People wearing protective face masks kiss while standing on a platform as a subway train approaches a station, operated by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. As fears of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) spread across the region, pharmacies and supermarkets in Hong Kong are running out of basic supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and especially masks. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg
People wearing protective face masks kiss while standing at a station in Hong Kong | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: As the world grapples with what the World Health Organization (WHO) has now officially termed a coronavirus pandemic, public events are being cancelled or postponed across the globe. The NBA has suspended its entire season, while the Olympics and IPL might well be held without spectators, and Coachella has been postponed to October — and that’s just to name a few.

Many governments are also issuing advisories against that most basic of human habits — physical contact — while people around the world are strictly following self-imposed restrictions. From not touching the hand rail in a train to not shaking hands with others at a conference (if at all the conference is being held), people are adapting their lifestyle to minimise contact with other people.

But what happens when these restrictions enter the bedroom?

Rainchecks on dates, racism on apps, cancelled sex parties and kissing bans are just some of the ways in which coronavirus is impacting people’s sexual lives.

Of kissing bans, cancelled sex parties and gau mutra

Prohibiting intimacy during an outbreak of disease isn’t new. In 1439, Henry VI, king of England, banned kissing in a bid to contain the spread of plague. Six centuries later, many governments are recommending zero physical intimacy, such as in Italy, to control the spread of coronavirus, And the events being cancelled include not just sports tournaments and music festivals, but also public sex parties.

Chesham Dogging is a group that organises dogging parties in Buckinghamshire, England. Dogging, for the uninitiated, is the act of engaging in sexual activity in public places such as car parks, while others watch. This group doesn’t organise just any dogging parties, though, but “some of the biggest and best sex parties in Buckinghamshire”, claims its Twitter handle. Unfortunately for its patrons, it has cancelled said sex parties until further notice because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Over in Hong Kong, 32-year-old student Nicola runs the Hong Kong Polyamory Group for those interested in polyamorous relationships to meet like-minded people twice a month, usually for drinks and clubbing, but also “smaller meets for discussions and whatever else we feel like doing”.

Since she founded it in September 2019, the group has amassed more than 100 members online, but “the most we’ve had at our meets is 40 people. But now there’s a general decline in locals going out, and we’ve definitely seen a decline in attendance at our events since the virus”.

Closer home in India, while the panic might not be all-pervasive, it is definitely on the rise. A 23-year-old student from Mumbai, who prefers to remain anonymous, had been chatting for about a week with a man she had matched with on Hinge. They bonded over a shared love of true crime stories and Catan, and had made plans to meet over the weekend. He cancelled on her the day before their date. The reason? Coronavirus.

He didn’t want to risk meeting her right now because he didn’t know her, he explained. He didn’t know who she had met recently or where she had been, and “didn’t want to even shake hands, much less go on a date that might lead to more”, she tells ThePrint. She has unmatched from him on the app. “I liked him, but what, am I supposed to wait months for this virus scare to die down?”

On the other hand, she says, her friend, who also doesn’t wish to be named, has done something similar.

He matched with a man on Grindr two weeks ago but has not met him yet because the man in question had been in Italy just the previous fortnight. “It’s not that I’m not interested, but I’m not taking a chance right now. We’re still chatting, and if it’s meant to be, we’ll meet once this is over,” he explains.

Coronavirus doesn’t just have the power to cancel dates — it has even ended a relationship. A 34-year-old hospitality industry professional in Hyderabad, who does not wish to be named, says, “I matched with this girl in November when I was visiting Kolkata, and we started chatting. Even though we live in different cities, we decided to date properly since we hit it off so well. In December, she came to meet me for New Year’s Eve. The next long weekend, I went to see her, and then she flew down for Valentine’s Day.”

He adds that it hasn’t always been smooth and they had come close to calling it quits a couple of times, but the last straw was, you guessed it, coronavirus.

“It’s my birthday in March and we’d decided to go to Visakhapatnam for a quick break. We’d booked the tickets and hotel room, but then she started to get a bit worried about going away with me, due to coronavirus. Still, we were going ahead with it, but then suddenly there was a lot of pressure from her mother to not go with me.”

He tried to convince her, telling her that the weather would be warm enough and that they would take precautions, but it was a no-go.

“I was very keen to go — you know, this was going to be the first time we would actually go away on a holiday together. But whether due to pressure from her mom or her own worries or both, she said no. We argued and one thing led to another and now we’ve broken up.”

So far, all evidence points to the fact that COVID-19 is spread via respiratory droplets (via coughing or sneezing) and has nothing to do with sex, but experts aren’t ruling it out and clearly, many people are taking no chances. And while penetration is widely considered kosher even if kissing isn’t, sex without kissing seems a bit mechanical for some.

