Quarantine has changed our everyday existences, from the workplace to how we consume content to the way we go out and interact with others. The question, however, of ways self-isolation is affecting our sex lives has remained speculative thus far. Because while people have joked about a post-pandemic baby boom and latched onto the idea that everyone is masturbating based on anecdotes and data about sex toy sales being on the rise, it seems as if these beliefs may be completely off-base.

Last month, sex toy company Lora DiCarlo commissioned a study about how quarantine is changing our views on sex and self-pleasure, as "there's a lot of excitement out there about like, 'Oh, people are home all the time now, so they must be having a lot of sex. We're gonna have a baby boom in 9 or 12 months,'" said Sarah Brown, a certified sex educator and the brand's director of product.

"But people make a lot of assumptions based on just what they think would happen," she continued, "And we wanted to make sure we understood what's really happening, so we can help people and consumers with their sex lives."

According to new data collected by Lora DiCarlo and Persuasium Research, it turns out that for many people, it's not all masturbation and constant sexual activity. After speaking to 443 men and women, the study found that while half of those surveyed said their sex lives have stayed the same, a third of respondents reported that their sexual relationships were actually in decline. And the big reason why? It's anxiety.

"What we found was, regardless of gender, a lot of people are really stressed. They're stressed, they're anxious, they're worried about their finances," said Carey Plunkett, the founder of Persuasium Research. "That's not really conducive to feeling sexy or feeling aroused."

"We had quite a few comments about how people aren't getting dressed up. They aren't able to get their hair done. They're eating comfort food, and that's also not conducive to feeling sexy," she said, before sharing a few specific quotes from people who explained that "getting heavier," "sleeping worse," having too many people in the house, and not having the ability to "get pretty or dressed up" has equaled a "declining sex drive."

Women in particular have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, with 40% of female respondents saying they were masturbating less now for similar reasons.

"It's not happening as much for men as it is for women," she said, before hypothesizing that it could have something to do with the fact that — in between work and having too much going on in the household — women are bearing the brunt of this decline in libido.

"Just in other data I've seen, women are the ones doing the cooking, the shopping, the home chores," she said. "Women are taking care of everyone, and that's not giving them enough time or energy to take care of themselves."

Brown further posited that many women are likely feeling drained from all the emotional labor they're having to do as well, saying that this "invisible labor becomes a lot more visible when it's layered on top of everything else."

She went on to refute initial speculation surrounding a baby boom by pointing toward pervasive feelings of anxiety and existential dread as reasons why it's too soon to say whether or not it'll actually happen. In the wake of the pandemic, Brown's friends who were going to try for a baby "pretty much said 'nope,'" and are "reupping their birth control and being very, very careful."

"Because they don't want to get pregnant right now — and not even nine months from now — not knowing what the hospital environment is going to be like," Brown explained. "That's the huge question for all of us. Yes, potentially, there's more people having sex, but we also have a lot of people who are super anxious right now."

There were also some heartening takeaways from their findings. LGBTQIA+ consumers and those quarantined apart from their partners have been more likely to report better sexual relationships with themselves — something that may explain the data related to an increase in sex toys sales. Brown interpreted this as people using this time to "explore a bit more," as well as using masturbation to "release stress and tension... for a sense of well-being."

Both Brown and Plunkett said it makes sense that the LGBTQIA+ community has been masturbating more as a whole, given the trends spotted in their past Sexual Pleasure Study. "LGBTQ+ persons tend to be more comfortable with masturbation than heterosexuals in terms of how they use masturbation," Plunkett said. "It's more integrated into their overall health and wellness routines... for stress relief. They just use masturbation more productively and positively for their overall health and wellbeing."

One of the biggest takeaways has been about how our communication styles surrounding sex and intimacy will likely change thanks to the pandemic. After all, according to the study, live-in partners have been doing more touching that is comforting, rather than sexual — with 40% more hugging and 17% more intimate touches being reported.

"To me, one of the things that get missed on a lot of the studies on sex, sexuality and pleasure is that missing part of intimacy and communication. I thought it was pretty interesting to see in a pandemic situation, where stress is very high, that comfort has come into the conversation," Brown said, pointing out that couples — many of whom spend their days apart at work — are now together all the time. "In this case, we're seeing it's happening in other ways than experiencing pleasure with genitals. I think there's a lot we can learn on the communication side of sex and relationships here."

That said, while couples quarantining apart have seen improvements in communication as they're being forced to keep in touch digitally, Plunkett added that some have felt a lack of intimacy from trying to keep their sex lives alive this way.

"People may be sending more texts, and a lot of them said that they were communicating their sexual fantasies a lot more than they ever have to their partner. There's more video chat sex," Plunkett relayed. "But [as one respondent wrote], 'I miss the touch of my partner, both sexual and for affirmation of closeness. But we have improved our text and phone conversations and have experimented with more sexy selfies which has been fun.'"

Which means that while Brown believes that there's a lot of positives to be gained from improved communication techniques, nothing will change our intrinsic need for physical contact, as "there's something very primitive to us as humans when it comes to physical contact and being touch-starved is an absolute thing we're not necessarily going to get away from."

She concluded, "The future is basically open, and we don't really know. But I think there's a lot of opportunity for people to take skills they learn in quarantine and with different technologies for connecting with people and carrying that forward."

Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo via Getty/ Tara Moore

You May Also Like
America

America Only Has One Laverne Cox

Story by Bianca Gracie / Photography by Joshua Kissi / Styling by Alexander-Julian / Hair by Ursula Stephen / Makeup by Mario Dedivanovic