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Coronavirus Spring

It’s Spring, and nature is blooming. Coronavirus has done (temporarily, at least) what no Paris Agreement, Green New Deal, man, woman or even that scrappy teen, Greta Thunberg (who may have also contracted COVID-19), could do. It has shut down a huge amount of the industrial, transportation and pollution-belching business activity that is destroying life on earth.

Tragically and terrifyingly, this comes at the expense of thousands of human lives (so far), the health of millions and the mental health of billions.

Ironically, it comes—like an ecogasm—to the benefit of the rest of world.

With so many Anthropocene operations shut down, the air is noticeably cleaner in many areas. We can see the difference—at least in waves. As the disease overtook China and the government ordered the shutdown of factories and other businesses, the smog lifted, nitrogen dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions lowered, and the skies brightened so much you could see the difference in satellite images.

Now that the Chinese seem to be getting a handle on the virus, people are back at work and pollution is resurfacing. But at the moment, almost every other country is struggling to contain the viral varmint with quarantines, handwashing tutorials and shelter-in-place virtual sing-a-longs, trying to heed the medical experts’ advice to (despite our Trumpublican representatives pushing us to get back to “normal” and #DiefortheDow) scrap all nonessential activity and #StaytheFuckHome.

So, throughout the planet—notably in Europe—the skies, streets and waterways are clearing up from human-generated debris. In Thailand and Japan, gangs of monkeys and deer roam streets now devoid of tourists. Dolphins and small fish are swimming in the Venice Canal (or just some canal near Venice, but it’s still impressive). It’s Mother Nature’s own Homemade Green New Deal.

It’s a Coronavirus Spring (with apologies to Rachel Carson).

Sounds almost lovely. However, unless you just hate human beings, it’s not lovely at all.

A War Without Bombs

As the virus spreads throughout humanity, it is waging a vicious World War that, despite all our bombs and Pentagons, we are not at all prepared to fight.

Yet fight we must—for our individual lives, and for our neighbors whose lives are deeply intertwined with ours.

They always have been, of course. Humans, like bonobos and common chimpanzees, are an intensely social, interdependent species. But thanks to the power of capitalism that enhances our feelings of competition, greed, desperation and jealousy, we’re not usually very cognizant of our inherent communal connection. Now that truth is laid out—or sprayed out—in “droplets,” statistics, “community spread,” sickness and death.

This despite the misleading, self-adoring, stock market-fellating, “I don’t take responsibility at all” putrid blather the Trumpus pulls out of his Rumpus (where’s that toilet paper when we need it?) at these unsafe press conferences he tries, in vain, to turn into rallies. Though he does fancy himself to be a Wartime President.

Of course, we started this war. And I don’t mean Mr. Tomato Head’s trumped up wars with China and whoever disagrees with him; I mean humanity’s war on the rest of nature.

Over the past few thousand years, especially the last century, we have made the Earth and its atmosphere sick as a COVID-19 patient, feverish with global warming, hurricane sneezes, fiery coughing fits, the damaged lungs of the rainforests and atmospheric shortness of breath. In short, human civilization has been a plague upon the Earth. Now, in a science fiction-like way, the Earth appears to be fighting back against its human plague by dropping this horrible modern plague, Coronavirus.  Like a bomb.  On us.

The Coronapocalypse is a war of wars, yet everything we *know* about war does not apply. Wars are typically fought with guns, grenades and guided missiles; the war against COVID-19 is fought with swab tests, ventilators, face masks and hand sanitizer. In traditional wars, the old send the young to fight and die for their corporate investments. In the Coronavirus War, the old are most likely to die, as the young alternate between fighting valiantly on the hospital frontlines and spreading the virus willy-nilly. This is almost always inadvertent; many are contagious for days before symptoms appear. But sometimes it’s deliberate with active “Boomer Removers” spitting on fruit in your local Ralph’s. Ironically, as the virus spreads, more young people are getting sick and dying in this war too. That Mother Nature is such a trickster.

In other American wars in the past 80 years, except for the occasional “terrorist,” the U.S. military has been doing the killing and dying in some faraway place, while here at home, we continue life as usual, barely aware of the havoc America wreaks on other nations. Now we know what it’s like to shut ourselves into our homes, crazed with fear and boredom, waiting for the bombs to drop.

Another difference between this war and others is the folks in uniform. I have never felt like thanking our troops for fighting, killing and helping to perpetuate our Perma-Wars; they don’t “protect” us from anything except the good will of other peoples. But I get down on my proverbial knees to thank our doctors, nurses and medical technicians who are facing this “enemy” with as much courage as the most decorated soldiers have ever faced combat, and with a lot more integrity, life-saving value and genuine service.

Wouldn’t it be great, smart and very bonoboesque to take 95% of the ridiculously bloated U.S. military budget and spend it on COVID-19 tests, ventilators, respirators, masks, gowns and other necessities? While we’re at it, let’s bring most of those troops home to help the first responders and medical teams fight this real-life enemy of the people.

