Staff Therapist Kristine Seitz Featured on NorthJersey.com: Sex in the Age of Coronavirus
April 4, 2020 | This is not a good time to be having an affair. Nor, for that matter, is it an ideal time to find a lover. Heck, it isn’t even a good time to greet your partner with a kiss.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives: How and where we work, how we socialize, how we grocery shop, how our children learn, how we practice religion, even how we open doors and greet our neighbors. Any wonder then that it would impact our sex lives?
Just ask Lauren Clayton, a 27-year-old waitress from Hammonton.
Before the pandemic, she and her husband had what she considered a healthy sex life. Now, shuttered at home, Clayton is about as interested in sex as she is in putting on a bra. “I’m not feeling my inner sex goddess,” she said, confiding that she — like (admit it) so many of us — spends her days in her pajamas.
Her husband, a restaurant manager who still goes into work, isn’t feeling particularly amorous either. “He’s stressed,” she said. “You want to be present when you’re having sex and not worrying about the next bill — or dying.”
Even for those whose sexual appetite hasn’t waned, that pleasure-filled act performed with care-free abandon is now an activity that, like our kitchen counters and door handles, requires sanitizing.
A 25-year-old physical therapist and her live-in boyfriend, a teacher, have been as active in the bedroom as ever. (Several people interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous.)
“We are having sex now as before as often as we like,” said the Morristown resident. But, she confided, with not as much spontaneity. He works from home; she labors at a rehabilitation hospital.
“When I come home, I let him know, ‘Don’t even think of touching me, my clothes or my duffel bag.'” No physical contact is allowed until, she said, she takes a shower — and vigorously brushes her teeth, something she’s taken to doing five or six times a day.
“I want to wash the whole day off of me,” she said.
A 44-year-old from Lincoln Park, who is an office administrator, would like to wash too. Not herself so much or her day but her husband, a 49-year-old service technician.
In an email, she said: “As far as sex, I am exhausted holding my office together because we had to let go of 20 people. He is still working too but has all the energy in the world. It is like living with a teenager. I am just too tired, doing triple work, and I am afraid he is going to come home from work with the virus. If I could only Lysol him too.”
In a time of crises, experts say, sex can be both a positive and a negative force. It can help couples connect when most, if not all, other connections are prohibited.
It can reduce anxiety when anxiety for most, if not all, is understandably higher than normal. It can also help us feel desired, energized and alive when most of the day we’re bombarded with news of death and illness.
Therapist Kristine Seitz, M.Ed, MSW, LSW, New Jersey office director for the Council for Relationships in Voorhees and Lawrenceville, calls sex a soothing factor for people. “It’s important for mental health.”
So important that Seitz said whether you have a partner or not, have it … by yourself. “This is a great opportunity to get to know yourself better,” she said. Besides, she noted, solo sex is by far the safest.
The New York Department of Health agrees. It recently sent out graphic guidelines on sex during the coronavirus, highly recommending self-pleasuring — “You are your safest sex partner,” it said.
People wanting intimacy should sleep with those they live with — “the second safest sex partner,” it maintained. The missive warned that the virus can spread through direct contact with saliva or mucus and that it has been found in feces of people infected with the virus.
However, too much self-love, done in secret, when shut in with your partner may not be wise, said Christine Hyde, PhD, director of New Jersey Center for Sex Therapy, which has locations in Chester, Fort Lee and Princeton.
“Some people count on alone time to pleasure themselves,” Hyde said. “They are used to have private space, now suddenly they’re together with their partner 24 hours a day.” A few of these coupled onanists have asked her if they can use their cars or the nearest park, she said.
“Absolutely not,” she said she tells them. “That’s illegal.” Her advice? Tell your partner you need a little space during the day. “If you want harmony in your home, ask for what you need,” she said.
Some people prefer sex toys to enhance their sexual pleasure, judging by how big the industry is: Globally, it is expected to reach $52.7 billion by 2026. Using any? The New York Department of Health recommends washing your hands and any sex toys for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after sex.
There must be a lot more sex toys to wash since the coronavirus outbreak. According to media digital website Mashable, sex-toy site Adam & Eve, which boasts that it is the No. 1 adult toy superstore, has experienced a sales spike of more than 30 percent each day for the past week.
Porn watching is up, too. Pornhub, the world’s leading free porn site, reports that worldwide traffic began to increase in February, but on March 24, when it offered its “premium” service free to all it increased by nearly 19 percent.
Porn and self-love isn’t quite doing it, however, for a 46-year-old single, gay accountant isolated in his New York City apartment.
“Has the coronavirus impacted my sex life?” he said. “Clearly it has. There’s none going on.”
Old dates have contacted him and sometimes that has led to sexting and exchanging nude videos but, he said, he yearns for physical contact with a real-live human, not a virtual experience.
“Isolation on every level is starting to take its toll,” he said. “I’m anxious all the time. I can’t concentrate. Masturbating is not as big of a turn on; your mind isn’t there.” And while he uses online dating sites, he wonders what’s the point.
“There’s nowhere to go,” he said. “There are no bars open. What are you going to do, sit on a park bench six feet away? You can, I guess, have someone over, but that seems reckless.”
Sex therapist Hyde is working really hard trying to keep her patients from being reckless during the pandemic. She reported getting distressed calls from shut-in married patients yearning to hook up with their lovers.
“How do I get out?” she said they want to know. They can’t. She tells of one woman who just before the pandemic found out about her husband’s affair. They filed for divorce but soon the courts shuttered and the two are stuck in their house together. “We talk about creating separate sleeping quarters,” she said, “not having too much communication.”
Communication is key for those who want to preserve their marriage and and for those who want to dally outside their marriage.
“You need to do a cost benefit analysis,” she said. “What is the benefit? What is the cost?”
Alexa Levecchia, a 25-year-old preschool teacher, feels that she and her fiancé are communicating well. The couple lives in Deptford. He, she said, understands her disinterest in lovemaking since she gave birth to their son, Edison,10 weeks ago. Hugs and kisses, on the other hand, she enjoys.
“But every once in a while,” she said, “when he comes home from the grocery store, I think, ‘Do I want to kiss him hello or hold his hand?’ And after he washes his hands, I wonder, ‘Did he wash enough? Is he clean enough?’ I am treating him like he has leprosy.”
A 48-year-old divorcée said the coronavirus has had little bearing on her sex life. “I probably haven’t had sex for four years,” she said. “The coronavirus hasn’t changed my situation.”
But, she noted, it has made one aspect of her nonexistent romantic life better. “For someone who has had the pressure to find someone, it is liberating that no one is going to ask me whether I’m dating now,” she said. “And, for sure, I put less pressure on myself to find someone to date. It’s good.”
Jennifer Lawrence, 37, of Lincoln Park, has also found a silver lining to this killer pandemic. While the pandemic hasn’t affected sexual relations with her husband of 10 years, lovemaking is “kind of nicer,” said the expectant mother, who has a 4-year-old boy. “It’s nicer to be together at night. You appreciate that time with your partner. We’re healthy. We’re still able to do this.”
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com.