Sexuality And The Pandemic: Can We Go Back To Getting It On?

The jury's still out on whether COVID-19 can be transmitted sexually. But there's no doubt that it has made many people more cautious about intimacy.

Two participants in a demonstration at the city hall in Madrid, Spain.
Two participants in a demonstration at the city hall in Madrid, Spain.
Verónica Fuentes

MADRID — Working, going for a drink, hitting the gym, meeting with friends ... These are the common, day-to-day activities for many Spaniards, or at least were — until March 14, that is —when the government issued its estado de alarma (state of alarm) decree to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, from one day to the next, our routines were upended.

Fast forward several months, with summer now in full swing, and right now everyone's trying to recover that old social life while navigating what we're told is the "new normal." And by the look of things, it won't be easy, what with all the cautionary recommendations like wearing face masks, constantly washing hands and maintaining a suitable distance from each other. Social gatherings, we're being told, could spark a second wave of contagion.

But here's another question: What about sex? Can we ever hope to playing the seduction game again?

First, we need some clarity on whether this particular virus is sexually transmittable. A study published in May by the JAMA Network found that traces of the virus were present in the semen of certain infected patients. It's important to note, however, that the research was conducted on just 38 men and that other studies have yet to replicate the findings, as Francisca Molero, president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Associations (FEES), points out in an interview with the scientific news agency SINC.

"It's is difficult to assert at present whether or not this is transmitted through unprotected, penetrative sex," she says. "We may assume it is potentially contagious, though this has yet to be shown."

Can we ever hope to playing the seduction game again?

What is clear is that the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the incidence of sexual relations. Whether that changes over time, according to Molero, will depend on if people "continue to be afraid of the illness and how long it will be before an effective treatment or vaccine is found." Until then, people may come to "internalize" preventive measures, the FEES head explains.

"Important preventive measures will be needed with sporadic or stable but open partners: hand washing, contraceptives, condoms and giving yourself more time to decide whether or not to have a shared, sexual relationship," she says.

Age and personal traits — whether someone was locked down alone, with a partner or with children — also play a role, the sexologist suggests.

Work by street artist The Rebel Bear in Glasgow — Photo: Crawford Jolly/Unsplash

Molero expects there will be both "reckless' people who will flout protective rules, and those who tread carefully with anyone they do not know. She also thinks the situation will impact behavior among people who use dating apps such as Tinder. Before the COVID-19 crisis "it was fairly usual for some form of sexual contact to happen after the first or second date," she says. "People may now give themselves more space to know the other person, to see if there is any affinity or not and then decide whether you'll have sex or not."

The journal Annals of Internal Medicine, published by Harvard University, suggested in a study in May that safe sex in "new normal" conditions should even include face masks. That will, inevitably, restrict kissing, though how that would work in practice is an open question. As Molero explains: "In most cultures, the loving or erotic kiss is the first expression of sexual attraction and arousal, and implies an elevated level of intimacy."

New York City's medical services set out their own recommendations for safe sex in the pandemic, pointing out that your safest partner was in fact, yourself. Molero agrees that masturbation "is a sure bet" for providing sexual pleasure. "That's because you know exactly how to stimulate yourself and there's no risk," she says.

A study in May suggested that safe sex in "new normal" conditions should even include face masks.

Next on the list in terms of safety is a familiar and stable partner, the expert says. "But there's no such thing as zero risk, and the responsible thing is to adopt all possible, preventive measures," Molero adds.

She also notes that there are "postures and practices that are less likely to be contagious' but acknowledges that in sexual relations, one of the objectives, in addition to pleasure, is erotic communication. "If you feel you have to control everything you're doing, your cognitive part remains alert and blocks the sexual response," she says.

Still, there may actually be a silver lining in all of this when it comes to safe sex in general. Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization was reporting some alarming figures in 2019 for daily contagion rates of a range of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a relaxation of precautionary measures worldwide. But with the pandemic, "these measures will return to the front line," Molero predicts.

"It seems like we'd stopped fearing STDs, that they'd become distant or unknown," she says. "Now everyone has information on the coronavirus and knows what to do to protect themselves."

In that sense — in terms of changing behaviors — there are similarities between COVID-19 and the HIV virus, according Molero. "There have already been changes," she says. "People have had time to reflect, to stay home and that is very important for self-esteem and for relations with other people."

"We live in such a hasty society that before the pandemic, we only had time to consume and act," Molero adds. "This has been a pause, and we have had to accept uncertainty. It has been a big lesson."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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