How Coronavirus Is Affecting Queer Hookup Culture

"I guess gays are just gonna have to sleep with their own husbands."

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) an international pandemic.

While authorities urge we self-quarantine and work from home, queer people—mostly gay men—are using the viral pandemic to create viral content. Many don’t seem to be taking coronavirus that seriously—it’s more or less become a punchline for sex.

“[I] guess gays are just gonna have to sleep with their own husbands until this coronavirus outbreak stops, huh?” user Barretlane tweeted, which collected 4,500-plus likes in 16 hours. “Nah, we’re safe, we’re on PrEP,” another responded.

In an online poll asking queer people if the coronavirus has affected how they approach hookups, 70% of 118 voters said it hasn’t. “Absolutely not. If it happens, it happens,” Tom, 24, explains. “No, I’m going to die eventually anyways,” Thabiso, 27, echoes. “Might as well go out with a bang.”

Dylan, 33, agrees, but for what seems like more personal reasons. “As someone who doesn’t really [hookup] at all—no, nothing has changed for me,” he tells me. “Men are untrustworthy no matter how infectious they are.”

“In terms of actually hooking up, a couple of friends of mine have said that the current situation has not changed their NSA sex lives,” Grant Roth, sexual health specialist, messages me over Instagram. “At the end of the day, people want connection and that includes sex, so until they see it ‘unsafe’ (for lack of a better term) for them individually, horniness may triumph over social isolation.”

Roth punctuates our conversation with an exception. “One friend who’s a sex worker says he’s noticed a decline in business.”

When I close our chat, the first image I’m confronted with is a selfie of a fellow gay with the caption, “Waiting for Corona.” A scroll or two later, I see a meme that reads, “Straights: I can’t believe the government would just ignore an epidemic that threatens thousands of lives.” Below the text is an image of James Franco saying, “First time?”

Obviously, this is in reference to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Naturally, I wondered if HIV/AIDS has anything to do with our lax—and overwhelmingly sexual—attitude toward coronavirus.

“I don’t think HIV is related in this specific sense,” Roth says. “People may just be horny.”

Queer sociologist Jason Orne doesn’t agree. “Twenty percent. That’s how many out gay men died to HIV, using Gary Gate’s estimation of ‘80s to ‘90s out populations,” he says. “Due to that, I think there’s a difference in perception of magnitude between the scale of coronavirus and how many people are dying from it.”

This, Orne shares, is known as a “tolerance” effect. If you’re exposed to a major trauma, the next trauma will likely have a more muted response. So, because the death rate for coronavirus is significantly lower than HIV, queer people are less fazed, he argues.

“People draw comparisons between [HIV and the coronavirus] regarding the number of deaths or death rates to downplay the impact of the coronavirus,” Roth argues. “But those are unfair comparisons to make, and I think going forward we will see less and less of those comparisons as the numbers of cases and deaths continue to increase.”

Orne also believes that, because queer people possess more of an outsider—and sometimes violent—relationship with society, we are more comfortable with a possible apocalypse. “I think it’s the same connection you see why queer folks are so attracted to zombie films or other, end-of-the-world type genres,” he adds.

“As you know, however, HIV and coronavirus are very different viruses, down to the mode of transmission,” Roth continues. “I think because of the U.S. government not taking certain measures, it hasn’t quite hit home yet—but that’s different than thinking about our past with HIV.”

Since coronavirus has become a pandemic, should we be easing up on the hookups for a while? Reuters reported that sales for condoms have gone up in China, where COVID-19 was first detected, as an added safety precaution, and both Scruff and Tinder have posted warnings within their apps.

Dr. Bindiya Gandhi, M.D, says this is all for naught, as the coronavirus cannot be spread via sex. “Studies have shown the virus doesn’t replicate in stool, urine or blood, only respiratory mucosal droplets,” she says, adding that, while younger people have milder symptoms or are asymptomatic, we can still spread the virus to the elderly so we should all take the same precautions.

But still, sex requires close proximity and the WHO recommends “social distancing,” which means maintaining at least three feet of distance between you and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. “I’m paranoid about hooking up and I literally just jerked off with a bud with no kissing,” Chris, 36, says. “We kept a safe distance and that’s how I plan to hook up moving forward.”

Jose, 29, recalls a recent hookup that took an odd turn. “I hooked up with this doctor who was obsessed with hygiene, so every time I rimmed him or sucked his cock, I had to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and take some mouthwash,” he says. “The funny thing is that after spending the night with him I developed nasty laryngitis and I became paranoid that he might have had coronavirus and passed it to me.”

Chris and Jose’s experiences are rare in contrast to others I spoke to. “In my experience, it still seems to be business as usual,” Grey, 28, who is part of the majority, says. “The bathhouses I’ve been to are still thriving–only one guy has even commented or inquired about any ailments before proceeding.”

To date, the coronavirus has canceled or postponed many events we queers hold dear: DragCon L.A., Coachella, and Madonna concerts being some of the more notable examples. But one thing we may not stand for, evidently, is celibacy. Our sex lives may never be canceled and, as long as we're careful and follow the safety precautions offered by the CDC and WHO, perhaps they shouldn’t be.

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