A Hidden Victim Of Coronavirus: The World's Sex Life

Fear and uncertainty for both stable couples and courting. We know the virus is present in saliva drops, but it's not clear whether it exists in other body fluids. But human behavior isn't waiting for the science to find out.

Strange spring love in London
Strange spring love in London

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.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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