My girlfriend and I are 60+ years old. We are both concerned about getting the COVID virus. We have separate homes and practice social distancing when we spend time together. My question has to do with sex. We do not kiss, massage, have intercourse, oral sex or manual sex at all now. I think we could safely use our hands to manually give each other orgasms. She thinks this could not be done safely. I think with masks and hand sanitizer we could enjoy it safely. It has been four months of abstinence and thinking of possibly a year or longer seems too long. Are their safe options to give each other orgasms?
Hard Up in Hanover
So I feel the need to preface this with my standard disclaimer: Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor, so I am probably the literal last person you should be going for for medical advice. Take my advice with all applicable levels of salt and possibly a second opinion from an actual medical professional.
That having been said:
The COVID-19 pandemic has been playing merry hell on everyone, whether couples in long-term relationships, single folks who want to meet other sexy singles, even folks who are just missing their friends. Hell, poly relationships are facing all kinds of challenges — the relationship anarchy model starts to fall apart when the partners who don’t live together are left out because the rest don’t want to risk breaking quarantine.
But if there is one truth to humanity, it’s this: sex almost always wins in the end. Sex is as primal a need as you can get; when people were risking death before the pandemic in order to get laid (such as LGBTQ individuals in countries where being queer is a literal death sentence), COVID isn’t going to stop them either. Sometimes people look at la petite morte and decide that maybe la grande morte isn’t that scary. So… yeah, a lot of folks are deciding that sex really is to die for.
However, while even the threat of death and disease isn’t enough to make people choose abstinence (well… for very long, anyway), there are ways of getting your thrills without bringing the pandemic to the party. The key is to recognize just what the risks are and how you can mitigate them. And while COVID is a new virus that we still know comparatively little about (hence the name: novel coronavirus), the current science tells us that it’s primarily transferred through airborne respiratory droplets, such as when someone speaks, sneezes or coughs, and those droplets land in the nose or mouth, or get aspirated into the lungs. This is part of why masks are an important part of preventing the spread of the virus; the masks keep the droplets contained, instead of flying through the air. Similarly, it’s why social distancing helps reduce the chances of infection; the distance makes it less likely that the droplets will find purchase in your lungs or mucus membranes.
That’s also why the disease can be spread during sex: vanilla sex tends to involve a lot of face-to-face contact with kissing, consistent heavy breathing, gasping and talking and various other exhalation and inhalation. But if you take the primary risk out of the equation — kissing, etc. — you can drastically reduce the odds of transmission. This is why the New York City Department of Health and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control suggest, amongst other things, using barriers that allow for sexual contact but don’t allow for face-to-face contact (i.e. glory holes), rear-entry sexual positions and keeping masks on during sex. They also recommend having sex in larger, well-ventilated spaces, washing your hands thoroughly before and after sex and to make doubly sure NOT to touch your face with unwashed hands.
But there are lots of other activities that you can do together as well, especially if you don’t want to risk penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex. The more you expand your definition of sex beyond penetration, the more options you both have. Mutual masturbation, whether in person or via Zoom or Skype is an obvious one. So too would be masking up and masturbating each other, erotic massage or using sex toys on one another.
However, there is another option if the two of you want to get your freak on but don’t necessarily want to drill a hole in the drywall. One of the ways people have adapted to the quarantine so that they can be safe and have their social needs met is the formation of quarantine pods (or quaranteams, if you’re feeling clever): a closed circle of people, all of whom are incredibly conscientious about hygiene, health practices, masking and social distancing. Everyone agrees to certain rules — testing, not seeing anyone outside the pod, two weeks of self-isolation if they DO spent time with friends or family members outside the pod, staying home as much as possible and taking all sensible precautions when they leave the house — and then they’re able to visit and socialize in person, without the hurdles of masks or maintaining a six-foot distance at all times. These pods have been lifesavers for people who’ve been feeling cut off or isolated, especially when Zoom calls and social media aren’t enough to help them get their social needs met. It isn’t always easy; it requires that everyone follow the rules EXACTLY to minimize (not eliminate) risk, and God knows there’re been folks who can’t or won’t do that. But it creates a space for that social contact amongst a close-knit group.