Short of that, American billionaires ought to stop worrying about Wall Street and start buying supplies. Some are doing that, but their contributions are far from enough. It’s one thing to hoard toilet paper; it’s quite another to hoard billions of dollars when, due to a lack of basic medical necessities, your fellow citizens are dying in such high numbers that stacks of bodies are being hauled away in freezer trucks.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What about sex?

Sadly, the coronavirus is, in a way, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), a plague of human physical intimacy, as are all viruses. Not that we need to have sex to *catch* these colds, flus and viruses; all that’s required is that we be close to each other, inhale each other’s breath, somehow ingest each other’s germs or even just pick up each other’s phones.

How can we have sex without being close? How can we connect as we self-isolate? How can we make love in the time of Coronavirus (with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)?

As a sex therapist who counsels others to explore and enjoy the pleasures and healing benefits of consensual touch, it feels odd to advise people, including myself, to do the opposite in order to save their lives.  Talk about an about-face!  But here we are.

Not that you can’t have any sex, but I, a proud bonoboesque pansexualist, must agree with the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) COVID-19 guidelines that say it’s better to just “love the one you’re self-isolating with,” at least when it comes to in-person sex.

That means just one or, as the NYCDOH liberally suggests, “a small circle” of sex partners that you can really trust (how you know whom you can “really trust” is another story). Monogamy may be unnatural for humans, but it has never been so sensible. Having in-person casual sex is playing Russian Roulette… at least until they make a special sex-friendly hazmat suit, which is coming, I’m sure. But not soon enough.

Fun Fact: COVID-19, though swimming in saliva, has not been found in semen or vaginal fluid. Unfortunately for the analinguists out there, it has been found in fecal matter. Therefore, NYCDOH guidelines warn: “No rimming” (don’t you just love that kinky specificity in a metropolitan health office?). It’s great that the NYCDOH is hip to rimming. But does that mean other kinds of oral sex are okay?

And how do we even get to that point if we’re staying six feet apart? Nobody’s that well-hung.

What do we do if we’re single and dating? It sounds cumbersome, but maybe the exhibitionists among us could set up plastic booths and perform peep shows for our dates.

There are other ways to handle the six-foot rule. Personally, I think it’s a good time to eat raw garlic because 1) it’s good for your immune system and 2) it keeps people from getting close to you.

Of course, when we say “close,” we mean physically close. We simply can’t (or shouldn’t) get physically close to someone we’re not self-isolating with. A tale of two cities during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 1918 demonstrates how important it is to play “keep away”: After a few cases of the deadly virus floated into Philadelphia and St. Louis, Philly held a big, crowded, military parade while St. Louis shut everything down.

Within days, the City of Brotherly Love was overwhelmed by the “Spanish Flu” (which was really the “Kansas Flu,” as that’s where it started, but the WWI-neutral Spaniards were the first to report on it, so got stuck with the name), killing more than 12,000 Philadelphians in six weeks, while St. Louis “flattened the curve” and kept their death toll under 700. My father was one of the thousands of Philadelphia children who caught the influenza of 1918. Obviously, he survived and lived a full life, but he contracted Parkinson’s Disease towards the end; it is said by some that H1N1 may have led to Parkinson’s, so this hits me close to home.

I wonder what scars might be carried by those who “recover” from COVID-19.

“Kissing through the Waves of the Web”

So, here we are playing physical “keep away” on a grand scale. Really, “social-distancing” is a misnomer. It makes it sound like we have to stop socializing, communicating or caring about one another. That’s not very bonobo, or very human. It also sounds rather anti-socialism (even Democratic Socialism).

I prefer the term “physical distancing,” which is bad enough, but not as bad. To “flatten the curve,” we need to “physically distance” ourselves from each other, but we can maintain, expand and deepen our social relationships through our otherwise demonic devices to our social-lite/influencer hearts’ content.

Yes, our devices can be vices—bad habits, stupefying sources of alienation, depression, misinformation and a host of other ills. But in our war against COVID-19, they may prove to be lifesavers, a vital means of communication, a loneliness balm, a means to let off steam, and a way to stay in touch without touching.

Alas, we don’t all have balconies from which we can sing our solidarity, like the Italian flash mobs… though as balcony scenes go, the New York couple getting married on the sidewalk under the minister’s fourth floor apartment window is a good one.

Not that we all should be singing through the pandemic, as evidenced by the cringe-worthy ruination of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the voices of Gal Gadot and her clueless celebrity cohorts. Celebrities in general tend to be tone deaf on these global concerns, but exceptions to the rule include Fran Drescher Nanny-spanking “capitalism” and the surprisingly socialist pop princess-turned-MILF Britney Spearsexhorting us to “write virtual love letters… learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web. We will feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike.. Communion moves beyond walls” (italics mine).

Amen and Awomen, Comrade Britney! And thanks for the three rose emojis, a Springy symbol of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Still, it’s so sad we can’t kiss. Kissing could be one culprit, besides intergenerational housing (another lovely Old World tradition), in the deadly COVID-19 spreads of Italy, France and Spain, countries where everybody kisses everybody else, at least once on each cheek, sometimes twice. Those gentle pecks on the cheek are so delightful, and now… fatal.

