At a sex-positive LGBTQ organization I worked at many years ago, we established guidelines that supported people’s desires in the workplace (doing liberation work in times of crisis is heady, sexy stuff!) while also creating strong ground rules to prevent exploitation of workers and interns with relatively little positional power and more social and material vulnerability than, say, cisgender, white senior staff with master’s degrees and JDs and high incomes.
Our great care at creating a system that worked for everyone—while acknowledging that desire is a natural outcome of being human and working together—is prompting me to consider how we are going to survive the crisis of COVID-19 for the long haul. We are humans. We are fundamentally social animals. And our sexuality is a critical aspect of our sociality and our physical and mental health.
Back in the ’90s, at my organization, we adopted a red light, yellow light, green light system.
Red meant, “Absolutely off limits: I am in a position of power—chair of the board, boss, supervisor, intern coordinator, etc. I cannot have sex with, or even make funny, sexy comments toward—anyone whom I can hire and fire, promote, or direct in a project.”
Yellow meant, “Well, I have no positional authority over this person; perhaps we are both in entry-level positions, or in the same class of interns, or associate directors in different departments.
“But is it a good idea? What if this doesn’t go well? Am I going to carry that bad taste in my mouth (pun intended) into meetings and projects that will impact my wellness at work and the effectiveness and well-being of our teams?”
Green meant, “There’s no authority issue here. I don’t supervise or have any power to boost or harm this person’s ascent in this organization or another organization.”
And so we went about our crushing and cruising, our cuffing and huffing and puffing, and tried our best to do no harm to anyone, and to the organization and the larger movement, while pursuing our sexy destinies.
I think it’s time we start thinking about a sensible COVID-19 rubric, one that helps us manage risk and take care of ourselves and each other as best we can. So I’ve started to outline a red light, yellow orange, lemon yellow, green light system, because this is a complicated moment, with new transmission studies and information unfolding every day—so we need to consider a slightly more complex gradation of risk.
Red: High Risk of Exposure
Sex parties in enclosed spaces. The longer we are in an enclosed space together, the redder the territory.
Sex with one or more people in open spaces that includes kissing, breathing on each other’s faces, cumming without a mask. We might consider retiring the missionary position in our casual encounters (sadly) for the duration of this crisis: Ahhhhh-ahhhh-ahhh!!! = lotsa droplets.
Sex that includes anal penetration and/or play without gloves and/or condoms. There have been documented levels of COVID-19 in semen and fecal waste. It is unclear if the virus is transmitted to others via fecal matter or semen, so until we know the answer to that, take note! Any kind of anal play means extra care with these practices, or retire them for now.
Dance parties, especially inside, which entail lots of heavy breathing, loud talk over music, and the likelihood that partygoers will be maskless or take them off.
Extended time in clubs and bars—and especially without a mask.
Sex with an unknown or new partner who has not been socially distancing, especially inside an enclosed space.
Orange: Medium to High Risk of Exposure
• Sex with a new or casual partner whose social distancing practices are unknown or not strict, that has little to no conversation, is relatively fast, in an open space. I think backdoor and doggy-style sex is definitely the preferred position for the COVID era. I see a lot of sprawling groves, up-against-the-tree sex in our future. Very ’70s and ’80s gay.
Jerking off or digital (as in fingers) sex with random people you know nothing about, inside their homes.
When having sex with strangers or people from whom you cannot get an honest history of social distancing: Think about ways to minimize COVID risk and maximize pleasure: Don’t even talk to me. I’ll have all the lights off, and I’ll be in the kitchen, just come in and do your business and leave.
Yellow: Low Risk of Exposure
Picking a COVID-era in-person sex buddy—someone who has been very strict about social distancing, locked down for weeks, whose narrative you highly trust, who you are hot for, and who agrees that you are the only person they are taking this level of risk with.
Opening up your relationship so that both you and your partner can pick one COVID-era, strictly distancing sex buddy for whatever extended period of high risk you define together. Remember: Adding people to your social or sexual pod means that they must be absolutely trustworthy around their state of boundaries around others. Otherwise, you bump up to Orange or Red.
Jerking off or finger stimulation and fucking with people whose social distancing history is strict, in their homes, masks on, no kissing, not facing each other, quick.
- Jerking off and/or digital sex with random people outside, in cruising areas, masks on, no kissing, not facing, quick.
Green: No Risk of Exposure
- Sex with a partner or partners with whom you’ve been locked down.
- Cruise outside, in motion, in favorite spaces that make you feel hot. Masks on. Gay men in particular have perfected the art of sex-by-hot-passing-eye-contact. Revive this sacred tradition.
- Phone sex.
- Flirt shamelessly on the apps.
- Tell people you’ve been crushing on forever that you like them.
- Make the decision to be more vulnerable with someone you’ve been with for a while (someone you are living with, or someone you are connecting with virtually).
- Zoom sex.
- Sex parties online.
- Skype sex.
- Send sexy pictures and videos back and forth.
- Camming with strangers or friends.
- Discover new porn interests.
- Read sexy, smutty work by your favorites—to yourself, to others on the phone, or via videoconference.
- Write hot fantasies and send them.
- Find new sexy, smutty art, podcasts, and conversation in the communities that matter to you.
- Order new toys.
The semen question: The virus has been found in semen in tiny studies. This is inconclusive. I think we are largely in the dark here. I, personally, would not exchange fluids with anyone I don’t know and have not made a decision to bring into my “pod” of people who are actively minimizing their coronavirus risk. In my opinion, this is yellow or medium risk.
Vaginal fluids: Per usual, so far, nobody is looking at this. Since kissing is a risk, kissing our vaginas is a risk. This seems much lower risk to me than kissing our mouths, since breath and the two primary transmission routes are right there when we mouth-kiss: our eyes and our noses. In my opinion—yellow.
A lot of my friends and clients have been asking me—why can’t I do without sex in person? Am I a sex addict? What is the deal with me and my insane libido?
And my answer: First and foremost—there’s nothing wrong with yearning for connection. Period. We are humans, and we have a fundamental need for touch, as a species. There is nothing dysfunctional or wrong about that. Great sex is part of a healthy life, and if we’ve been having a lot of it on the regular prior to COVID, we feel a sense of deprivation that is mighty real.
Secondly: Crisis = danger. When we are in crisis, or feel we are endangered, this amps up our need to be together. Humans are pack animals. We need each other to survive, and that truth is never more crystal clear than during a crisis. Your libido is reading the room.
Thirdly: Trauma responses. Many, many of us are trauma survivors. And lockdown is an imposition, a limit on our ability to move freely, and to associate. Breaking out and having sex might feel like a very compelling resistance to a situation that echoes a traumatic event, when in effect, we are in the very dangerous here and now, and striking out and being wildly social—especially in enclosed spaces with people we do not know and who may have no ability to or history of social distancing—puts us at risk for contracting the virus.
Finally: This is how we can sift out whether we are in a compulsive or addictive relationship with our desire, or whether we just have a hella healthy libido: We are in a position to make choices. And those choices do not endanger us or the people we love. We can make a decision around our sexuality, own the risk, and not destroy our well-being, or the well-being of our household. We can be honest with the people we are negotiating risk with, and all the people adjacent to or impacted by that risk. When we can’t do that—we know we are in some kind of dangerous territory with ourselves, our health, and our integrity.
So let’s do this!