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Finding Sexual Pleasure in a Modern Pandemic

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Taking care of our sexual needs in conventional times has often been a challenge, but with the outbreak of COVID and the ensuing lockdowns, it has become difficult on an entirely different scale. We’ve got to navigate risk, determine our comfort zones and find other who share those same boundaries. The funny thing is, we know how to do this. This is not our first pandemic and gay men have already had to navigate disease, persecution, and violence when pursuing sex. In the face of all of these challenges, we remain resilient and that is perhaps our greatest superpower.

The pandemic and the lockdown policies left many gay men vulnerable economically, physically, and mentally. In a recent survey of LGBT individuals, 30 percent of respondents reported feeling physically and emotionally unsafe in their homes. Over 70 percent report experiencing anxiety since the pandemic began. Very few government policies are in place to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ+ people during COVID, and in places where gay sex is criminalized the fear of arrest or persecution creates an almost insurmountable barrier to much needed health or economic resources.

Additionally, a majority of gay men reported a very high level of sexual dissatisfaction, particularly those adhering to physical distancing. Such dissatisfaction is not sustainable and eventually gay men are going to take action to have their sexual needs met. It’s natural. Sex is valuable and provides a much-needed social connection. An increase in sexual activity is inevitable but the question becomes what we have learned from this pandemic and how can we apply it to our lives going forward.

Fortunately, over a year of COVID has provided us with many opportunities to learn from this global crisis. Here are some key lessons we can glean from our newest pandemic and its impact on our lives.

Explore all the ways to be sexually satisfied.
Being stuck at home and unable to meet up in person with others brought many of our sex lives to a screeching halt. Fortunately, we were able to adapt with creativity, technology, and, in some cases, a return to the classics. OnlyFans, Zoom sex parties, masturbation clubs, and phone sex were but a few of the tools that helped us get through and get off. PrEPster created a brilliant guide, Navigating COVID When Horny; it was the perfect tool to walk us through all the ways we could still pursue sexual pleasure in the midst of this global pandemic.

Improved sexual communication skills.
In the midst of a pandemic, communication is key. Each of us have different risks we are willing to accept. It gets even more complicated because our comfort level around risk can change daily. This shifting comfort level is something we are familiar with from decades of HIV. The best way forward when navigating risk is clear and honest communication. Tell your partner, or partners, what your boundaries are and ask them about theirs before sex. Our sex is infinitely better if we can let go of the anxiety created by assuming or hoping they know what you want and how far you are willing to go.

It’s okay to prioritize pleasure.
Pandemics suck. We’ve already lived through 40 years of a pandemic that devastated our community and now this new one comes along to pile on top of our existing fatigue. But our existence and our community are testament to the fact that you don’t give up sex just because of a pandemic. In fact, the pandemic can help bring into stark focus just how important sex and pleasure are. We have an opportunity to prioritize sex in our lives and in our movement. The pursuit of sexual fulfillment is intricately linked to our ability to determine what we do with our bodies and that is a fundamental tenant in social justice.

Gay sex spaces matter.
For centuries, gay sex spaces have been a source of community and connection. Not only did they allow us to link up for sexual pleasure, but they allowed us to find those with whom we shared a common experience. It was how we found our people and built a community and social movements. Many of those gay sex spaces are now in danger of closing, if they haven’t already. What plan do we create to keep them alive? As the trajectory of this pandemic changes, there is a great deal of rebuilding that needs to be done. We can’t count on government to maintain the health of gay sex spaces around the globe. It falls to us to find creative ways to keep these spaces open and help them flourish.

Gay sex always finds a way. That should come as a great comfort to us all. Through the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, we fostered our sexualities. In countries where gay sex is a crime, we defiantly pursue pleasure and intimacy. And we can navigate the calamity of COVID and maintain our sex lives. Our resiliency is our greatest asset and it’s one of the most profound things we can teach others. We don’t survive for sex. We survive because of it.

Alex Garner is Deputy Director, Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative (GSSPI) at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

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