Bonobos love to kiss, showing us how basic to our Great Ape heritage is the desire to lock lips and swap saliva. But with COVID-19, a simple smooch can be the kiss of death.

So, we must try to “kiss… through the waves of the web,” express solidarity through social media, convey compassion, organize efforts, send money and wave to each other from our Microsoft Windows. We can communicate harmony and disharmony, share poetry, ideas, frustrations, kinship. We can cry with each other on the phone. We can make each other laugh online.  Laughter is a mental orgasm, and almost as important to human health as consensual touch. Deprived of the latter, we’re going to need plenty of the former.

The interesting thing about “sensory deprivation” is that it makes our un-deprived senses even more acute. When you can’t see, your ability to hear is heightened. Without touch, our other senses might rise to the occasion, helping us to make love, or a kind of love (there are many kinds), through the sticky juicy interwebs, the Erotic Theater of the Mind. We can have phone sex, webcam, or sext each other. It’s not for everyone (though after a few more weeks of isolation, maybe it will be), but it’s possible to have a very “close,” intimate yet “virtual” conversation—even a long-term relationship—over our vice-filled devices.

And yet… physical touch is so vital to mammalian—especially primate—life. Most primates don’t have as much sex as bonobos, but almost all thrive on grooming, petting, hugging, playing with and touching each other. Infant monkeys deprived of touch won’t eat, get sick and die. The human primate is not much different.

Tragically, COVID-19 is not only a human virus, but also deadly to great apes, including bonobos. A shred of good news is that China is closing its wild animal markets, and other countries are following suit, but poachers in the Congolese Rainforest are still murdering bonobos and other endangered species as “bushmeat,” even though it’s illegal. It pains me to say it, but if bonobos catch Coronavirus, they will almost inevitably give it to each other, as touch is integral to their lives.

Consensual touch is pretty integral to human life too, but we can force ourselves to forego it, with willpower and, let’s call it what it is, tremendous self-repression.

This is a big sacrifice—much bigger than the Dow plummeting—that we as humans all must make.

So… don’t touch your friends, strangers, neighbors, anybody except your significant other(s). And scrub those hands raw before and after you do. And whatever you do, don’t touch your face! Though everyone does, even Dr. Fauci.

But you can touch yourself. And in this case, below the belt is better than above the neck.

Isolation Sex

Back to the NYCDOH which is downright effusive in its unequivocal support of masturbation: “You are your own safest sex partner.”

I’ve been extolling the virtues of masturbation for decades, as has my mentor, the Godmother of Masturbation, Dr. Betty Dodson, and other sexperts, often to sniggers, hypocritical outrage and Puritanical censorship. When Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders suggested that masturbation be considered a safer sex alternative in school sexuality classes, President Bill Clinton fired her (he, of all people, should have taken her advice). No, Dr. J didn’t mean the gym teacher conducts a circle jerk; she meant that school sex education programs list solo sex, along with condoms, dry-humping and abstinence, as a way to avoid STDs.

I guess it took a lethal pandemic to turn the authorities around to our point of view, but here we are. The NYCDOH is officially begging you to masturbate. Hallelujah.

You may think of sex as “dirty,” but as was always the case, even before the pandemic, wash your hands before you start choking the chicken or polishing the pearl. As my mom used to say, “Your hands are dirty and it’s clean down there!”

Everybody’s self-pleasuring now, even Trumpublicans. This is a good thing, except maybe when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweets out that he really likes shoving corn cobs up his ass:

“Those of us from rural south know how to handle toilet paper shortage. Eat more corn on the cob! The corn isn’t important, but the cobs are free and work great! (Just don’t flush them!) You’re welcome!”

Corn cobs: Mother Nature’s own dildos. Though I prefer cucumbers.

But don’t you still need that human connection? While maintaining scrupulous “physical distancing,” you can put the old AT&T jingle into practice: Reach out and touch someone (virtually)… while you touch yourself. Phone sex is a lot sexier than abstinence, safer than a hazmat suit and very stimulating in a sapiosexual way. It’s aural sex. I adore the romantic mystery of the phone, but if you’re visual, bump uglies on webcam. If you’re self-isolating in the family room with your parents or kids, get into sexting. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t be masturbating in the family room…

Nobody said this would be easy. But, to quote an oft-used cliché right now: We will get through this!

Actually, only some of us will. The cold, breathless truth is that cases and fatalities are mounting every day, and any one of us could be next.

Hopefully, those of us who do “get through this” will have learned something about love, ecology, caring, sharing, communication, masturbation and our entire society’s need for universal healthcare (thanks Bernie!). Hopefully, the survivors of the Coronavirus Spring (and Summer?) will have learned how and why it’s important to get back into Mother Earth’s good graces.

Now that you’ve read this dirty article, wash your hands and get busy!

More articles by:

Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For information and speaking engagements, call 626-461-5950. Email her at drsusanblock@gmail.com  

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