‘Disaster sex’: sexuality in the time of Coronavirus | #tinder | #pof

Blood on her clothes and covered in fine dust, Rose was walking home through a city of rubble after the Christchurch earthquakes when she met James.

As waves of aftershocks struck, bonded by their shared terror experience, the strangers had sex in a park surrounded by destruction.

Rose says it happened because she felt ”as if it was the end of the world” and that ”nothing really mattered, so I might as well go out with a smile on my face”.

”I was terrified. I was sure I was going to die,” she says, her voice slightly muffled by a face mask bearing a picture of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

”He was right there in it with me, going through the same thing. I literally clung to him. The weird thing is that was nearly 10 years ago and during the lockdown for Coronavirus is the first time since then I have found myself feeling the same way.”

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Rose wouldn’t normally have ”sex with a random”, but such behaviour can occur when we are in a fear state experts say.

Decades of researchers have documented this effect during wars and other times of mass fear.

The phrase ”terror sex” was coined after 9/11 in New York.

Some prefer to call it ”disaster sex”.

In the last hours before the nation went into level 4 lockdown on Wednesday, March 25, Christchurch sex store Peaches & Cream held a sale.

Its aisles boasted people perusing sex toys or staggering to the counter with arm loads of devices and lotions.

Yes, while some were at the supermarket, queueing for bread, others were fervently stocking up on sex toys.

George Heard/Stuff

In the hours before level 4 lockdown, PeacheÂ?s & Cream Adult Store in Christchurch held a sale. (File photo)

At Peaches & Cream, when it came to lockdown sex, with bars and pubs shut and Tinder dating happening remotely, self pleasure was billed as the ”safest sex option”.

Loved up lockdown lovers have been Netflix and chilling for months.

Can we expect to see a spike in the number of births nine months after the Covid-19 lockdown?

Auckland-based Elizabeth Grace, aka the ”Passion Queen”, has worked with individuals and couples from all over the world as a sex, love and life coach.

“People don’t need a stable environment, many are procreating while in very unstable environments. However instability creates challenges and invites trauma and stressful situations to be experienced,” she says.

“When we feel unstable, we are more likely to act from a place of obsessive control, with a sense of contraction and stress, rather than openness, empowered vulnerability and love.”

She is unwilling to bring a child into a world that “continues to be at war with itself”.

“For many that choose to work with me, and myself, for many years ‘at war’ is where we have been living from. I’m not willing to continue this cycle, not for myself and my life, and definitely not for any child of mine.”

Leading American sociologist and sexologist, Pepper Schwartz, says the short answer is: who wants to bring a baby into this dystopian landscape?

But she adds that the true answer is a more complicated ”maybe there could be a baby boom”.

”There was a birth spike after World War II in the United States but there was also a divorce spike,” says Schwartz on the phone from Seattle, Washington.

”You wouldn’t think there would be a collision, but they are diverse people, right? All you need is two different types of people to have more intense behaviours than they usually have, and this is what happens.”

Schwartz has been writing notable books about sexuality since the 1970s, when she surveyed lesbian, gay male and heterosexual couples. She is a tenured professor in sociology and sexuality at the University of Washington and is also the creator of PerfectMatch.com’s matching algorithm.

As a television personality she has appeared on Oprah, Dr Phil and is the relationship expert on Married at First Sight.

Schwartz is the former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexualities, the past president of the Pacific Sociological Association and a charter member of the International Academy of Sex Research.

”I think we will have children when people feel they can predict the future a bit more… the situation we are in now, the future is highly unpredictable,” she says.

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Auckland-based Elizabeth Grace, aka the ”Passion Queen”, director of the Intimacy Institute NZ, has worked ‘all over the world’ as a sex, love and life coach.

There is no unequivocal answer to the ”will there be a Covid-19 baby boom” question because there are simply too many variables in human behaviour and experiences during the pandemic.

Some aspects of the pandemic are universal, however, it will have been a different experience for someone who lost their job compared to someone who didn’t, for example

”People are quite different in terms of whether they see this as a persistent threat or if they believe it has been exaggerated or if they are people who don’t plan anything any how,” says Schwartz. ”It will be different for different sectors of the population. It depends on what percentage of people are in each of those groups as to how we can guess as to how the future might be.”

