Navigating Queer Sex And Desire In The Age of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 25
Did you really think the need for sexual contact and intimacy would evaporate in the midst of a pandemic? Or maybe it would disappear in warmer weather as the idiot-in-chief in The White House foreshadowed as a potential end of COVID-19? Both assumptions are wrong. Human beings crave physical touch. Black gay men in particular are having conversations online around the potential new risk involved in (casual) sex—they’re also exploring alternative ways to experience pleasure. But very few of these conversations are being held without its fair share of sex shaming.
Columnist Ryan Lee tackled this head on in a recent piece for Georgia Voice. Full disclosure: I am the former Editor of Georgia Voice.
"COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and not a sexually transmitted infection, which is worth noting given the social media trend of gay men moralizing a hookup as especially reckless or debased behavior when it might be safer than going to work. One of my more romantically inclined flings suggested watching a movie over wine and desserts but feared having sex, as if COVID-19 would wait for us to sin before jumping to a new carrier.
We wound up not getting together at all, which is undoubtedly the safest thing we could have done. However, it’s just as certain that no level of risk—whether unplanned pregnancy or a virus once considered a death sentence—has ever stopped people from fucking, and indefinite abstinence is as doomed a strategy for eliminating COVID-19 as bombing 5G towers."
Craig Washington, a longtime Atlanta activist and organizer, further expounded on the level of sex shaming he’s observed during these conversations: ‘It infects so much of gay men’s commentary about how gay men are coping. We don’t need no Bible thumping hetero homophobes to call out our sins no more. We got a whole legion of banner waving temperance kids who ain't all practicing what they preach,” said Washington.
FLEX Atlanta, a gay sauna located in the heart of Atlanta’s Midtown, received mixed reaction online after announcing that they would be reopening their business. The decision followed Gov. Brian Kemp’s mandate to reopen some businesses in the city. The move left many wondering how social distancing rules would be implemented in such an intimate setting. FLEX Atlanta sent out a tweet to reassure customers of the safety precautions being taken.
“We have deep cleaned & a heighted cleaning schedule is being implemented upon our reopening to keep our facility, staff and customers as safe as possible during this time,” read the tweet.
On April 22, FLEX Atlanta tweeted a press release announcing the spa would remain closed after the outcry from concerned citizens across the country.
"FLEX Spas have agreed to remain closed until the local and federal governments can provide a safe and secure plan for reopening the country without hurting people," according to the release.
For some gay men, the risk outweighs the benefits and they’re now looking for other ways to get off; masturbation, porn, and virtual sex appear to be the new normal.
“We are fortunate to be living in an era when there are just so many more ways to connect by phone or video—vast, sprawling industries available to us that affirm so many different facets of our desires,” writes AIDS activist JD Davids in The Cranky Queer. “Whatever our favorite sexual taste is, there is a Velcro match out there for us. And literally dozens of ways to find our match in the world of “distance” sex commerce—whether old-school porn, live cams, dating-app chat, or phone sex. Perhaps none of these options has been in our sex repertoire before now. Here’s our opportunity to venture into untried territories.”
Kevin Tarver, also referred to by his loyal online following as “Coach Wank,” encourages Black gay men through literal “bate” coaching and community building to explore their own bodies while quarantined. He recently sat down with The Counter Narrative Project in a must-see interview centered around self-pleasure. You can view it here.
But understandably, for some, porn and masturbation may not be enough.
"Until a vaccine or full-body condom comes along, folks will develop strategies based on their comfort level and risk assessment, with some opting for chastity, others hooking up after 14-day waiting periods, and a few eliminating all human contact except with their sexual partners,"writes Lee. "Whichever strategy each of us chooses, may we remember none of us are immune to this novel virus, nor can any of us know the only way forward."