How have sex addicts survived lockdown? Having to give up going out, one night stands, pulling at bars and Tinder hookups was hard for the single population of quarantined countries, and many new couples were put through the rigors of making or breaking a relationship in a Big Brother style experiment of being locked up together and either making it, or breaking up.
Unless you were used to consistent solitude or had a long term partner that you spent most of your time with anyway, everything was different, let alone if you had to consider coping with a mental health condition. Lockdown was tough. But imagine going through it while trying to handle a sex addiction, Sex therapy app, Blueheart, reported an 108% surge in new users between 1 March and the 1 August. That’s approximately 4,721 new users seeking help for sexual dysfunction within a six month period.
Interestingly, 42% of the sex therapy sign ups came from adults aged 18 to 30 years old – he same age range that uses casual hookup apps like Grindr and Feeld to find no-strings-attached sex on the regular.
Sex and relationship engineer and practitioner Colin Richards, of Intimacy Matters, says he saw a rise in female clients following the first lockdown period. Richards tells Metro.co.uk: ‘My new female clients feel denied sexual fulfilment. This is due either to the complacency of their partner during the lockdown or for the single woman; the webcam fun had during lockdown has re-energised their libido. Now they want to make the virtual a reality.’ While we might imagine that lockdown posed immense challenges for those with a sex addiction, Colin explains that for many of his clients, the past few months actually helped them to reassess their attitudes towards sex in a positive way. ‘For those who identify as sex addicts, I hear that for some lockdown has given them time to consider what it is that they actively seek from sex,’ says Colin. ‘Always hunting for the next sexual fix can be exhausting and expensive. ‘A 43-year-old female client I recently saw who is anorgasmic and is convinced that having sex with 6’2”, gym fit men aged under the age of 28 will do the trick. She flew to Milan and back in less than 24 hours to have sex.
‘Exploring the deeper emotional aspects of her addiction, she now realises it is not the sex that is driving her, more the need to feel wanted and desired. ‘Once she experiences this (probably not with a 28-year-old), she will feel able to relax and trust to let go.’ What quarantine has changed about sex addiction, Richards says, is a new way to satisfy the urges of the addiction. He explains: ‘While webcamming use grew exponentially during lockdown due to business transferring to video conferencing and family quizzes, its primary growth in usage was for webcam sex. ‘Some self-identified sex addicts I spoke to reported that they could get enough satisfaction through the hunt and have process that they usually enjoyed in real life by using phone apps and webcam.
‘[They use] Hinge, Tinder and Grindr for the hunt and then have virtual sex on Zoom, WhatsApp or Skype. ‘Being home-based and with plenty of furloughed time on their hands, this situation also allowed for simultaneous flirtations and multiple webcam sessions in one day, all in the comfort of your own bedroom.’ This change in sexual gratification from real life to behind a screen isn’t necessarily a positive, psychosexual somatics therapist Sara Bhavani says. In particular, it creates a new problem for male sex addicts.
Sara tells us: ‘In the absence of being able to so easily play out sex addiction behaviour with other willing humans, I can only imagine that there has been a dramatic rise porn use. As a result I expect to see more men coming into therapy with erectile issues. ‘Statistics show that men who regularly masturbate to pornography have a much higher occurrence of Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED) or erectile issues, as I prefer to call them, especially when in intimate contact with another human being.’
Bhavani continues: ‘The reason for this is that repeated, simple, quick stimulation and tension release typified by porn induced self pleasure can create a somatic marker, or programmed body response, that makes it more difficult to achieve or maintain an erection when in the comparatively complex tenderness of actual physical connection. ‘Or to put it another way, we become accustomed to the instant gratification of sitting in front of a computer screen and ‘knocking one out’ – it requires far less sophistication, awareness, communication and vulnerability than a partner with all their needs might.’ Whether male or female, confessed sex addict before or after lockdown, both Bhavani and Richards want those outside of the illness to have sympathy for those suffering during these socially distanced times.
As Bhavani says: ‘The dramatic shutdown from society we experienced in March was a shock to all our systems, cutting us off from loved ones and those familiar methods of meeting our core needs of love, connection, safety and acceptance.’ For those who use sex to fulfil these needs, lockdown exacerbated feelings of loneliness and depression even further. Bhavani urges us to consider that ‘sex addiction cannot be “fixed” by putting yourself in isolation.’ In fact, she says, ‘sex addiction, like any other addiction, is more likely to be caused by isolation.. In times where Lockdown 2 is trending on Twitter, it is all the more important to check in on those suffering due to a lack of intimacy.