Others might be having sex more often simply because they are home more.

For these people, unless they are fastidious about birth control, there might be a ”slight bump” in birth numbers, says Schwartz.

”Oppositely, people who are not good at communication and have issues in their partnership before Covid-19 might have the opposite effect where you can’t wait to get away from each other.”

Schwartz points to divorce trends following the depression and World Wars.

”When you see people cloistered, scared and worried about the future, the divorce rate doesn’t spike until people are out of work.”

It happens then, she says, because people are worried about how they will manage during the crisis and ”tough it out together”.

”But once it looks like they could manage on their own, then they file for divorce.”

Dr Gianmartin Cito, of the University of Florence, is the co-author of a recent study which carried out online interviews with 1482 heterosexual people in relationships in Italy.

The results of the study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that four in five, 81.9%, had no plans to conceive during the Covid-19 crisis.

Significantly, of the 268 participants who were planning to have a child before the pandemic, over one-third (37.3%) then abandoned the intention. The main reasons that led people to this decision included worries related to future economic difficulties (58%) and any potential consequences on pregnancy (58%) due to the disease.

Carried out in the third week of the lockdown in Italy, the questionnaire surveyed 944 women (63.7%) and 538 men (36.3%) aged between 18-46 years, and in a stable heterosexual relationship for at least 12 months.

Supplied

A professor of sociology and sexuality at the University of Washington, Pepper Schwartz has written books about sexuality since the 1970s. She is the former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexualities, the past president of the Pacific Sociological Association and a charter member of the International Academy of Sex Research.

Study co-author, Dr Elisabetta Micelli from the Assisted Reproduction Technologies Centre, suggested that mental wellbeing during lockdown had an impact on the desire to have a baby.

“The impact of the quarantine on general population’s perception of their stability and peacefulness is alarming.”

However, 140 people (11.5%) revealed a new desire for parenthood during quarantine.

Commenting on the limitations of the study, the authors add that “it is unknown whether these findings will result in a substantial modification of birth rate in the near future”.

 

SINGLE LIFE

Many singles will have been made aware of their vulnerability because of the lockdown, says Schwartz.

”It is one thing to be single in high employment and safety. It is another thing to be single when you are really on your own, sequestered away from anyone else. Many will wonder about their symptoms or if they had Covid-19 symptoms … there is nothing like being sick all alone which makes you feel vulnerable.”

Jobs are hurt when people are sequestered. This change in circumstances can contribute to singles discovering a new desire for partnership.

”None of us gauge our options on a good day. We think about all the things we do as confident people but being ill or losing a job… those are the things that make you feel like you have to take it all on by yourself.

”The reality of not having a partner comes home at not the best of times but the worst of times.”

Covid-19 will change the way people date and attitudes to casual sex.

”Some will delay marriage, others who have been thinking about living together, you might think that time is actually not on your side like it was before, you might be less interested in something casual and more focussed on finding a partnership,” says Schwartz.

”You might even look for something different in someone, that is not so much a great time but somebody who would be there for you if things turned difficult, challenging, scary…”

When faced with a life-threatening situation, many naturally become acutely aware of their mortality which can represent itself in changed sexual behaviour.

”You think, I could die tomorrow, so you might dwell down into your darkest desires… and if you think your life is going to be shortened you might do everything from bucket lists to sexual experiences to changing your life in a number of different ways.”

 

SEX WORKERS’ FEARS

Supplied

Will there be a post-Covid-19 baby boom? Probably not, but maybe.

Some Christchurch-based sex workers claim clients’ behaviour has changed during the pandemic.

Many had tried to pressure sex workers to ”break their bubbles” during level 4 of the lockdown.

There had also been an increase in ”unusual requests”. One told a story about a client’s violent request involving a goldfish not suitable for print.

Dame Catherine Healy of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective says level two has been the ”soft landing” of the ”long haul” of Covid-19 lockdown.

”It has been worrying, there has been intense pressure with Covid-19 and compliance and all those issues,” she says. ”We were extremely concerned about that… that level four could result in people having to come out and break the law.”

Healey says sex workers had been mindful of their responsibilities and the ”prevention issue”.

