Masturbation is the safest way for single people to find sexual satisfaction during the pandemic. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Ottawa public health officials recommend single people masturbate instead of having sex with short-term partners. On their website they say, “your safest sex partner during the COVID-19 pandemic is yourself.”

Other health departments, like The New York Health Department, said that for single people, solo sex is the safest form of sex in the time of COVID-19. Likewise,  British Colombia’s Centre for Disease control emphasizes “you are your safest sex partner” since “masturbating by yourself (solo sex) will not spread COVID-19.”  So, the general consensus is, for people who live alone, that masturbation is the principal way in which they can safely satisfy their sexual desires.

As a result of these recommendations, sex stores like the Stag Shop, a Canadian sex store chain, are reaping the financial rewards from the recent boom in solo sex.

Sarah Goertzen, the Stag Shop’s director of marketing, said that since the start of the pandemic there has been an increase in online product sales. 

“I’m not surprised by this increase in sales because most people are stuck at home and there’s not much to do, so sex and masturbation are always [good ways to pass the time],” she said. 

According to Planned Parenthood, the benefits of masturbation include stress reduction and its function as a sleep aid.

During the first lockdown in Canada, national sex toy sales went up by 135 per cent and sales continue to rise for certain sex toy retailers. 

“We have so many new customers because of the pandemic. It’s wonderful to see that people are embracing their sexuality,” added Goertzen.

“Sexual wellness is important for the maintenance of [one’s] mental health.” 

Porn consumption has also increased thanks to the pandemic. 

In March 2020, Pornhub gained an 11 per cent global increase in site visits. More specifically, for the countries to which Pornhub granted free premium services, site visits spiked upward of 38 per cent. 

However, these statistics also point to a potentially harmful situation for people who have preexisting porn addictions.  

Certified sex addiction therapist, Dr. Michael Browning said, “it is very common for both men and women to access online pornography.” This alone is healthy and normal behaviour.

But an individual might have a porn addiction if they are constantly compelled to watch porn and it can get to the point where it disrupts their lives. As a result, they  might also feel extreme shame about the amount of porn they watch, which means they take great pains to keep their viewing habits a secret. 

Put simply, one’s pornography viewing habits are unhealthy when “it negatively impacts important domains of their life,” said Browning.

According to a paper from the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, “[for] people who already have problems with their pornography consumption and self-regulation, these problems will increase under the conditions of the pandemic.” 

Recently, Browning’s clinic has “seen a huge uptake in people with pornography addictions who request therapy services.” These clients are overwhelmed by their isolation and the accessibility of porn. For this reason they “need external help to battle what they’re going through,” said Browning. 

Browning said that increased isolation can potentially increase the speed at which an individual develops a porn addiction. 

Isolation can also slow the time that it takes for porn addicts to recover. Browning compares leaving a porn addict alone with internet access to, “ locking-up an alcoholic in a liquor cabinet.” 

So, while masturbation is the safest way for single people to find sexual satisfaction during the pandemic, isolation might exacerbate pre-existing sexual problems. 

Browning encourages his clients to engage with people who struggle with similar problems. 

“Addiction is formed in isolation and recovery happens in community,” he said.

“At our clinic we employ a therapy approach that enables clients to build-up a tool set to address [the trauma or issue] that might have led them to develop an addiction before addressing the addictive behaviour itself.”