Staying sex-positive during a global pandemic

"For many students, being back at home makes their usual forms of sexual expression or activity difficult." Genevieve Athis shares how to keep sex-positive in isolation.


The Coronavirus pandemic, of which the far-reaching consequences will not be fully appreciated for many years, has seen a short-term shift from young people living independently, to returning to their family homes. While for many people it is reassuring to be with family at such unprecedented times, it also means time away from partners, friends and a huge loss in the independence that comes with living on your own. Deprived of partners, privacy and Thursday night Bridge, and with the amount of time isolation is set to continue appearing uncertain, it is inevitable that many students will be feeling sexually frustrated. This frustration is entirely natural but is somehow harder to wrestle with than other issues associated with social distancing because of outdated societal attitudes about sex and (specifically female) sexuality. 

“Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die!” Not only is this infamous Mean Girls line a ringing indictment of America’s (lack of) sexual education in its schools, it also speaks to wider cultural norms that associate sex with shame. It is a plea to restrain sexuality at all costs and if you must express yourself sexually, then the least you can do is have the decency to keep it private and not talk about it. In the UK too, our sexual education is often limited to non-existent. At my school it consisted of looking at different pictures of people suffering from STIs, followed by a Q&A in which questions about LGBTQIA+ issues were actively ignored. Sex-positivity aims to counter prevailing narratives that sex is inherently shameful. It encourages openness towards sexuality in all its forms and emphasises sexual pleasure, fulfillment, health and education. Essentially sex-positivity says ‘What’s the big deal?’. 

For many students, being back at home makes their usual forms of sexual expression or activity difficult. This is less than ideal at a time when stress levels are already running high, and complicated by the enduring taboo around sex in contemporary society. In the absence of human contact – here are 9 recommendations on how to maintain a sex-positive attitude in these troubling times: 

  1. Take the time to educate yourself about sexual issues! I recently went to a talk by Tarana Burke (founder of #MeToo) and I was shocked by how little I knew about the original motivations behind the movement. Sex-positivity tries to combat the lack of public education available about sex and sexuality by providing information – after all knowledge is power. Lots of sex educators/organisations have platforms on Instagram (@evyan.whitney, @karleyslutever, @sh24_nhs are just a few examples). Take the time in isolation to read up on issues you feel out of touch with or unsure about!
  2. If you’re away from your partner at the moment, self-isolation is the perfect opportunity to explore phone sex. Focusing on your own body and your partner can be a great way to relieve anxiety and phone sex can provide more intimacy than sexting. 
  3. However, for those of us who don’t have the benefit of a mansion in Surrey (or equivalent), phone sex might not be an option as you’re likely to be living in close quarters with the rest of your family. In light of this, sexting can provide a way to enjoy shared experiences of pleasure without being stressed that someone is going to overhear your conversation. 
  4. Porn – it had to come up eventually. For many people porn is the first way they explore their sexuality and educate themselves on sexual issues (often for lack of other alternatives). However, for many feminists porn is the embodiment of exploitative male power which commodifies women’s bodies and normalizes fetishes, abuse and degradation. The last decade has seen the rise of ‘ethical porn’ (check out Erika Lust’s main site,, and which often describes porn made by and nominally for women, with a specific focus on female sexual pleasure to correct the imbalance of mainstream porn. For many people these porn sites can provide an alternative to the frankly off-putting depictions of sex on mainstream websites. 
  5. Read a book – for those who reject porn in all its forms, erotic literature can provide the answer to guilt free self-pleasure. From classics like the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy and Sarah Water’s Fingersmith, to short stories by amateur authors which can be found on sites like Literotica, there is plenty to choose from. 
  6. Sales of sex vibrators are through the roof at the moment. Instead of buying a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, consider a toy that will relieve your frustration rather than adding to it. 
  7. Talk to friends/partners/anyone about sex – discussing sexual issues can be a very liberating experience: the ability to be open and be honest about sex is critical to developing a healthy relationship with your own sexuality and discussing intimacy can also help to bring you closer to those that you choose to confide in. 
  8. In times of acute boredom many people turn to Netflix for refuge. Sex Education provides over thirteen hours of sexual escapades with an emphasis on education and debunking common myths. 
  9. Finally, for anyone that is interested in female pleasure is a website that uses scientific research to provide practical pleasure techniques for its users. However, it will cost you a £39 one-off payment to access the website in full. Although, let’s be honest – what else have you got to spend your Trinity Term student loan on at the moment? In the words of Emma Watson, it’s a “pretty cool website”. A sound investment if there ever was one.

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