If you and your girlfriend are strictly monogamous (or will be so for the duration of the pandemic) then this is an option that you could look into pursuing. It takes a certain amount of pre-planning and making sure you’re being scrupulously careful, but it would allow you to have a physical relationship that more closely resembles what you had prior to the lockdown and quarantine. Start with the two of you getting a COVID test. If you both test negative, then you can start laying the groundwork: what rules you’ll both follow to minimize exposure, how often you’ll see each other, who else you can spend time with and under what circumstances, etc. Then, if you’re both being rigorous about your safety protocols — wearing masks whenever you go out or visit others, practicing social distancing, washing your hands like you were cutting jalapeños and you need to take your contacts out, staying socially distanced and not going to bars, restaurants, etc. — then you can take the plunge and have standard, mask-free sex… as well as the hugs, casual touching, cuddling on the couch, meals, massages, even sleeping together that you’ve both been longing for.
Now to be clear: this reduces the risk and likelihood of exposure; it doesn’t eliminate it. So you both have to assess just what level of risk you’re willing to tolerate. Even these precautions might not be enough to ease your girlfriend’s fears — and that’s legitimate. If that’s too much risk for her, that’s too much risk for her, and that’s entirely understandable.
However, life is inherently a full-contact sport. We assume a certain level of risk just by existing. The key is to find the level of risk you are both comfortable with, and work from there. But with a little creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, the two of you can find some practices that’ll help you stay connected and give you the intimacy you’re missing.
Paging the Doctor…
I’m a 24 year old man, dating a 27 year old woman. As it happens, I am an avowed secularist, and I very much consider that an important part of my identity, and I ultimately have little respect for religious belief. I generally view it as a social ill, and yet, I ended up in a relationship with a religious woman.
I absolutely don’t consider her bad, or mean, or what have you for that; in fact, she’s amazingly kind and sweet, and is a very level-headed and empathetic person; we also share a lot of other tastes, and she doesn’t really consider many mundane interests “sinful” either, so that’s not at all the problem. The issue is more with how the disconnect in beliefs is making me feel.
We didn’t discuss beliefs at first, but I mentioned my stance in a story while we were chatting about a week ago, and we discussed it up to a minor point, where she said that she was raised in a fairly traditional Evangelical Christian family, but doesn’t really know much about her tradition. By contrast, I was born into a sort of progressive, “social gospel” Mainline Protestant family, but after a lot of thought in terms of the sciences, philosophy, and ethics, decided that I could never be religious again. As it turned out, she is fairly okay with LGBTQ+ people, has severe doubts as to the existence of hell (and I would have broken up with her had she answered otherwise), and is also fairly sexual and not against sex before marriage. That being said, she still holds a lot to anti-science views, and that is something I feel uncomfortable with as well. She has had little occasion to question those views, and I want to bring it up, but her words are a bit ambiguous as to whether she’d be receptive to much discussion of that at all.
This does matter to me, quite a bit, because I believe that one must reconcile scientific findings and realities with their beliefs, and that it is wrong to deny things like evolution, modern geological science, etc. because these things absolutely impact our daily lives and ignoring them is a way of getting screwed over on a personal and also systemic level.
The other issue I have here is that, as mentioned before, I have severe issues with Christianity as an ideology, for multiple reasons, which I don’t have time to go over here, and while I can deal with it in family who still believe, after all, they’re family, I have reservations about letting a new person into my life with those beliefs. I fear if I only try to talk about the anti-science stuff, then that will create the impression that that was the only problem, and leave the root somewhat unaddressed, only to cause more problems later.
