It might not be the first thing you associate with a global pandemic, but the sexual wellness industry is seeing a boom amid the coronavirus crisis, which has seen millions around the world forced to self-isolate.
Cult Beauty says searches for ‘sexual wellness’ are up 850 per cent across the site in the last couple of weeks, while LGBTQ+ friendly sex toy retailer Kandid has seen a 70 per cent increase in sales in the past month and Swedish sex toy manufacturer Lelo reports a 40 per cent rise in sales since self-isolation began, and is now offering special ‘stay-home’ deals.
In response to renewed demand, Pornhub has since made its premium access free worldwide until April 23, after initiating the complimentary subscriptions in France, Spain and Italy following which it saw a significant uptick in traffic in all three countries.
So is self-pleasure the way forward in times of uncertainty?
Elesha Vooght, a sexual wellness doctor for Kandid, says we should all be scheduling in some alone time weekly, or even daily at the moment. Because of the lockdown, unless you have a sexual partner within your household, “the safest person to have sex with is yourself,” she says. “All this time being at home and by yourself is an opportunity to explore your body, and people are finally investing in their sex lives.”
Feelings of anxiety and stress about the current situation can contribute to higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), triggering a fight or flight response. Higher cortisol levels can feed into things like anxiety, low mood, bad skin and poor sleep. “When we masturbate it activates the happy hormone areas of the brain and we release a chemical called dopamine, which can act as a temporary mood booster,” she says. “We also release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever which lowers cortisol levels in our blood and makes you feel more relaxed, which can improve your mood, skin and sleep.”
Dr. Becky Spelman, a psychologist and relationship expert for sex toy brand Womanizer, which is seeing sales over 50 per cent above projections in countries where major outbreaks have caused most of the population to self-isolate, says, “Social distancing measures means that there are a lot of sexually frustrated individuals out there—and a big market for sex toys. Some of the most civic-minded people in our society, the ones who are actually avoiding encounters with others, are probably driving this spike in sales, and should be applauded.”
There is something comforting about sex in times of uncertainty, she adds, “Sexual pleasure helps to ground us in the moment, which is essential when we are going through uncertain times. An important key to coping with stress is living in the moment, and sexual activity absolutely helps with that.”
Meanwhile Lelo sexpert Kate Moyle comments: “It’s a natural human instinct to push back against threat and want to feel alive which is what many people describe sex and masturbation as offering as a form of pleasure.”
Even if you are living with a partner, masturbation could improve your sex life, Vooght insists. “Solo sex and partner sex are two different things. The benefits of masturbation is it’s just about you and your pleasure, that’s not selfish. There’s a mindfulness aspect to masturbating, too, it’s an opportunity to completely focus and clear the mind, the motions are quite repetitive.
“Masturbation is finally becoming a more accepted part of our wellness routines, the same as doing some mindfulness, taking a yoga class or doing veganuary.”