Sex in the Time of Corona: Tips for Groups

By RUSSELL J STAMBAUGH, PHD DST CSSP

This document is the product of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s (NCSF) Educational Outreach Committee chaired by Susan Wright, and consisting of Tess Zachary of APEX, Matt Connolly, Western Region Polyamory Advocate and myself as Professionals Advocate.

The social distancing behaviors (we are using the media friendly term here even though the behaviors public health officials are recommending actually constitute physical distancing, not social isolation) recommended by public health authorities https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html pose a severe challenge to those who crave the physical intimacy of sex, including many non-sexual behaviors in BDSM and kink settings.  Many BDSM, poly and swinging social clubs have stopped meeting and many events have been cancelled in compliance with state quarantine provisions and the best medical advice.  There are some indications that social discourse in many such groups is way down, and this raises the topic of what social clubs might do to help their members and the public cope with the disruptions imposed by social distancing and illness.  NCSF created this resource to provide support for clubs and assemble some suggestions about best practices culled from NCSF Coalition Partners, psychological theory, and the new rules of social and sexual engagement with strangers.  

First, the basics.  Protection from COVID-19 means having sex with fewer partners and only with those who you know are healthy and managing their risks well.  Because the COVID-19 virus has a 14-day incubation and hardly anyone has been tested, it is very difficult to know who is a carrier but not yet symptomatic.  While obviously ill people can be avoided by simply moving away from them, being intimate with a non-symptomatic carrier creates a high risk of transmission.   Yet neither you nor they will know who is ill. This makes it risky to meet and recommends that people stay 6 feet or more from one another, and it is no wonder that many clubs have cancelled all events and stopped meeting face to face as a result.

Psychological resilience theory identifies a number of components of resilient behavior.  To quote the American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience. These are the coping strategies of resilience.  They include:

Prioritize Relationships – It is easy to see how kink and non-monogamy social groups do that, and when they stop meeting, it can interfere with members’ opportunity to do that.

Join a Group – Disbanding a group or putting it on hiatus can definitely be an obstacle to joining

Take Care of Your Body – Sex is a part of that care.  While some sexual needs can be met effectively solo, some cannot.

Practice Mindfulness – While social clubs are not one meditation opportunity after another, people can have aggravated mindfulness needs in anxiety provoking circumstances like a national pandemic.  Likewise, being with trusted friends can be calming even if no meditation breaks out!

Avoid Negative Outlets – Not everyone uses social clubs in a positive manner, but clubs often provide protective space and educational content that do help people meet kinky and adventurous needs more safely.

Help Others – While social clubs are hardly the only venue for this, they are often relatively safe places for people to disclose their sexuality and get help that is riskier to try to get other places. 

Be Proactive – The social distancing and economic consequences of this pandemic are a big threat to many people’s established patterns of proactivity.  Conversely, helping your group survive the pandemic can be a very constructive outlet.

Move Toward Your Goals – This takes a great deal of flexibility in uncertain and scary times like these.  For people whose goals were framed in the context of a group’s activities, changes in how it works can be an obstacle

Look for Opportunities for Self-Discovery – Often social groups play a key role in supporting their members self-discovery.  Conversely, dramatic changes can teach members things about themselves that the status quo tends to conceal, if they can stay open to new learning.

Keep Things in Perspective – we do a lot of this in the context of relationships, so disruption in those relationships can threaten our ability to use them this way.

Accept Change – it is much harder to accept dramatic, unforeseen and imposed changes than it is to embrace planned, gradual and autonomously selected changes.  A pandemic like COVID-19 is far more of the former type than the latter.

Maintain a Hopeful Outlook – This is easiest when the future is clear and predictable, and when one is not experiencing other losses.  Needless to say, job loss, illness and death are not conducive to a hopeful outlook.

Learn from Your Past – It is generally beyond the scope of most social groups’ missions to be responsible for people’s past histories.  But it is possible to be more supportive of people if you recognize the group’s importance in their histories and act to support those functions that you can sustain even in trying times like these.

This ends the APA’s list.  It is obvious from that list that the COVID-19 threatens many people’s sources of resilience.  In addition to decreases in social contact, a collapse in economic activity, and ill-health caused by the pandemic, people can be expected to have coping troubles, and that certainly includes kink, CNM and swinging club members.  Here are few other things to keep in mind about resilience.

Read on…

Originally published on Elephant in the Hot Tub: Kink in Context.