With all that in mind, once again, it seems to me that she has simply never been confronted with much in the way of doubts or objections (that she is from a much rural area than me is another factor in that, no doubt), and I wonder if a frank discussion about my views and my path there may be productive; she is also quite level-headed, caring, and understanding (she had no objections to me not believing, she told me). I very much want to dissuade her from beliefs that I am firmly convinced are making her life and the world as a whole worse, but I’m not so sure that’s what I should want…
So, what do you think? How should I approach all of this? Should I try to see if I’ll accept a compromise? Should I broach the topic at all?
Here’s my question, Oathbreaker: what’s the actual problem here? Thus far, it seems that she’s fairly open-minded and non-dogmatic. While I’d be a little concerned with “is ok with LGBTQ people” (depending on what, exactly, “ok” means in this case), it doesn’t sound like she’s of the stripe that wants to force others to live by her rules. If her relationship with God and Jesus is just that — her relationship — and she’s cool with other folks doing their own thing, then where’s the conflict? I have a number of religious friends of many different faiths and traditions — pagan, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu — and while I may find some aspects of various beliefs to be… well, let’s just say, not something I would believe in… we don’t really have any conflicts in terms of what we do or don’t believe.
To be fair: most of what we discuss tends to be in the abstract; we’re all in agreement on things like religious belief doesn’t get to dictate who gets rights and who doesn’t. We may discuss whether Jesus actually fulfilled the prophecy of the Jewish messiah or not, or the validity of the gospel of Paul, whether “druidic” traditions are a scam or not or if Nordic pagan traditions are suspect because of the intersection of white-supremacists… but we’re also cool with the fact that they may believe one thing that the others don’t, and vice versa. Much as people will say “your kink is not my kink and that’s ok”, their faith (or lack thereof) is not MY faith (or lack thereof) and that’s fine.
(Now debates about cuisine are another matter; gotta be careful there, or you’re gonna have a fight on your hands. Food is serious business.)
I mention this because going by your letter, it seems like your only real issue is, well, that she’s Christian. Not that she’s tried to impose her beliefs on you or others, not that her faith has interfered in any meaningful way with your relationship or even that you’ve argued about how to raise your kids. Just that she’s religious and holds some anti-science views. Which, hey, potentially problematic, sure. But what is she doing with those views? Is she, say, refusing to mask up when going out? Does she protest against teaching geology or evolution at school? Or does she hold these views without actually trying to impose them on others?
If it’s the former, yeah, I can see that as being an issue. A lot of people who are anti-science are helping COVID have it’s surge here. If it’s the latter, then while I can see it as being annoying or frustrating, I don’t know if it’s that big of a deal. Someone can not like vaccines or think they’re bullshit and I’ll side-eye the hell out of ’em for it, but if they and their kids get their pertussis and MMR jabs anyway, then side-eyeing is as far as I go.
If I’m being frank, you sound a little like an evangelical atheist, and those always stick in my craw. Trying to compel someone out of faith isn’t any less obnoxious than someone who keeps badgering you to find Jesus; the only real difference is which team you’re on. And while we could go on about the evils that people have done in the name of faith and dogma… if the issue is just that she has beliefs you don’t approve of, then that’s more of a you problem than a her problem. And while I can understand wanting to draw someone away from something you fear may be harming them, that’s literally the same rationale for preaching the gospel.
Not to mention, you really don’t seem to be taking her feelings about it into account. If belief in God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, the Tao, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Lion Turtle from the age of Ravaa brings her comfort, security or happiness, trying to argue her out of it because you don’t approve is a pretty presumptive and kinda shitty thing to do. Especially if she’s not pushing her beliefs on others. She’s respecting your choice; why shouldn’t she get the same courtesy?
The way I see it, you have two choices. You accept her faith as part of who she is — and what made her into the person you fell for, I might add — and agree to live and let live. Maybe over time, her faith will change (without your direct prompting). Or maybe it won’t. Either way, she may not have problems with your not believing now, but if you keep trying to change her faith, she may well start having some.
The other choice is that you end things now, chalk it up to a fundamental incompatibility and find yourself a nice atheist to settle down with.