Woman and man in social distancing sitting on bench in park

Love In The Time of Coronavirus: Sex, Dating, and Social Distancing

Online pornography database PornHub has joined efforts to convince Czechs to stay inside and follow basic hygiene procedures. Meanwhile, other online distributors of erotic products have reported a surge in sales as Czechs come to terms with life under quarantine. Photo credit: Freepik / For illustrative purposes.

PornHub, the largest database of pornography on the Internet, is supporting the Czech government’s national quarantine in its own special way. Free trials of its premium service are available to anyone in the Czech Republic, provided they agree to stay inside as much as possible and follow the official guidelines on hygiene and social distancing. The website, rebranded StayhomeHub, is also carrying banners with quarantine advice, and explanations of the epidemiological theory behind it. The premium service provides users with HD and full-length videos, as well as removing the adverts. According to PornHub, the site is experiencing “overwhelming demand”.

Inevitably, a new genre of pornography has emerged themed around coronavirus, with thousands of videos flooding sites like PornHub, including everything from facemask-clad performers to intricate Covidian storylines, and a variety of implausible purported cures. While such material might seem bizarre to some, it follows the long-standing tradition for pornography to examine the deepest, often hidden and unspoken, elements of our collective psyche. Studies regularly indicate that pornography watchers around the world often favour genres and practices that are taboo in their own communities, and there are few imaginable categories of pornography, however eye-opening, that have not yet been made. In fact, Rule 34 of the Internet states that: “If you can imagine it, it exists as Internet porn.” An actor from one of these films, Deserted Wuhan, speaking to online news magazine aktualne.cz, compared watching coronavirus porn to watching horror movies. It seems that when we are faced with a huge and scary monster that we can’t stop thinking about, we process it using one of the few tools left at our disposal in a quarantine: we fantasize about it.

Meanwhile, a boom has begun in real-world erotic inspiration as Czechs contemplate weeks and possibly months of indoor time ahead. Online sex shops have reported a boost in sales of tens of percent. Adam Durčák, owner of the Pink Elephant sex shop, told aktualne.cz that customers are not just looking for the traditional sexy gear, but also practical items such as disinfectant sprays. The uptick in sales indicates that many are intending to spend the long quarantined evenings and weekends indulging in the oldest form of recreation. 

As pastimes go, sex seems like a logical way to approach a situation characterised by disease, economic slowdown, and boredom, as it is healthy, cheap, and fun. And as Durčák added, this could have real benefits: “Sex, masturbation and orgasms are powerful aids to boosting immunity and good spirits. And this is crucial in today’s pandemic era, and one of the few things that can help everyone.” 

Of course, not everyone is going to be having sex. Anybody single and dating or not living with their partner has had their romantic life rudely interrupted along with their social life, presuming they are obeying the quarantine. Non-cohabiting couples have had to choose between quarantining together, quarantining apart, or somehow making a lockdown exception for each other – three imperfect solutions. And single or casually dating people have suddenly found most potential romantic avenues closed off. Mobile dating apps have now been rendered foolhardy, pubs and bars are shut, and parties and social gatherings from sports clubs to Catanathons are literally illegal. 

So dating will have to go online, and dating apps have made some well-meaning gestures towards this new normal. OK Cupid users are being asked how they would like to communicate with potential matches, but without the option of meeting in person. Tinder has made its Passport feature free, allowing users to relocate anywhere in the world, as a bridge between cultures and societies in a moment of shared crisis, to browse through pictures of attractive locals. And what could possibly go wrong there? 

But as it happens, the new normal is already normal for the millions of people whose social and romantic interactions primarily take place online. An Internet life can be as rich for some as an outdoor life is for others, and the Internet is one thing that the coronavirus cannot disrupt, so we had all better learn to love the social outlets at our disposal. Since the quarantine started, video-conferencing apps have hosted pub quizzes, children’s parties, choirs, comedy shows, concerts, and virtual nightclubs. These things will continue in whatever form they take because nature always finds a way, and the same will no doubt be true of dating – just socially distanced for extra romance, and with a faint smell of disinfectant. 

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