Are we having more sex now?

Updated: May 10, 2020, 08:47 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

The lockdown and its implications have a deep connection with intimacy, say experts. Minus the excuse, "Not tonight honey, I'm tired", are couples at home, having more sex? The answer is yes and no

Illustration/ Uday Mohite
Illustration/ Uday Mohite

For Sonali and Harshil Shah, intimacy moves into the bathroom in the afternoons. Long showers, is how she describes spending tender moments with her husband. This was of course, unimaginable a month-and-half ago, when the two would be sweating it out at work. Although the two are put up at her parents' home in Dadar, and the live-in house help takes care of the day's cooking, stress levels are at an all-time low. "And I don't have to see the boss' face," she laughs. The choreographer and tech company professional would otherwise meet late night which meant the sex was present, but not as languorous. "We are spending more time with each other," says the 32-year-old who met Harshil on Hinge about a year ago.

Right before the lockdown in March, Indian pharmacies and condom retailers were quoted in reports saying that as a readying measure for staying and working from home, along with buying medicines, people had pushed the sales of condoms by 50 per cent. Pornhub cited a spike in its users (55 per cent on the first day), and was followed by another interesting survey. Extra-marital dating website Gleeden, which has almost five million subscribers worldwide, and eight lakh active users in India, reported a 70 per cent spurt in Indian members, many of them women since they were allowed to use the site for free.

The apparent rise in sexual appetite and activity has led experts to predict this as the year when the "quaranteens" would be conceived. Gynaecologist Sheetal Sabharwal agrees. The Bandra-based doctor has been receiving calls about surprise and unwanted pregnancies during the lockdown, including two calls she received on the day we interviewed her. "In fact, I have three patients who have been struggling to conceive with unexplained infertility issues, who have found success in the last few weeks. What has made the difference is that couples have more time together, and aren't stressed over commuting long hours. "The human body is reacting well to lower stress levels and a healthier lifestyle," she thinks.

Sheetal Sabharwal
Sheetal Sabharwal

But like with all things, there is a flip side. They are those anxious about job insecurity and what the future will hold for them. Laxman Narasimhan, head of condom brand Durex, was quoted as saying that condom sales had fallen in most markets into the lockdown, as "intimate occasions are going down and that is a manifestation of anxiety". The link between sexual performance and anxiety is an established one. Drawing from his research paper in Psychology Today, Andrew Goliszek, who has a PhD, says, "Chronic stress affects the concentration of all sex hormones because the body produces stress hormones such as cortisol at the expense of sex hormones like testosterone. In order to fight stress, our body shuts down sex mechanisms so that we're better able to deal with more urgent and immediate needs."

Clinical psychologist Hvovi Bhagwagar believes financial worries are at play. For some it could be dwindling savings, for others, the uncertainty of when business will open. She says she witnessed a similar trend during the recession of 2008-2009. "Uncertainty kills all kinds of joy." While may have typically wanted more sex at the start of the lockdown, women were looking for comfort in emotional bonding. It's the typical scenario for friction. Now, she says, the desires of both sexes seem to have flattened. "Living in close quarters is bound to cause arguments which lead to a lower sex drive anyway. So many people now are reporting that they are barely having any sex at all."

For some, the constant presence of children hasn't helped. Stress from staying at home comes from having kids. Akram and his wife Nafisa Rahmani live in a three-bedroom apartment in BKC with their daughters, aged 10 and 12. Since the children have been made aware of the Coronavirus and its consequences, and after the initial excitement of not going to school, they are now wary and low. The kids insist on sleeping with the parents, says Akram, 42. Averse to using contraception, the couple would have sex on "safe days". Now, life is too busy to keep a track. "My responsibility is to keep my kids happy, engaged and ensure they eat well. Sex doesn't exist. I have been talking to my close male friends on chat, and all married couples with kids seem to be facing the same predicament. I hope it's different with single people or married couples without children at least," he says.

Hvovi Bhagwagar
Hvovi Bhagwagar

Bhagwagar suggests couples time their intimacy. Early mornings and afternoons are a good time, she suggests.

For writer Sakshi and her musician boyfriend Alex, sex is finally about understanding each other's needs. "At my last job, I would get home late, and that would be the time he would start working. So, sex was confined to once a week, and mostly on drunken weekends." Now, she says, they "cuddle in the mornings", because there is nowhere to go. "We are liking these times."

In a COVID-19 world, is sex safe?

The infection isn't sexually transmitted but since it does spread through droplets from the nose and mouth, kissing and physical touch could be a problem.

If you live in the same house as a regular sexual partner and both have no symptoms, then you can continue having sex. But if either of displays symptoms, stop right away and maintain distance. Most countries and medical professionals have discouraged casual flings or having sex with people you don't
live with.

A New York Department of Health guideline said, "You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands [and sex toys] with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex."

Some names have been changed or withheld on request aastha.banan@mid-day.com

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