© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Single And Sexually Frustrated During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Ben Sutherland
Flickr Creative Commons
Sex toy manufacturers are seeing a significant increase in online sales since the wave of shelter-in-place orders.

Some singles are sexually frustrated and longing for intimacy while sheltering in place. They’re refraining from physical contact for their own health and safety. But they are finding ways to cope without touch. 

Click the play button to listen to the story.

Back in the ‘90s Sylvester Stallone starred in the sci-fi action film "Demolition Man." The story takes place in 2032, but Stallone is a cop from the past. Sandra Bullock plays his love interest.

In one scene the sexual tension between the characters has peaked. Bullock gives him a device to place on his head for virtual sex, then sits far across from him. Stallone isn’t feeling it. 

“What do you say we just do it the old fashioned way,” he says. 

She responds, “Disgusting! The rampant exchange of bodily fluids was one of the many reasons for the downfall of society. After AIDS there was NRS. After NRS there was UBT.” 

And in 2020, we have COVID-19, where some people aren’t doing it the old-fashioned way. Social distancing means keeping all parts of you at least six feet away. Which is tough when you’re sheltering-in-place solo. 

Single With Desire

Kim Carter is someone who relates to this. She’s divorced and lives in her Sacramento apartment with two adorable cats. Kim misses her pre-pandemic sex life. 

“I haven't had so much as a handshake in three weeks,” says Kim. That's been really hard for me because I'm somebody who thrives off of touch and affection. 

Kim tells me she’s in her early 40s and sexual prime. She dates and has a lover, but doesn’t want to risk her health inviting him over.

“There is no solution to this,” she says. “We have to stay away from people. There's no way I can touch another person.” 

Or even kiss, because the virus is found in saliva and mucus. That’s according to a sex guide from The New York City Health Department. It says while COVID-19 so far hasn’t been found in vaginal and semen fluids, it has been detected in feces. The health department recommends you stick to having sex with the partner or partners who live with you. But they say your safest sex partner is yourself, with clean hands. That’s right — masturbation. 

Self-Pleasure And Toys

Kim says, “I can say in the bedroom, I've been taking care of business with my vibrator. You know, that's great, but it's not the same.”

People in Kim’s situations are reaching in their sex toy chest for satisfaction. Manufacturers have seen significant increases in online sales.

Mario Crippen works at an Amazon warehouse in the Detroit area, where a few workers tested positive for the coronavirus. During a protest for safer work conditions, he tells WXYZ-TV News about how he’s been packaging lots of orders for sex toys. He’s not happy about it. 

“Dildos are not essential items,” Crippen says. “Books for kids? Yes. But dildos? No. 

I scroll through the comments on social media and see some have taken issue with Mario’s moratorium stance on dildo sales.

“Sexual needs are important. It’s a psychological effect to be deprived at this time.”

“People are cooped up inside. They need to relieve stress somehow.”

“If I order it from Amazon, you best believe it’s essential.” 

“I mean people have to do something if you want them to stay at home.”

“We can’t get meat, so we’ll grind on the plastic.”

Pleasure During Crisis

Carol Queen agrees. 

“I don't know why they didn't think we were an essential business,” she says. I do.

Carol is the staff sexologist for the sex store Good Vibrations. She says they’ve also seen an uptick in toy purchases and hear about people being sexually frustrated. I ask her why is sex on our minds during a crisis. 

She explains, “I think there's the [feeling of], ‘Wow, this is all scary. What might make me feel better?’ And there's the [idea of], ‘Hey, I've got all this time to myself. How am I going to move through this time?’ And that's another reason to think about sex or at least masturbation.”

But she says people still want connection, which is happening virtually. People are hosting sex parties on Zoom, having phone sex with others they meet on dating apps or with their long distance lovers. And they’re getting kinky with video calls. Kim Carter says that using these digital platforms to connect with her lover does make a difference. 

“Sometimes we send some X-rated stuff because we can't be with each other and be X-rated,” she shares. “So it's just to keep spirits up and let them know I'm thinking of them. And I get the same in return. 

Carol says there are high-tech sex toys and apps than can make the connection even stronger.

“You and your partner across town, in the next room, or across the country, can use an app-mediated toy. Your partner can turn up the buzz for you [remotely].

Longing For Affection 

Sure the toys and apps help when you’re turned on. But Kim reminds me that in times like this, you also want another form of intimacy. 

She says, “If I had my druthers, I would be hugging somebody through this. Somebody would be hugging me and rubbing my back, telling me it's okay. I don't have that. I have nothing. I live alone. I've got two cats and they're cute and everything, but that's not the kind of affection I need.”

Carol Queen says Kim’s yearning for physical touch makes sense given the pandemic.

“We're worried about each other,” she says. “We're nervous about ourselves. And including real respect for erotic feelings and experience is one of the ways some of us will get through this. But it does give us the feels. It opens the door to our hearts sometimes, doesn't it? And some of our hearts are heavy right now.”

"It's okay to have pleasure even in a time that's scary."

But Carol also sees this as an opportunity for growth and to learn more about our sexual selves. 

She says, “There are definitely big pluses to taking a little bit of your quarantine time and figure out who you are on that intimate level. It's okay to have pleasure even in a time that's scary.” 

Staying Connected

Kim and I are wrapping up our call. She wants to make a drink before joining an online happy hour. Kim is still connecting with people. She tells me her friend hooked her up on a virtual blind date. 

“She said, ‘There's this guy and I've always thought that you two would make a good couple. Since we have so much time on our hands, can I give him your number so you can get to know each other?’ And I said sure.”

Kim has one final thought.

“It is hard being alone. So don't forget about your friends that are single and alone. They need love too.”

In the meantime, until it’s safe for us to touch new people with consent, singles like Kim will have to keep buzzing along. 

Carol Queen advises to always make sure any apps or web platforms you use for sexy enggement are secure.

Crosscurrents COVID Updates
Jeneé Darden is an award-winning journalist, author, public speaker and proud Oakland native. She is the executive producer and host of the weekly arts segment Sights & Sounds as well as the series Sights + Sounds Magazine. Jeneé also covers East Oakland for KALW. Jeneé has reported for NPR, Marketplace, KQED, KPCC, The Los Angeles Times, Ebony magazine, Refinery29 and other outlets. In 2005, she reported on the London transit bombings for Time magazine. Prior to coming to KALW, she hosted the podcast Mental Health and Wellness Radio.