How Does Increased Awareness of our Impending Mortality Affect our Sexual Desires?

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been quite some talk about mortality. With over 1 million coronavirus cases and over 74,000 deaths globally, there hasn’t been much else featured on major news outlets other than more updates and warnings of how to ultimately stay healthy and alive. I feel like the expected reaction to all of this would be to panic, but as crazy as this sounds, my sex drive has been hugely impacted more than anything else, even my mental health. Quite frankly, part of me still thinks it’s odd that this awareness hasn’t conjured up a daunting attitude within me so I took the time to speak with multiple friends about the matter and they’ve all given a mixture of answers ranging from their anxiety taking over their sex drive to others also being more horny than usual. There are a few ways that can explain why this is so. 

In a recent article for Sex & Psychology, sex reasercher, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, explains that according to the Terror Management Theory, humans develop coping mechanisms to adapt when faced with the reality of death. However, these coping mechanisms are different between people. In fact, research has found that when thinking of the prospect of their own death, people who have a more positive outlook on their bodies and have an easier time embracing physical intimacy tend to use sex as a coping mechanism to reduce anxiety more than others. 

This has been demonstrated in the rise of “coronavirus porn” and in my personal life as well. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve looked up porn to help satiate my sexual appetite.  

Dr. Lehmiller also mentioned the Dual Control Model of Sexual Response, which argues that everyone has different inclinations for sexual desire. I like to think of this with an analogy of traffic lights. Some people’s sex drives are more inclined to stay on the red light, making it harder for them to be aroused especially during times of anxiety whereas others are more likely to hit the green light, signaling more sexual excitement. Sometimes this happens because emotions such as fear and anxiety can cause a “fight or flight” response to the brain, neurologically mislabelling those responses as sexual arousal.

And this makes perfect sense the more I ponder it. Even from a young age, I’ve always considered myself a sexually precocious individual and even now, there are rarely any external factors that make me averse to the thought of sex or masturbation. New job interview. Final exam week. Moving to a different state. You name it. While many may find situations like these stress-inducing, I’ve had the mindset that it’ll all be okay (or maybe not okay, but at least better) after I’ve rubbed one out. In addition to that, there’s no greater antithesis to death than sex, a vital force that brings life. And I’m not solely speaking of life as procreation, but life through cherished experiences. 

I’ve suddenly begun to ask myself “How can I fulfill my needs of intimacy during a time when physical touch isn’t encouraged?” 

“Should I feel guilty for prioritizing erotic pleasure, of all things, during an uneasy time such as this?”

“Is it normal to make space for might seem so trivial compared to literal death?” 

Lately it seems that I’ve gone back and forth between those questions more times than I’d like to admit. Nevertheless, there are a lot of layers to sexual expression just as there are a lot of layers to the way we navigate our emotions toward mortality, so regarding that, I can say that there’s no right or wrong way to feel about fluctuating sexual desires during times of crisis. 


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Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

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