With hugs and kisses banned by experts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, the joy of Valentine’s Day has paled for lovers as the epidemic wages on for over a year. Vaccines are rolling out, but only slowly, so most people in the intimate-active age group are still suffering under warnings about intimate contact and restrictions of quarantines, imposed lockdowns, mask-wearing, and restaurants closed for those traditionally romantic dinners.
Reasonable warnings but also fears were fanned last April when Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that people should consider that potential hook-ups can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. In a UK study, only about 40 percent of respondents said they have been sexually active, partly due to anxiety, availability or dampened mood.
Even married and co-habiting couples have been alerted that one partner can be carrying the virus.
While the traditional acts of sending flowers and handing over boxes of chocolate (from a safe distance) can prevail, the day calls for closer contact.
So what are lovers to do this Valentine’s Day?
As psychologists, we know that intimate connection satisfies desire, soothes the soul, and even stimulates chemicals that create physical as well as psychological well-being. Research even proves that connection with others is the best remedy to negative states caused by the separation imposed by this long-lasting pandemic, including loneliness, heartache, desolation, and anxieties.
The complex emotions escalate during holidays and anniversaries. Being starved for affection can drive people into deep desperation, depression and even drastic thinking. As one man admitted to me, “I’d rather die than be cut off from people much longer than this.”
The keys to reaping the benefits of love while resisting infection is possible for singles and those already-attached with these tips.
(1) Expand the number of people to whom you express love. Think of Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers, but for friends, as is the case in some cultures. For example, the word Valentine’s Day in Finland and Estonia translates into “Friend’s Day” indicating that this day is more about remembering friends, rather than “significant others.” A study of 1,477 people over ten years showed that expanded social networks can predict living longer. In support of this, a survey by the Ypulse company that monitors Gen Z and Millennials found that 74 percent of respondents agreed that Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to tell friends and family they are loved and appreciated.
(2) Limit in-person hook-ups to virtual ones. Practice principles of “phone sex” (from the 60s) upgraded in this electronic age to using handheld platforms — through audio and video formats like chat, sexting or zoom — to engage with a partner in a desired interaction. Talking through what you are actually doing as if in the act in the moment — more potent than just saying what you would like to do — takes a little imagination but can be fulfilling. Include not only the description of your actions but also feelings – how you feel and how you want your partner to feel — which is good practice for future times of true consummation.
(3) Resolve to practice “safe sex” during this public health emergency. On April 8, 2020, the New York City Health Department published an explicit guide outlining safe sex practice during the pandemic. It warned about spreading the virus spreads through particles in the saliva, mucus or breath of people with COVID-19, or those who are asymptomatic (though admittedly unclear scientifically about sex act transmission), advised against kissing and for limiting contact to those in a close household circle. Explicit tips for enjoyment while stopping the spread included masturbating alone or together (while mask-wearing); washing (hands, toys or other touched items) before and after the act; and even making it “a little kinky” by being “creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.”
(4) Explore deeper levels of commitment and communication. Findings from The American Family Survey show that despite the stress and disruption in family and work life caused by the pandemic, husbands and wives reported sustained sex and deeper commitment and appreciation of each other. As a marriage counselor for years, I know that better oral communication creates sexual sparks, especially since messages go fastest to the brain through the ears than other senses.
(5) Take “sex” to higher levels. My own, and many others’, expertise in eastern sexology shows that high states of ecstasy (and enlightenment) can be reached between people without even touching. The techniques to do this are simple, as outlined in my book, The Complete idiots Guide to Tantric Sex. By focusing your energy, through your breath and intention, inwards and then extending it to another purposefully, through the breath, eye contact, and simple motions, you can direct and transmit highly charged loving feelings outward, and receive them back inward, in a dedicated exchange. The classic scene in the film “Cocoon” between actors Tahnee Welch and Steve Gutenberg shows how glowing sparks can fly between two people at opposite ends of a swimming pool that may look like otherworldly alien love but their charging the water and space between them with “life force” is actually achievable by us ordinary folks.
(6) Look for new paths to “passion”. In my many surveys and research over the years as a dating, relationship and sex expert, I documented how couples can form strong bonds and feel erotic attraction by sharing activities and hobbies that “turn them both on.” In my Complete Idiots Guide to a Healthy Relationship, I suggest taking up a new hobby together, either a new idea for both of you or throwing yourself into a partner’s passionate pursuit that you once resisted (gardening, sports). Working together on a common project raises erotic interest, as evidenced in office affairs. Bring that affair home by brainstorming ideas about what you could both enjoy that will spill over into finding new or refreshed thrill about each other.
Take the pressure off Valentine’s Day by using the occasion to make every day an ongoing celebration of yourself as a loving being, and expressing love to others.