Why the End of the World Makes Us Horny

At this point, I’ll use anything I’ve got—even if it happens to be a bottle of... Purell?

Picture this: A computer screen, split into Brady Bunch quadrants, each featuring an act of solo sex during a live-streamed lesbian orgy. One woman is smearing her body with hand sanitizer, moaning at the thought of being clean and germ-free. Another is sitting on a pile of hoarded toilet paper, while potentially millions of onlookers enjoy from the comfort of their homes.

It’s no Love in the Time of Cholera, but it’ll do. As we’re quickly learning in the age of COVID-19, desperate times call for desperate sexual ingenuity.

With porn and entertainment industries shut down until further notice, we have no choice but to become sexual citizens of the world—virtually, of course. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem too strange to imagine that everyone now stuck at home is turning to sex as an antidote to boredom, pandemic-related anxiety, and stress. What’s slightly more surprising than our creativity in times of crisis, however, is our national will to use sex as the ultimate life-affirming tool.

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“There’s a gung ho, making-the-best-of-it spirit that’s genuinely uplifting,” writes Joel Stein on amateur “pandemic porn.” “They’re like exercise videos, trying to keep the fear at bay with activity.”

The comic bent to a lot of this porn isn’t just about ease of access. Necessity may well be the mother of invention, but there are a few other psychological factors at play here. Speaking with Kinsey Institute research fellow Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Men’s Health broke down some of the primary psychological reasons we’re all going a little bit sex crazy right now. According to Lehmiller, the fear of death can trigger increased cultural interest in high-risk sex (hello, coronasexuals!)

“We also know that sex makes us feel more ’alive,’” says Lehmiller, “so it shouldn’t be surprising that a pandemic that confines people to their homes would promote more interest in activities that give them this powerful feeling.”

Think about it: What do we do when everything feels unmanageable and out of reach? We use what we’ve got on hand, even if that happens to be a bottle of Purell, which is being heavily featured in pandemic porn (please, don’t use it instead of lube!). “Were the cinema to disappear,” said director Jean-Luc Godard in a 1962 Cahier de Cinema interview, “I would simply accept the inevitable and turn to television. Were television to disappear, I would revert to pencil and paper.”

Our relationship to porn is much the same: Take away the cameras, lights, actors, and equipment, and we’re left with a naked response to the idea of our lives, world, and habits being changed forever in deeply inconvenient ways. You don’t have to identify as an anxioussexual to know that one of the best ways to keep anxiety at bay is escaping into a world of fantasy, pleasure, and group video chats. Sex, virtual or otherwise, is a coping mechanism for when life feels out of control. It’s also one of the easiest, quickest ways to start feeling alive when staring at the threat of death—yours or someone else’s, real or imagined.

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The COVID-19 crisis may be unprecedented, but that fuck it, let’s get laid -crisis response isn’t anything new, especially for the queer community. With older queer folks sharing their wisdom about surviving and getting laid during the AIDS era, there’s a lot we can learn based on that very recent plague.

We’re also affected by quarantine horniness in a more dangerous way. The virus has left at-risk queer community members more vulnerable than ever thanks to massive layoffs in the service industry. Sex work is a historically accessible path to income for trans folks and low-income queer people in general, which is why we’re not just looking to sex for relief. We’re using it for income.

In a story about newly disenfranchised service workers, the San Francisco Chronicle writes that more and more young people have been using OnlyFans to earn income by “essentially monetizing themselves.” There’s no denying there’s a huge market for such things. The Daily Beast reported a 3.5 million increase in OnlyFans users during the month of March alone. Grindr is likewise experiencing record highs of covert COVID-19 activity.

Like COVID-19 itself, this sex-forward trend doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. It makes perfect sense. Sex has always been a way to connect with our humanity (and other people) during times of crisis. Maybe previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu weren’t quite as sexy in the pre-viral age, but who’s to say those folks weren’t boning behind closed doors?

Because the thing about being horny is that it’s extremely life-affirming. And as a community that survived a plague not so long ago, it only makes sense that beating our meat has become part of our cultural crisis response. So if you’re feeling hornier than usual, don’t judge. Just grab some Purell and start getting to work on yourself. If there’s one thing this particular plague can teach us, it’s how to make solo sex great again.

Henry Giardina is a writer living in Los Angeles.
@punkgroucho