While sexual desire was down for many people during the pandemic, it was a time to reconnect with their pleasure and bodies for others. Instead of the wham, bam, thank you, sir or ma'am masturbation so many of us previously squeezed into our busy schedules, the pandemic literally forced us to slow down. And some of us had increased time and decreased distractions on our hands.
Masturbation Is the Real Hero of the Pandemic
As someone who practices ethical non-monogamy, the pandemic brought my usually vibrant sex life to a standstill. I live by myself, was laid-off from my editing gig early in the pandemic, and have minimal responsibilities – mainly taking care of my dog. And although I missed physical intimacy with my partners, solo isolating allowed me the time and space to deepen my relationship with my pleasure (and ultimately, my orgasm).
In the pre-times, I engaged in regular solo sex – usually 2-3 times a day. Often, it was a rushed, reliable means to an end, be it anxiety, menstrual cramps, or wanting to go to sleep.
Whatever the reason, masturbation feels good. And when you're trying to stay safe and not catch a deadly virus, it's the safest sex around. I dedicated myself to seducing myself every which way I could think of, which really isn't the worst way to pass days/weeks/months of solitude if you ask me.
Searah Deysach, sex educator and owner of feminist sex shop Early to Bed says that no matter our relationship status, we can still be our own best lover. "We can knock out a quick orgasm to release a day of pent-up tension, or we can lovingly caress and care for our whole body slowly," she notes. "Either way, it is on your own timetable, and when you are masturbating, you can focus solely on you and what your body wants. Knowing what works for your body can help make your partner sex more fulfilling as well."
"We can knock out a quick orgasm to release a day of pent-up tension, or we can lovingly caress and care for our whole body slowly"
As a sex writer, I have a rather sizeable sex toy collection. As in, I have an over-the-door shoe organizer filled with my favorites. Boxes of B Team toys cram my closet. I admit, I'm lazy and have my "greatest hits reel" of toys that get the job done. The pandemic gave me time to explore beyond my usual go-to's and get acquainted with some new toys. Some days, I wore a butt plug to walk the dog – just because.
I partook in weekly virtual masturbation circles. I even started doing online sex work. Producing sexy content legit gets me hot and bothered, and if people want to pay me to snap a few photos or share a video of me getting off, I'm here for it. While my friends spoke of 24/7 domestic and parenting duties, mental health became my top priority. Masturbation has always been a main player in how I stay healthy.
The pandemic allowed others to connect with their bodies, too. Take Em, 24, of Whidbey Island, WA, for example. She took an asynchronous Bodysex course and had her first orgasm in April of 2020 during a two-week quarantine after exposure. "The stress and fear forced me to be introspective and radically seek out self-pleasure and push through so much shame," she says. "I found power. It truly was life-changing. It may have been part of a bigger change, but coming back to myself on a visceral level brought me into being again."
"The stress and fear forced me to be introspective and radically seek out self-pleasure."
She describes it as an awakening of power she didn't know she had and thought she had to get from someone else. Around that time, she decided to go back to school, quit her corporate job to work for a nonprofit, and come out of the closet. "Now, I have fantastic sex all the time with myself and others," says Em.
Like myself, C, 26, in Los Angeles, CA, also felt an uptick in sexual desire.
"I would think about sex way more often and would always be in the mood for sexting. I had a friend with benefits, so she and I would sext often and exchange nudes."
Plus, he would masturbate more often as well, sometimes five times a day. "I guess it also helped pass the time," he says. Once the lockdown was lifted, he would visit (sex work) providers who helped provide a safe, clean space for fun and release.
As the world opens, Deysach hopes that folks who have found a deeper appreciation for self-pleasure can carry that into their life post-COVID. "For a lot of people, that is probably going to mean making self-love an intentional practice," she says. "Just as we make time for other types of self-care, it is important to remember to make time for self-pleasure."
Suppose you find you are having trouble remembering to masturbate now that socializing is ramping up again. In that case, Deysach suggests setting a daily or weekly time to check in with your sexual self and allow time to explore your body and bring yourself pleasure. "Keep your sex toys handy, and don't forget that even if you start hooking up with people IRL, solo-play is still a valid, worthwhile pursuit."
"Keep your sex toys handy, and don't forget that even if you start hooking up with people IRL, solo-play is still a valid, worthwhile pursuit."
As I slowly ease back into the world of dating, I'm still making time for masturbation. One of my partners recently joked about how sexually jaded we were before the pandemic and how the collective trauma gave us a new perspective. I have to agree. In addition to this new openness, I'm bringing everything I've learned about self-pleasure over this past year to my partner's sex experiences – and it's paying off. I'm having some of the best sex of my life right now with new-to-me partners.
For those of us who double-downed on masturbation and orgasms during the pandemic, I hope we can continue to reap the feel-good benefits long after the pandemic is over. (If and when that ever happens, sigh.)
"Masturbation can be a lifelong practice that brings us joy, release, and self-love," says Deysach. "It keeps us in tune with our bodies and releases endorphins which make us feel great and can even help relieve some pain temporarily. There is no real downside to masturbation, so why not make and keep it a part of your health and wellness routine?"
Hands-on habits are healthy, and establishing regular masturbation routines is the clear winner of the past year.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says