On a recent phone call with her best friend, Chloe, 24, tried something new: She asked for a vibrator recommendation. Although the two have always talked openly about their love lives, she tells Bustle that she's always felt a little shy discussing solo-sex. But after countless weeks of self-isolation, and with dating on a foreseeable hiatus, Chloe resolved to take a step toward normalizing the practice by talking about masturbation.
"I’d never bought a vibrator because I didn’t know what to buy or where to buy it," she says. "I didn’t know what I wanted from one."
As a teenager, Chloe can remember trying to talk to her friends about about masturbating and feeling judged and embarrassed. "It was one of those, 'Do you do this thing?! Oh, you don't? Yeah, me neither' moments where you look away because everyone else in the room said it was weird," she says.
Since the start of quarantine, sex toy companies have seen their sales skyrocketing. Dipsea, a subscription-based audio erotica app, saw a 50% increase in users the day after making their guided masturbation sessions free to the public. A representative from the Team Skeet and MYLF networks (who run about 50 porn websites) tells Bustle that their overall site traffic has consistently increased since the start of March, with users spending more time watching videos during the day. There's no ifs, ands, or butts about it: People are masturbating more than ever before. But are they talking about it, too?
I'm finding it's easier to talk about because I know that other people are also in the same boat.
According to Chloe, the answer is yes. She's found that talking about masturbating with her friends has become more commonplace since social distancing started. "I'm finding it's easier to talk about because I know that other people are also in the same boat," she says. In other words, everyone is stuck inside, feeling horny, and fighting the urge to text an ex. What are the odds that they aren't spending a little more "me time" than usual?
Hallie Lieberman, sex historian, and author of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, tells Bustle that the de-stigmatization of masturbation is linked to the way the government talks about it. "Masturbation has become less taboo now because official sources are urging us to masturbate," Lieberman tells Bustle. "A similar thing happened during the AIDS era in the '80s and '90s, when masturbation was encouraged by public officials."
On March 27, The New York City Health Department released a Sex and Coronavirus Disease Guide stating that "You are your safest sex partner" and that "masturbation will not spread COVID-19." And on April 28, Toronto Public Health (TPH) similarly encouraged masturbation as the safest way to have sex. Per Lieberman, seeing official government sources encouraging you to get it on with yourself can make it feel less taboo or shameful.
Dee Stacey, Certified Sexual Health Educator, adds that masturbation can usually feel tricky to talk about because it's so often thought of as a strictly-solo activity. "Masturbation is often something we do on our own, so it doesn’t usually come up naturally in conversation — even in a non-shameful way," Stacey tells Bustle. "People are more willing to talk about masturbation right now because they don’t have wild stories of social experiences to share in conversation! Quarantine is acting as the bridge between this taboo subject and normalization."
Since people can't go out on dates or have one-night stands in the ways that they're used to, they may also be more open to general self-exploration. In self-isolation, people grow resourceful, and are more likely try new ways to feel connected. Take Lou, 25, who tells Bustle that before social distancing, they always felt intimidated to ask their partner about trying phone sex and mutual masturbation.
"I struggle to ask for what I want in general, and when I want to try something new with my partner it can feel scary to bring up," they said.
Well, we can't be together, so I guess this is what we're doing.
Although they'd fantasized about having phone sex for a while, they never knew how to bring it up with their partners. But after moving back to their parents' house and spending weeks away from their girlfriend, initiating mutual masturbation on the phone felt natural — obvious, even.
"Well, we can't be together, so I guess this is what we're doing," Lou says. "[Masturbating with my girlfriend on FaceTime] is teaching me to focus on my body and to express what I want. I hope to still do it even when it's safe to see each other in person."
Dr. Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., sexologist and sexuality educator tells Bustle that the restraint of staying at home and uncertainty of the pandemic is creating a space to talk more openly about everything — including masturbating.
"It's the one sexual option and outlet that all of us who have have access to," Dr. Levkoff says. "It’s the one act that we all have the freedom to engage in." I do feel confident that this time will allow for more people to recognize and acknowledge how healthy and important masturbation is to their life. People are recognizing that having an orgasm (or sexual pleasure in general) is a really important part of the human experience, regardless of a partner or relationships status."
Moreover, sexual pleasure has been linked to stress release, which can better your mental health. Leah, 22, has found this to be especially true. Ever since losing her job, she's been feeling isolated, but the emotional benefits of masturbating have inspired her be more open with her friends.
"Masturbating is keeping me off the brink of depression," Leah tells Bustle. "So, I'm feeling less shy about talking about it."
Dee Stacey, Certified Sexual Health Educator
Dr. Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., sexologist and sexuality educator