Sex Life in the Time of the 21st Century Plague

Photograph Source: Jean KOULEV – CC BY 2.0

“We’re both really embracing this [sex] as time together rather than using it to stress out,” report a school teacher from Chattanooga (TN) to NBC News. “There’s fear in general, sure — there are people that I love that are at a higher risk — but sex has definitely been a distraction for us. It’s finally a moment when we’re not thinking about or talking about this virus.”

The coronavirus is spreading, the death rate rising and the number of the those working from home and/or are unemployed is reaching unprecedented levels. Compounding this situation, the CDC advocates “social distancing” – “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

It is a period when an ever-growing number of Americas are stuck at home and likely with more “free time” then they know what to do with. Sure, for some it is turning into a great escape from the daily grind – time to clean house, to read the books or see the movies one’s put off and, for some, to have sex.

For many couples and individuals with kids at home (especially younger ones who can’t fully understand what’s going on), however, childcare can be overwhelming. For others, the boredom of endless domestic life can foster bickering if not outright abusive situations. And for those living alone, the tedium of bad TV, ever-repetitive media reports (how much Trump’s self-promotion and ever-worsening medical reports can one take?) and other ways to waste time will take their toll.

Jessica Zucker, a psychologist writing for NBC News, advises readers, “sex can be a great stress reliever.” She warns, “but if you’re feeling an aversion to sex, whether it be with your partner or yourself, know that your reaction, too, is typical. There is no one ‘right’ way to handle unprecedented moments such as these.”

The TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, MD, confirmed this opinion. “The best solution if you’re holed up with your significant other in quarantine is have sex,” he said. “You’ll live longer, you’ll get rid of the tension … maybe you’ll make some babies. It’s certainly better than staring at each other and getting on each other’s nerves.”

There appears to little data analyzing sex life during the current plague. Zucker reports that in a poll she conducted with her 46,000 Instagram “community” as to whether the epidemic was helping or hurting their sex lives, responses were split almost down the middle: “52 percent said their sex life had improved, and 48 percent said it was stunted.”

However, a recently reported poll of about 9,000 people concerning the impact of the coronavirus on their sex life offers a surprising insight. One quarter of the respondents (24%) said the outbreak had positively affected their sex lives; another quarter or so (28%) reported its impact being neutral; and nearly half (47%) claimed that Corvis-10 had negatively affected their sex life.

So, how is your sex life during the time of the 21st-century plague?


Sex is a complex personal and social phenomenon. It can involve a wide range of very different experiences and practices. For example, it can include but is not limited to (i) sex with oneself (e.g., autoeroticism, voyeuristic), (ii) sex with another (i.e., hetero or homo, consensual, commercial or coerced) or (iii) sex with others (e.g., group encounters). And then there are all the ways people can engage in sex, everything from the old-fashioned “doggystyle” to the latest “sex-wellness” product or online VR “partner.”

The best single source for information about sexual practice and coronavirus is a recent release from the New York City Department of Health, “Sex and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” It warns: “All New Yorkers should stay home and minimize contact with others to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” And then it suggests a variety of “tips for how to enjoy sex and to avoid spreading COVID-19.”

First and foremost, NYC Health urges people to “have sex with people close to you” and to “avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household.”

Most helpful, it offers the following four suggestions as to how to have safer sex:

+ Avoid kissing anyone who is not part of your small circle of close contacts.

+ Rimming (mouth on anus) might spread COVID-19; virus in feces may enter your mouth.

+ Condoms and dental dams can reduce contact with saliva or feces, especially during oral or anal sex.

+ Washing up before and after sex is more important than ever; wash sex toys with soap and warm water; disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others (for video chat, for watching pornography or for anything else).

And, finally, skip sex if you or your partner is not feeling well.


Nothing illuminates the impact of the current plaque on sex life then how it’s playing out in two key sectors of the sexual marketplace – pornography and (consensual) sex work. The outcomes are predictable.

Pornhub claims to be the world’s leading free porn site and as the coronavirus captured ever-increasing countries around the world, viewership of porn skyrocketed. It reports that the upswing in viewership started on March 9th and by 11th it had climbed by 14 percent. On March 13th, it reports there was a 5.1 percent increase in U.S. traffic compared to an average day, and a 6.4 percent increase on March 17th. Ever opportunist, it took advantage of the new plague by offering a limited fee “premium” that led to a spike in viewership, nearly 18 percent in the U.S. and 16 percent in Canada; increases in viewership jumped in Italy, Spain and other countries as Covid-19 played out.

Forbes reports that the term “corona virus” first appeared on Pornhub on January 25th and continued to rise. It reports that as of March 3rd, there were over 6.8 million searches containing the keywords “corona” or “covid”. Searches peaked on March 5th at 1.5 million and, it observes, “with the American public getting ready to settle in for a few weeks of self-isolation, Pornhub is likely to see another rise in traffic, regardless of keywords.” Perhaps most revealing, it notes: “District of Columbia is top of the list for popularity of coronavirus searches [on Pornhub] by state when compared to the U.S. average.”

