'Last Monday the HSE released official guidelines on coronavirus and sex, outlining that "being sexually active with another person involves some risk of getting the virus."
While COVID-19 cannot be passed on sexually, it can be spread through touch, kissing and close contact. Thus experts are advising sexual activity only with someone you live with who does not have the virus or show symptoms. Also, we are being advised to wash before and after sex.
Each new health restriction creates a new barrier to intimacy, and challenges for our sexual wellbeing. So how is lockdown really affecting sexual activity? Is everyone having more sex or is desire taking a downturn?
"Everyone is spending more time in bed," according to Bill Nolan, co-owner of Cherry Pink, an adult store based in Arklow. "We normally sell vibrators or dildos, now it's swung over to couples' kits. People are buying stuff to use together."Lockdown, it seems, has put us all on top of one another, both literally and figuratively.
"A few weeks ago, when the initial measures were introduced, we went down to the adult shop," says Mark, 29, who lives in Waterford with his girlfriend of three years. "We bought about eight different things! We're seeing way more of each other and I actually feel like we're getting on better, both sexually and in general."
Same-sex couple Alan and Josh have also noticed a rise in their levels of intimacy.
"My partner had been working away on weekdays," says Alan, "but now we're back together seven days a week. It has been a challenging time, but we're having more sex than we did, and more full-on sex too."
While younger couples are benefiting from more time between the sheets, couples with children or teenagers are finding sex to be further out of reach.
"I'm dealing with couples of all ages" says Nuala Deering, IACP-accredited psychotherapist and counsellor in sex and relationships, "and people need to be very patient around this because we have all been thrown.
"Couples with teenagers are going to have more challenges, Some teenagers are going to be kicking back and fighting against what is happening; that can cause tension between parents, it can pull them apart."
Equally, an older couple may find their intimacy interrupted by sharing space with an adult son or daughter who has lost a job.
"If older couples have adult children coming home, that could definitely affect their intimacy," Nuala says. "Their space is changing; they may be worried about adult children and their jobs. They could get caught up in that rather than spending time together and being intimate and close."
A group who will find this situation particularly frustrating are couples who do not live together. As aforementioned, the HSE official guidelines on 'Sex and Coronavirus', outline that you should only be sexually active with someone you live with (and who does not have the virus), meaning sex with a partner outside the household is off the table.
"My boyfriend and I are both living at home with elderly parents," says Amy, 34, from Kilkenny. "Before all this happened we generally saw each other twice a week and had sex each time, but now we haven't had sex in a month and I don't know when we will see each other again."
Debbie, 28, adds: "A lot of new couples are finding this really hard. My boyfriend and I have been going out a year and he is the first partner I've had really good sex with. We were having sex two or three times per week and now it's nothing. I'm really struggling, it's kind of heart-breaking."
For every kind of couple, there are sexual activities that do not pose health risks to others, as well as creative ways to keep the heat in new relationships. The HSE has asked people to consider using video dates, sexting or chat rooms and underlines that "masturbation will not spread coronavirus".
American sex blogger Tatyannah King agrees that pleasing yourself is key to managing your sex drive in lockdown. "
You are your safest sex partner right now," she says.
Singles forced to end casual sex can definitely find new pathways of pleasure online. The world's largest adult video streaming website Pornhub has witnessed increased traffic from Irish users.
On St Patrick's Day, site traffic rose almost 18pc compared to a regular day. There has also been a 294pc increase in traffic to Italian-related porn, and a 251pc increase in interest in military-related porn, indicating there may be corona related fetishes emerging.
"I noticed in Pornhub's analytics, that there were 9.1 million searches for 'coronavirus porn'," says Tatyannah, "which helped me understand how porn helps us cope with the global pandemic. Viewing or getting off from coronavirus porn can help lighten the mood and take your mind off the grim reality of things."
Pornography may provide relief for single people, but Nuala Deering underlines that it is not recommended for long-term partners at this time.
"Relationships are about intimacy and porn has no place in that," she says. "You must ask yourself, are you using porn instead of being intimate with your partner? Problems will emerge if pornography becomes to the go-to instead of intimacy."
Whether you are married, single, co-habiting or newly dating, it's important to remember that the global pandemic will affect sex and relationships very differently.
"We've never been through something quite like this in the modern era" says Dr Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want. "That's why some of my colleagues and I recently launched a study so that we can actually gather some data to see what is and isn't happening." He emphasises that not every relationship will find that this crisis increases passions.
"There really is no normal here," Lehmiller says. "Some couples will have more sex, others will have less. Some people will masturbate more, some will masturbate less. Either way it's not inherently a cause for concern. The key is to find healthy, productive ways to manage your anxiety and, if you live with your partner, to communicate effectively about your needs and listen to one another."
Psychotherapist Nuala Deering agrees that there is "no normal in this", adding: "but I think this lockdown creates an opportunity." She explains that more time together might challenge a couple, but it also creates an opening to really work on intimacy.
"One thing many couples are very deprived of in this generation is time," she says. "We are living in a rat race. I would like to see people slowing that pressure down, stepping back, working on intimacy and working on getting closer".
Nuala explains that there are different kinds of intimacy, and each lends to greater sexual desire and closeness.
"There is 'operational intimacy', like the day-to-day running of household, childcare etc," she says. "When that goes well it can lead to emotional intimacy, like kindness, thinking of reach other, supporting each other. If someone feels their partner is kind or emotional, they then want to be more physical; women in particular often need to feel respected and understood in order to want to have sex.
"Sit down and ask yourselves, how are we going to work today? How can I help you? How can I support you?"
Sex is not the only kind of closeness, and working on other aspects of intimacy can pave the way for a deeper emotional and physical bond.
A sexier tomorrow
While many of us, sadly, might not be intimate at all right now, we can still profit from this time by investing in our sexual future. Just as lifestyle bloggers are asking us to use time out for our own creative goals, so sex bloggers are suggesting using this downtime to explore our sexual ones.
"Your sex life doesn't begin and end with another person," says Tatyannah. "Why not use this time to consider reading erotic books, or write your own erotic stories? Why not make bucket list of sexual goals, such as ten things you might like to try in the future?
"At least there's a good chance that by the next time you sleep with someone, it'll be great, considering all the pent-up sexual energy you've been harvesting."
Now there is something to look forward to.
See full list of HSE guidelines relating to sex and coronavirus at https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/sex-and-coronavirus/
Health & Living