Life

Ask An Expert: Why Is Self-Isolation Making Me So Horny?

Investigating a very common side effect of the coronavirus crisis.
03 April 2020, 8:00am
Ask An Expert: Is Being Horny During a Pandemic Normal?

There's a lot to feel anxious abut right now. You’re struggling to adapt to working from home, video conferencing with your boss as your half-dressed housemates wander in and out of shot. Or maybe you've been let go from your job, with no idea how you’re going to pay rent this month. Or you could just be on your sofa, trying to remember how to read a book because your other hobby – feeling the sun on your skin as you down pints of wine in a beer garden – is no longer allowed.

The coronavirus crisis is impacting every one of us. But what if your anxiety manifests as horniness? Of course, you’re very anxious that your elderly grandmother keeps walking down to Morrisons to “check if they’ve got her biscuits in yet” but still, you’ve masturbated more in the past two weeks than you have in the past two months. You are certain that Joe Exotic from Tiger King is your new type.

Why, at times of stress and crisis, do some of react with an increased sex drive? I spoke to Catriona Boffard, a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist to find out whether it's common to experience heightened sexual desire, while also feeling extremely anxious about, I don't know, say, a global pandemic??

VICE: Hi Catriona! Is anxiety that morphs into horniness a “thing”?
Catriona Boffard: It’s not necessarily that it can morph into heightened desire, but there are those that find they want sex and pleasure more when they are anxious or stressed. This, however, is the exception as most people experience lowered desire at times of heightened anxiety and stress.

So, is there a reason that it happens?
Some people use sex (including masturbation, foreplay, intercourse etc) as a way of coping with anxiety or stress, as a mechanism for relief, and as a way to connect with others and therefore lower anxiety around disconnection. What research shows us is that yes, some people want sex more when they are anxious or stressed, but that they don’t rate the quality of the pleasure they get very highly. The function of seeking sex when you’re feeling like this is more about lowering the distressing emotions than experiencing overall pleasure.

Sometimes, other extreme emotions – like happiness or sadness – can make you feel horny, too. Is this something that everyone experiences?
Everyone can experience it but ultimately, desire for sex is context-specific. This means that just because you are happy doesn’t automatically mean you are horny, but if the context is right (perhaps you’ve been flirting for ages, finally decide to FaceTime and touch yourselves on the call), it could be the right context for pleasure to happen. Similarly, if you’re feeling sad and connect with your partner physically, it could lead to sex and this as a function of connection and closeness.

Is it possible that I’m not actually horny and that my anxiety is manifesting itself in a different way?
Possibly. Experiencing desire for sex could be a coping mechanism that helps you reduce your anxiety and you could be reacting to the chemicals in your brain that get released when we’re under stress and anxious (dopamine, oxytocin, cortisol). If you think of it like this, anxiety pushes our brain and body into “fight or flight” response – some people want to run from and avoid the situation (this is most common with desire for sex, it gets "tuned off"), but there are those that want to run towards and fight the threat! Those that experience the latter are likely reacting under this mechanism.

Could reacting to anxiety in this way ever become a problem?
Yes, of course. Sexual compulsivity has a major anxiety component and if you’re using desire for sex and gaining pleasure to manage this anxiety all the time, it can lead to real challenges in one’s personal life.

Good to know. So, if being horny isn’t always the answer, are there better ways to manage pandemic-induced anxiety?
Firstly, it’s crucial to have a routine, create one that you can realistically stick to. Secondly, be kind to yourself. You do not have to learn five languages, have sex twice a day and become a party chef. You just need to take care of yourself and those in your life. Remember, connection is crucial. Make regular "dates" with people who you enjoy talking to and lift you up. Also take a moment daily to recognise something you really enjoyed doing that day and identify something you’d like to try not to do tomorrow. Finally, recognise that it’s pretty normal to be anxious right now (uncertainty = anxiety) and give yourself permission to be anxious and worried, but ask for help where you need it. Ask yourself if what you’re worrying about is within your control. If it’s not, let it go!

Thanks Catriona.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

@nanasbaah

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