Here’s what Covid-19 is doing to sexual, emotional and physical intimacyHumans are accustomed to having intimate relationships, but as the pandemic has forced them to show affection virtually, this is affecting them psychologically.
For 25-year-old Shristi, the past seven weeks is the longest she has been away from her boyfriend. They have been speaking to each other virtually, but she says she has never felt this disconnected with her boyfriend.
“Before the lockdown, it was not like we met every day, but every time we did, there would be this closeness and intimacy,” says Shriti, who wants to be identified by her first name only. Things are strange now, unfamiliar. “Right now, interactions are limited to virtual space only. It feels like he’s there for me, but the lack of face-to-face interactions has affected our intimacy in some way,” she says.
Humans crave closeness and intimacy. But with the global pandemic curbing the physical movement of people, forcing them to stay indoors, many people are experiencing a lack of intimacy—both physical and emotional. From staying six feet apart from each other to not sharing handshakes and hugs, physical distancing rules are redefining intimacy, and this lack of tactile sensation could have detrimental effects on the body and mind, say experts.
“I have never longed for us to be physically close with each other like this before,” says Shristi. “From lovemaking to even something basic, like holding hands, I miss the intimacy.”
Physical intimacy, including sex, have always been issues of taboo in Nepali society, according to Dr Subodh Pokharel, senior consultant Sexologist at Mata Mankamana Arogya Clinic. But physical intimacy is crucial in humans to establish an emotional connection, says Pokharel. “Unlike other creatures, for human beings, sex is not just a medium of producing offsprings. It’s through which we also connect to our partners emotionally and physically,” says Pokharel.
Because of the current physical distancing rules and the fear of meeting another person beyond your family many people have been cladding with the lack of intimacy, which has been affecting relationships. “My boyfriend and I were so habituated with meeting each other on a daily basis and getting intimate often,” says A, a 22-year old student, who wants to remain anonymous. “Now that we haven’t met for so long, our relationship has gotten a little sour. Also, because days are almost always the same there’s nothing much to talk about online either.”
According to Pokharel, when people are not physically intimate for a prolonged period of time, it can have an everlasting impact on the relationship—particularly for people living in a stressful environment. “Consensual and healthy sexual relationships between partners helps to make their bond stronger. Similarly, as we feel closer with our partners than anyone in the world, lack of intimate relationships can affect us emotionally and mentally,” says Pokharel.
While many couples have resorted to using the internet to fulfill their needs, by sexting and video chatting, there are others who say the pandemic has led to a decline in libido among them. “Having video sex or sexting gets boring to one extent. It’s kind of hard to be innovative every time,” says A.
However, it’s not only sex that is important for mental and emotional well being. The sensation of touch is the first sense we develop when we are in the womb, and it plays such a significant role in the emotional welfare of people, and its absence can affect people mentally.
“Positive touch plays a significant role—both emotionally and physically—in human intimacy, as it releases happy hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. When such hormones are activated in the brain, people can feel relief from stress,” says Susmita Bogati, Psychosocial Counselor at Crystal Counseling and Psychotherapy and Training Center. “For instance, if a person is having a panic attack, a small gesture of just holding their hands and hugging them can relax them as the positive touch like this can relieve the stress with the activation of happy hormones.”
Likewise, research also supports the claim that even gestures like holding hands, hugging each other or just a pat on the back can foster emotional, mental as well as physical health of people, with some studies even stating it's correlated with the improvement of people’s immunity power.
On the other side of the spectrum, for couples who are spending more time than normal during the pandemic, things are not so rosy. Amid reports of the possibility of a ‘baby boom’ post the lockdown surfacing, spending too much time together could hinder relationships, say research. For instance, in neighbouring China, many couples are resorting to divorce after they were compelled to stay together for a long period of time due to lockdown.
According to Pokharel, being together 24x7 for too long can impede closeness and desire for each other. “When there is an excess of anything, it is bound to affect people,” says Pokharel.
Amid the uncertainty of our current times, Bogati says there’s one positive: people are now understanding the importance of relationships and intimacy more than before.“Many people are having a positive outlook at challenging times, making people understand the value of relationships,” says Bogati. “People are calling their old-time friends and making plans with their loved ones about what they will do after the pandemic is over.”
Shristi too is hopeful that her relationship will sail through this storm as well. “In the past too, there have been a lot of challenges in our relationship. But we never stopped loving each other,” she says. “This time too, we are facing a new difficulty that is testing our patience and dedication for each other by forcing us not to meet each other in real life. But I hope that our relationship will be more solid after all this subsides.”