of how you may sabotage yourself sometimes.

“It takes courage to look yourself in the eye, with kindness and compassion,” said Yarian. “What do you need? What is missing right now, that you would like to pursue once it’s safe to resume normal life and activity? If you are partnered, make this a joint activity, sharing with each other some thoughts and feelings that perhaps are not usually shared.”

Vulnerability in a significant relationship can be a tremendous stimulus to growth and a deepened sense of connection and closeness, according to Yarian. He advises to put into action the results of your self-assessment.

Some great news is that, at least according to one expert, there’s no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 has done any irreversible damage to human beings as of yet. Dr. Yarian says that human beings are amazingly resilient and resourceful. Our brains exhibit a profound ability to adapt, grow, learn, and change, called “neuroplasticity.”

“Every relationship is unique and dynamic”

Medicinenet describes the process as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

“Sex is different in every situation,” says Yarian. “Every relationship is unique and dynamic. Much depends upon the choices the partners make. Are they able to discuss their sexual relationship and learn and grow and make conscious moves towards seizing opportunities for bettering their partnership? Or at the other extreme, do they hunker down, keep to themselves, hesitate to share their emotions, desires, and hopes?”

The Mayo Clinic advises that all close contact (within 6 feet) with an infected person can risk exposure to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not. So, everyone feel free to get it on, but stay safe when you do!

This article has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project for COVID-19 coverage.