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website, warns that “a pornography website [IsMyGirl] is targeting McDonald’s workers suffering low wages during the coronavirus pandemic by offering them the opportunity to earn upwards of $100,000 a year to participate in pornographic content.” The site’s founder, Evan Seinfeld, said in a press release sent to more than half a million McDonald’s staffers: “In an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

Porn industry performers appear to be especially vulnerable to coronavirus. The Free Speech Coalition [FSC] — the adult industry trade association – takes a strong stand: “Shooting [porn] at this time is not safe, but closing PASS and prohibiting shoots with one’s household partners would only compound an already alarming public health situation. [PASS is the industry’s centralized opt-in testing system, Performer Availability Screening Services (PASS), in which performers are tested every 14 days.]

To its members, it advised the following safer-sex practices:

+ Stay at home.

+ Shoot only solos or with partners who live in your household.

+ Do not leave your home to work.

+ Do not have physical contact with someone who doesn’t live in your household

The FSC’s communications director, Mike Stabile, warns, “right now, most performers want to continue to shoot while they can—sets are less risky than the grocery store, and who knows how long an Italian-style shutdown will last.” He reminds people, “adult performers don’t get sick days or government bailouts, and many crew members’ non-adult jobs are already being cancelled.

Many porn production studios are closed due to the virus, but some porn performers are taking advantage of the downturn to create new opportunities. One performer, Maitland Ward, says, “I’m stuck at home, too, so I’m doing a lot more content just to fill time as well.” She reports, “actually, I’ve seen upticks in some of my income because people are home and they want entertainment and they want to get away from all the corona stuff.”  Another performer, Sarah Vandella, claims that “adult models and actors … are encouraged to utilize their own personal time to continue to create content as much as possible” for Skype and other streaming platforms.

While there appears to an upswing in porn viewing, the fate of (consensual) sex workers is more precarious. Maxine Doogan, head of the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project, decries the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on sex work: “There’s just no business. … It’s not happening.” The group, Decriminalize Sex Work, shares this assessment, warning, “sex workers are a financially vulnerable and criminalized community, and thus their lives are greatly impacted by times of uncertainty and strife.”

In April 2018, Pres. Trump signed into FOSTA-SESTA, a law ostensible aimed to contain sex trafficking and further the religious right’s culture wars. However, its principle accomplishment was to close the website,, that promoted commercial sex. Looking back, Doogan notes that one consequence of new law was that “a lot of people lost their housing pretty immediately, they lost their business, their ability to feed themselves. We’re going to see that with this quarantine, no doubt.” Amidst today’s crises, she reflects, “I have older customers that I’m concerned about their health.” “I’m keeping connections with people — email, and text, and calling,” she adds. “It’s what we had to do when we lost our websites. We called each other, we called our customers, we kept connected.”

Other sex workers share Doogan’s concerns. “We are facing a lot of fear of loss of housing, hearing from people who are forgoing medication in order to afford food, going hungry in general,” says Fera Lorde of the Brooklyn chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project. “Sex work serves a vast population of people for many different reasons, and many of us are already living with risk factors like pre-existing conditions, lack of healthcare, family members to take care of who are elderly or disabled, or unstable housing.” Decriminalize Sex Work has published on online coronavirus health guide, “Sex Worker and LGBTQIA Resource Guide: COVID-19.”

Most sex workers, like “gig” workers and nondocumented workers, may not file annual income tax forms and, thus, many not qualify for unemployment benefits or the planned federal bail-out payment. Many are facing very hard times. So, sex-worker support groups – like for restaurant workers and others – are setting up crowd-funding campaigns to help meet people’s needs. A GoFundMe group, Emergency COVID Relief for Sex Workers in New York, has raised nearly $60,000. Other groups – e.g., SWOP Brooklyn, Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective and the Butterfly Asian and Migrant Worker Support Network — are undertaking similar projects.


In a recent New Yorker article, the social historian Jill Lepore discusses the unique role literature plays in our understanding of plagues. She traces “plagues,” natural and political, over the last six centuries through a half-dozen memorable works of fiction. As she advices contemporary readers, “Stories about plagues run the gamut, from ‘Oedipus Rex’ to ‘Angels in America.’ … There are plagues here and plagues there, from Thebes to New York, horrible and ghastly …”

Her article meanders, insightfully, from Giovanni Boccaccioi’s The Decameron (14th-century Black Plague); to Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year” (the London plague of 1655); through Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” (set in 2092); Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (a medieval world); Jack London’s “The Scarlet Plaque” (set in 2073 but looking back to 2013); Albert Camus’s “The Plague” (set in the 1940s with the plague referring to the “virus of Fascism”); and to José Saramago’s “Blindness” (a critique of “the 20th-century authoritarian state”).

One can only hope that a writer with equal artistic talent as those discussed by Lepore will one day capture the reality of the first (of perhaps many) 21st-century plagues, coronavirus. And, equally revealing, convey the meaning of sex life for those enduring Corvis-19.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out