BUENOS AIRES — Fear of contagion is everywhere. It is evident on public transport, in line at the supermarket and even between the sheets. A radical change in social habits is underway, as the spread of coronavirus is even creating intimacy problems within couples.

Phobias, post-coital guilt, hypochondria and fear of sex are just some of the factors that condition affective and erotic contacts in our time. Infectious diseases transmitted through social proximity are influencing interpersonal relations in different ways, even if the World Health Organization (WHO)'s recommendations on protecting yourself in daily contact include nothing on sex.

Kissing is a form of transmission, but what about penetration? Cardiologist Mario Boskis says "the virus is present in saliva drops. It's not known whether or not it exists in other body fluids. If one partner is showing flu-like symptoms, it would be logical to abstain from sexual relations."

It is not enough to wash your hands and use sanitizer gel.

Affective bonds are under threat in times of alarm and prevention. There is already discord over whether or not to approach or kiss someone, never mind having sex. The physician and psychiatrist Walter Ghedín says "going out to meet someone is becoming a problem as a person's proximity is provoking anxiety and fear. It is no longer enough to wash your hands and use sanitizer gel. Today, intimate contact is conditioned by concern."

Beatriz Goldberg, a psychologist and therapist, agrees sex decreases in all moments of crisis, which particularly affect unstable relations.

Claudia met a young man on Tinder recently. They exchanged messages, shared hobbies and chatted on Whatsapp. But when they were to meet, the prospective date phoned to say a coronavirus case was detected in the hospital where he works. Claudia did not dare cancel the date: she just blocked the contact, frightened by this news.

Collective paranoia circulates by word-of-mouth, and faster than the recommendations given by public health officials to curb the epidemic. Ghedín says this happens as initial concern becomes charged with disagreeable emotions that amplify the impact of information.

"The amorous encounter," he says, "requires taking a distance from worries, to focus on the erotic contact. Fear reduces your ability to enjoy it." Ghedín says youngsters do take precautions but are not living out the pandemic with the same level of alarm. "It's just another type of flu," he add. "If I'm infected, I must confine myself 15 days until it goes away."

Unease is also permeating couples that have been together for years.

Kissing on the cheek is also being challenged. Sex specialist Marta Castro says people are generally anxious now over any contact, "which means people are isolating themselves even when there are no sanitary reasons to do it yet." Sexual relations, she said, were becoming dependent on levels of trust and "credibility" among couples. All conducts that indicate fear of close bonding will inevitably emerge in seduction process. Virtual relations will for example take more time to become 'real,' as touching becomes a threat. Reluctance to attend social gatherings, says Beatriz Goldberg, "affects affective ties in general but particularly those that were gestating."

But unease is also permeating couples that have been together for years, as each side is worried by the contacts the other might have had at work or elsewhere. Pacts are made over not greeting anyone outside with a kiss, even as the topics can become a breeding ground for arguments. Specialists have heard some patients say that it is the older partner who must take greater care of himself or herself, and not so much the younger one.

Clarín also discussed the problem of living as a couple in a quarantine. For some it is no problem, while others begin squabbling, says Marta Castro. One patient told her: "If I had to spend 15 days in isolation with my husband, I don't know what I'd do. I would go crazy." The challenges begin here: having to change fear for trust, being sure to take sensible precautions, turning social contact into responsible acts. It's a new paradigm of personal space.


For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.


See more from Coronavirus here