This article originally appeared on VICE France.
Being on lockdown can be very tough for people with addictions and compulsions. The constant isolation can highlight our destructive relationship with a substance of choice, whether it be food, drugs, gambling or sex. But while we can still stock up on food or have drugs delivered (at your own risk), getting laid is very much at odds with social distancing measures.
People might be feeling extra horny in isolation but sex addiction (or hypersexuality disorder), isn’t the same thing as a strong libido. And while experts disagree on whether sex addiction should be a formal medical diagnosis (it's not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), they do agree that compulsive sexual behaviour can be damaging to people's mental health and personal lives. Psychiatrist Laurent Karila said compulsive sexual behaviour can be triggered by boredom, stress or fear of failure – emotions pretty much synonymous with the current lockdown.
Jean-Victor Blanc, head of the addiction department at Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris, said the majority of patients seeking help with him for sex addiction are men from the queer community. In his work with them, he has identified two types of sex addicts. Chemsex addicts, who take recreational drugs to enhance their sexual experiences, while the second type are those with an uncontrollable sexual appetite. Through friends of friends, I got in touch with four sex addicts (two self-reported and two diagnosed by specialists) from this community, to learn more about how their life has changed now that they can’t meet up for sex.
Théo*, 24, stylist
VICE: How was your sex life before lockdown?
Théo: I had many partners, often multiple guys at the same time without protection. I’m HIV positive but I have an undetectable viral load [when someone's blood, after years of treatment, contains so little of the virus that a test can't detect it], so the virus isn't transmittable**.** I was having chemsex regularly, usually after parties on the weekend, when my inhibitions have disappeared. Although I keep encounters private, a few people around me know about my sex life.
Are you getting off online now?
No, surprisingly! I masturbate once a day, twice if I get turned on by two hot guys in a TV series, a raunchy Instagram account or a suggestive text.
Do you feel tempted to go out and have sex?
For now, I just watch porn if I really want to fuck. When the urge is too strong, I chat on Grindr until it gets too close to meeting IRL, then I cut it off. I think I’d feel like a real idiot right after cumming [if I met up with someone] because I’d have to lie to my friends about not being able to resist.
Jonathan*, 37, restaurant owner
VICE: How was your sex life before the lockdown?
Jonathan: I’ve been in a relationship since last August. Unfortunately, we weren't having sex often because I would jerk off obsessively for two to seven hours a day. I would touch myself so much my dick would bleed sometimes. I told myself every day that it would be the last time. My boyfriend and some friends knew about it, but I still felt misunderstood.
Does it interfere with your life?
Enormously. I need to be alone to do it, which prevents me from doing things and opening up to people.
Are you watching more porn?
Strangely, no. Probably because I have more time to myself and I no longer have fear of missing out, like not being able to sleep with someone because I can't get hard or because I’m in a relationship. I don’t have to worry about getting HIV, which my grandfather died of. I still have bad habits, but I don’t feel the need to escape reality because there is less pressure. I mean, I still jerk off, but not even every day.
Would you say that the lockdown is having a positive impact on you?
Yes, it's a good thing. My boyfriend comes see me every three days and I've noticed how difficult I've been with him and how that stems from my inability to love. Now I can be more present instead of getting lost in my fantasies and self-degradation.
Franck*, 49, real estate manager
VICE: Can you tell me how much sex you were having before the lockdown?
Franck: I used to have 8 to 15 hookups per week depending on my schedule, sometimes with multiple guys at once. I’d also masturbate every day. It was almost always unprotected, I’m on PrEP [a drug preventing HIV infections]. I had a few regular partners, but most of my casual meetings were through the apps.
How are you coping with the isolation?
I’m trying to stay in control otherwise I could easily spend the whole day with my dick in my hand and toys up my ass. A week after the beginning of the lockdown, I was super horny and I masturbated compulsively. Two weeks in, I've managed to calm down a bit but I’m having a hard time with my impulses. For example, when I go food shopping and I walk past guys, I stare at them and feel the urge to approach them, even though I know we need to keep our distance.
Do you think you'll pull through?
If we are asked to stay in quarantine for another two or three months, I’m worried I’d give in to the temptation to hook up, but I’d still take maximum precautions.
Etienne*, 38, business manager
VICE: How was your sex life before the lockdown?
Etienne: Before the lockdown, I would hookup at least once a day, usually twice. Although I’m on PrEP, I use protection. I’ve always been terrified of STDs and I’ve been very lucky not to catch anything.
Did it take up a lot of space in your social life?
Chemsex removed any barrier I needed to stay safe and not fuck for hours on end. At the beginning it was fun, but over time it became the centre of my life to the detriment of my relationships. I was totally aware that I was harming myself, but I couldn't avoid it. I gradually realised how damaging it was for so many young guys, so I stopped. My friends know that I have an intense relationship with sex, but they’d never suspect it to be such a burden on my life.
Are you finding it hard to respect the lockdown?
No, it's been much easier than expected. I’m stress-free, I sleep like a baby, I think not being under pressure is doing me a lot of good. Although I am watching a lot more porn.
What are your hopes for after the lockdown?
I'd like to put something out there. If everyone got tested before sleeping around again we could potentially slow down another public health issue: the STD epidemic.
*Names changed for privacy.
If you are struggling, Sex Addicts Anonymous UK is offering group therapy on Skype for the duration of the lockdown.