”They are trying to minimise contact as much as possible. For sex workers in a shared space they are doing separate rooms. They’d work rotary systems, you’d finish in your room and you wouldn’t know who would come in behind you,” says Healey. ”Now they are doing one room, one person. They must hold that room for the whole time, not mix and match. Of course, no kissing, which is a no-brainer.

”Clients are wearing masks which is so good.”

Many sex workers had found it difficult to manage financially during the lockdown.

”Throughout that period people were worried about accessing the wage subsidy and there are concerns around that now. Some sex workers are young, between 20 and 30. They don’t have a great deal of experience with being self-employed. Others needed to go on job seekers…’

During lockdown, some clients directly contacted Healy seeking sex workers willing to engage in risky behaviour.

”Casual clients would come through on my number… they were fishing around to try to find people who were prepared to see them throughout the period of lockdown. We know that it is just a few clients not following the rules.”

Contact tracing remains Healy’s greatest concern.

”If you visit a sex worker and you are impacted by Covid-19, don’t forget to mention that to the health protection contact tracers because it is so important,” she says.

”I know we can rely on sex workers to take account of contact tracing because we have had that experience in the past with things that have happened before. The other way around with clients is an unknown.”

 

HARMFUL BEHAVIOUR

Fear coupled with a lack of mobility is known to lead to spikes in domestic violence.

Dangerous behaviour remains hidden behind closed doors.

”I think what we are really afraid of globally is abuse spikes,” says Schwartz.

”Unfortunate things can happen when there is an explosion of feelings and more privacy.”

In Aotearoa, Aviva supports people of ”any age, gender or experience of violence to create safer, healthier personal and family relationships”.

During the lockdown Aviva remained available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It experienced a 34% increase in family violence referrals.

STOP also expects to record a spike in demand for its services.

It provides community-based assessment and intervention services to adolescents and adults who have sexually abused or who have sexually offended, and to children who have engaged in concerning sexual behaviour.

Kevin Stent/Stuff

During the level 4 lockdown, some clients called Dame Catherine Healy, of the NZ Prostitutes Collective ”fishing around” for sex workers. She is concerned about contact tracing. (File photo)

Don Mortensen, chief executive of STOP, says disasters like earthquakes and community traumatic events like the pandemic and the ”Mosque attacks” can have a negative impact on children.

”Particularly where a child is vulnerable due to complex trauma experiences _ neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, exposure to family violence, mental illness, substance abuse or criminality in the home.”

Concerning sexual behaviours may occur with children and young people who are vulnerable and have experienced such complex trauma.

”The intent of this behaviour in children is rarely sexual but related to emotional regulation, seeking comfort and coping with stressors,” he says.

Mortensen adds while it is ”too early to know” whether there will be an increase in referrals for concerning sexual behaviours in children and young people, experience from the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes ”indicates that there is likely to be a significant increase”.

Families have been confined together for the lockdown. Many families, who may have had difficulty coping in more “normal times”, will have experienced high levels of stress financial and employment pressures, maybe family violence, alcohol and drug use, parental frustrations and children missing peer contact.

”Children and young people may have also had greater access to online sexual behaviour outside their developmental norm which can contribute to children and young people engaging in inappropriate concerning and harmful sexual behaviours.”

 

FOREVER CHANGED

Schwartz recalls how the impact of 9/11 ”shocked the world”.

”It made everyone scared, but if you were a New Yorker and you walked those streets, you had friends who died and you saw that building crumble in your home, I think that changed people in important ways of feeling vulnerable, experiencing threat… seeking community,” she says.

”Even the stories of World War II in London, there were people in bomb shelters together where they experienced this feeling and created strong immediate allegiances to each other.

”It changes the way you look at the world.”

Rose regrets her random sexual encounter after the Christchurch earthquakes.

”I wound up with an STD,” she says. ”The sex felt good at the time but actually it was just another disaster I should have run away from.”

It’s a scenario Schwartz has heard before.

”There is a lot of research on hormone levels and what happens when you get frightened _ everything becomes more intense. You are much more likely to interpret things as important and connect to people in a much more vivid way,” she says.

”There is that sense of drama and threat in the world which ultimately makes you more open to connection. It pays to remember that when you are making sexual choices.”

Kirk Hargreaves/Stuff

During the lockdown, Aviva experienced a 34% rise in demand for its services. STOP also anticipates a spike in numbers of people seeking help. (File photo)


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