Social distancing;”you’ve locked us down. Can we have sex?”- citizens question authorities



Cape Town – We have been banned from buying our favourite foods, going out and enjoying South Africa’s beauty, walking our dog, buying alcohol and cigarettes.
So the question is what about sex? Is it safe in the time of Covid-19? Should we? Can we indulge in the fruits of the flesh? Is sex a fundamental human need, next to food and shelter, even in times of crisis as we are facing today?
“Maintain this social distance. When you get time to stay in, stay in. Maintain the distance even in the middle of the night. Maintain this social distance. It’s one way of dealing and preventing this disease. Don’t come close more than a metre, it doesn’t matter who. No kissing, nothing,” said Police Minister, Bheki Cele.
These comments might be met with laughter, confusion and then frustration once it settles in and for some, it might have a far-reaching effect on our personal lives.
However, Cele is right, Covid-19 does spread via saliva, via droplets when an infected person speaks, coughs or breathes. Kissing would therefore facilitate the spread of the virus. His motivation, like the rest of the world, is to reduce the spread of the virus in order for our health care system to cope and save lives.
Is sex a fundamental need like food and water?
Some, like psychologist Abraham Maslow, would argue that sex is one of our fundamental human needs and could be paralleled with other basic needs like food and shelter. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it starts with physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and ends at self-actualization – the ultimate goal even if we do not see it as such.
This theory was an attempt to understand what makes people do the things we do. He saw our actions progress, once we’ve achieved one we need the next one. Once the basic needs of food and water are met (physiological), we move on to need financial security and personal security (safety). And then we need a sense of belonging, friendships, intimacy – which includes sex.
An indication of why people are defying laws and risking jail time or fines to indulge. This was the case for a couple in Cape Town recently who received a R1500 fine for their actions.
Or why as the lockdown began, sex workers were advocating to be included as an ‘essential service’ next to supermarkets and health care. Which could be construed as an attempt to fulfill their own needs (physiological and safety) as opposed to those who employ their services (love and belonging).
In light of an unprecedented pandemic, people either have increased sex drives or are completely unaroused. Both of these are normal according to Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist who is part of the research team at Kinsey currently studying how people’s sexual relationships are affected by the pandemic.
“When you look at the data, you actually see movement at both ends,” says Lehmiller.
“You have a higher percentage of people now who are saying [that] they’re masturbating and having more sex. But you also have a higher percentage of people saying they’re not engaging in any sexual behaviour at all, ” Lehmiller adds.
The uncertainty and stress of our current situation seem to be manifesting itself in extremes in regards to our sexual lives.
Best practices to be safe
But if we do succumb, what are the best practices during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown that is being experienced? What should we consider when our primary moral responsibility is to reduce the spread of Covid-19?
Dr Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says; “If you live with a regular sexual partner and you don’t have any symptoms, or likely exposure, sex might actually be a really great way to have fun, stay connected and relieve anxiety during this potentially stressful time”
It is also very important to note, if sex is not consensual, where both parties do not agree to have sex, it is then rape. Irrespective of marriage or any other type of relationship.
Sex with new partners is not permissible under lockdown regulations, everyone needs to stay in their homes. However, as stated by Dr Carlos E Rodríguez-Díaz, a professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health; “other forms of expressing eroticism, such as sexting, video-calls, reading erotica and masturbation will continue to be options”.
In terms of whether Covid-19 is sexually transmitted, Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz says;  “There is no evidence that the Covid-19 can be transmitted via either vaginal or anal intercourse. However, kissing is a very common practice during sexual intercourse, and the virus can be transmitted via saliva. Therefore, the virus can be transmitted by kissing. There is also evidence of oral-fecal transmission of the Covid-19 and that implies that analingus may represent a risk for infection”.
Irrespective, with 19% of the population in South Africa being HIV positive between the ages of 15 and 49. As well as the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs), it is always advised to use appropriate protection like condoms.
Always practice safe sex irrespective of a pandemic or not. Always respect your partner’s decision, sex is not an obligation. Always remember it is rape if both people do not agree or wish to partake in the physical activity. And to always adhere to lockdown regulations.

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