“Are we in Pretty Woman?” laughs a Delhi-based activist in her 30s, who prefers to remain anonymous. She’s referring, of course, to how, in the movie, Vivian (Julia Roberts), a sex worker, tells her client Edward (Richard Gere) that she does everything except kiss on the mouth — because it’s too personal. (In the time of coronavirus, Vivian would probably also say no to oral sex.)

When asked if her sex life had been affected by the virus, the activist responds with an emphatic yes, but it’s not because of a cancelled date. “How the hell do I feel comfortable making out with someone when I constantly have these warnings in my head about not touching my face, presumably also not touching the other person’s face, getting up to wash my hands all the time and all that? Between these warnings and the thought of gau mutra being used to cure coronavirus, the romance is effectively killed.”


Also read: Why rational people are panic buying as coronavirus spreads


Racism doesn’t help

It is an unfortunate truth that where there is global panic, there is racism. And coronavirus is no different.

Lisa De Pasquale, a 26-year-old medic in Modena, Italy, tells ThePrint that she has received many queries about whether using a condom during sex can prevent coronavirus, about washing hands before and after sexual activity and, most tellingly, about certain sexual partners.

“People who have come back from China in the last month are a big ‘question mark’ right now,” she says. “I don’t know about dating apps, per se, but if you’re asking if Italians are behaving racist right now, it is a big YES,” says Lisa.

“Just about two weeks ago I heard about this Italian guy in Rome, born from Chinese parents, who got on a bus and immediately some passengers plus the driver start to push him out until he, with a proper Roman accent said: ‘Guys, I’m Italian, I saw China once only on Google Maps!’ And I can bet this is the same on dating apps.”

She adds that the racism started against Chinese people, but now, Italians are also facing it. Italy has reported more than 460 cases of coronavirus so far, a fact that was not lost on the makers of a French TV commercial on Canal + for “Corona Pizza” — after receiving major flak, the channel has apologised and taken down the ad.

Lisa’s partner, 35-year-old mechanical engineer Manuel Nicoli, recalls that about two weeks ago, “some northern people (a couple of coaches full of tourists) visiting southern regions (Ischia, near Naples) were greeted upon arrival with insults by a few locals. This is just fear and panic for the unknown”.

Another area where racism is rearing its ugly head is coronavirus porn. Yes, it’s a thing. Pornhub reportedly has more than 100 coronavirus-themed videos featuring various scenarios, from sex in quarantine to the eternally popular nurse role-play. Many of the videos feature Asian or Asian-origin actors, and many of the comments on the videos are racial slurs.

And here in India, a 29-year-old designer from Nagaland, who does not wish to be identified, tells ThePrint that she recently unmatched with a man on Bumble after he asked her a few rather unwelcome questions about her diet, linking it to the spread of COVID-19. “It was literally like he thought I was Chinese,” she says.

ThePrint reached out to representatives from Bumble and Tinder for a comment on racism related to coronavirus, but while Bumble declined to speak, Tinder has not responded.

‘If I’m going to die anyway, I want to die satisfied’

It’s not all bleak, though. There are many people who are not too worried. A Delhi-based branding entrepreneur in her 20s who doesn’t want to be named admits that the last time she got intimate with her boyfriend, COVID-19 did cross her mind fleetingly because “he had been sick a few days earlier and I was sure he had it, because we’d recently met someone from China. But we waited until he was fine. And anyway I prefer not to have sex if I’m sick.”

Or, as a Delhi-based student who prefers to remain anonymous, says, rather more earthily, “If I’m going to die anyway, I want to die satisfied.” And if he does get coronavirus and has to be quarantined, he chuckles, there’s always coronavirus porn.


Also read: Coronavirus cases rise to 60 in India as fresh cases surface in Delhi & Rajasthan


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Samira Sood could not resist using word gau mutra in an article which had no connection to gau mutra.. I challenge you Arfa Khanam, Samira Stood type left liberal Communists will not have guts to talk about fatima prophets daughter being killed by 2nd caliph Umar. Not they have guts to write why prophets family was being killed in Arabia due to which Iman Hussain had to quitely leave Arabia in the darkness of night.. All their sickness is directed towards santan dharama, Worlds most peaceful religion. Nor will they ever write why Jesus came to study in India and Tibet, why his grave found in Kashmir.. Nor they will question why in a secular nation the church holds the land and wealth appropriated from hindu temples by the British colonial powers. Nor will they question why poor John on Indian soul in 2000 called for crusades against asians.

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