- The pandemic has made it difficult for many people to safely have sex with those who don’t live in their homes, and the lack of intimacy can have unexpected consequences.
- Experts told Insider months without wanted physical touch can have adverse health impacts like increased anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
- Lack of physical intimacy can also lead to touch starvation, which can contribute to loneliness, isolation, and even compromise your immune system.
- Sex can also be an important way to find a sense of community for people in marginalised groups like LGBTQ folks, polyamorous people, and kink communities.
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For people who do not live with a partner, lockdown has, in theory, meant three months of celibacy.
Going so long without sex or intimate touch can be more than just frustrating.
Three sex therapists and psychologists explained to Insider exactly what kind of ramifications they see in people who don’t experience sexual contact for a long period of time, from heightened anxiety to sleeplessness.
Orgasms can have a number of health benefits including anxiety relief, boosting immunity, and helping you sleep better
According to Dr. Rachel Needle, psychologist and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, having sex can be positive for people’s physical and mental health.
It helps you sleep better, decreasing pain, lowering stress, lessening anxiety and depression, and more. Symptoms arise at different times based on people’s needs and can show up anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Needle said these benefits are so important that people who can’t have partnered sex should still be masturbating and having orgasms.
“Orgasm releases endorphins which can help decrease stress, at least temporarily, and lead to positive feelings making us happier,” Needle said. “So even if you aren’t having partnered sex, if you want to continue having these benefits, find ways to keep having orgasms.”
When you don’t have that physical intimacy, it can lead to ‘touch starvation’
Because having sex has so many health benefits, not being able to have it when you want to can have many health consequences.
People who have gone months without being able to safely have physical intimacy can develop skin hunger and touch starvation – which can weaken your immune system and lead to elevated rates of depression and anxiety.
“When those who would like to be having sex and are used to having it regularly experience a lack of sexual intimacy, the opposite can occur in the form of detrimental effects to mental, emotional, and physical health resulting in a variety of symptoms; and feelings of isolation, insecurity, and lowered self-esteem,” Dr. Dulcinea Pitagora (they/them), a NYC-based psychotherapist and sex therapist, told Insider.
Sex goes beyond desire – it can be a way people find community, especially among queer and polyamorous people
Aside from physical intimacy, Susannah Hyland, a NYC-based therapist who uses she/they pronouns, told Insider having sex can be incredibly important for people looking to build community like queer and polyamorous people or those in the kink community.
“I think that specifically for queer people, it’s a really hard thing to be physically isolated from our communities, chosen families, etc.,” Hyland said. “Especially trans communities, because there’s so much comradery, validation, bonding, mirroring, attachment – such good stuff that we get from each other. In friendship, and sex, and in love.”
While monogamous, cisgender, straight people might be more inclined to already live with their partner, Hyland said people who date multiple people may be less inclined to live with any of their partners.
“All of the things that were happening in pre-quarantine times are kind of exacerbated in quarantine, for better or worse,” Hyland said. “People who had minor conflicts with their partners – those conflicts are centralised with no distractions. And people who have varied communities, like poly-identified etc. have different set-ups, with different people varying in proximity and intensity are maybe more likely to live alone, away from their people, which can be really hard, as opposed to their monogamous counterparts, who are having their own troubles.”
Rediscovering partnered sex after quarantine might be difficult for people
According to Pitagora, some people who are averse to changes might find it difficult to rediscover sex after a long period of not having sex, whether it be quarantine-induced or otherwise.
“I’m using the work ‘rediscovering’ instead of ‘returning to’ here because there may not be a return to their pre-quarantine sex life,” Pitagora said. “Instead, they may experience growth and self-discovery, and through introspection, find a new way of thinking about their sexuality and who they want to have sex with and how.”
Though it might be daunting to consider what a post-quarantine sex life might look like, Pitagora also said they think it could be an opportunity for people to think critically about their wants and sexual desires.
“I would also say that people could experience a sort of euphoria when constraints are lifted, and they have the opportunity to explore their sexuality in ways they may have held back before,” Pitagora said.