It’s a warm day in late summer. Watery sunlight filters through my windows, falling on the grey carpet and on my skin. Quarantine-pale and tingling with anticipation, my hands move over my body, cupping my breasts before moving down my torso. I can see my boyfriend’s face as he watches me, serene, blissful even, on the phone screen. I let out a nervous laugh when he asks me to show him more. It’s my first time trying something like this and I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. What’s the procedure for video sex – is there even one?
I never thought I’d find myself baring it all over a video call. Much less in between a full schedule of Canvas quizzes and Zoom lectures. Then again, I didn’t see a global pandemic coming either. With my boyfriend and I stuck ten thousand kilometres apart and no prospect of a reunion any time soon, virtual sex has become an important part of our relationship.
Although it’s nothing new, virtual, or video call sex has become the new normal for students everywhere in long distance relationships thanks to Covid-19 travel restrictions. In fact, it’s a practice officially recommended by Argentinian and Dutch governments. Turns out, there are some very good reasons why.
At a press conference with Argentina’s Ministry of Health, public health expert José Barletta encouraged Argentines to try virtual sex as a way to cope with separation during lockdown periods. Barletta cited video calling and sexting as the safest options during quarantine, while warning that hands, screens, and any toys used should be thoroughly washed before and after.
Similarly, the Dutch National Institute for Health addressed sexual needs during Coronavirus on their website. They acknowledged that, if you are alone during quarantine, “it makes sense that you would also want to have physical contact.” For those quarantined without a partner, their recommendation was to consider, “sex with yourself or with others at a distance … Think of telling erotic stories, masturbating together.”
Although a taboo subject for some, governments around the world aren’t shying away from addressing sexual health as an essential prerequisite for wellbeing.
For Santiago and Nairobi, virtual sex is something special and intimate. With Santiago living in Argentina and Nairobi studying in England, video call sex makes the distance a little more bearable.
“We have been away from each other for months, and the desire doesn’t disappear. It’s a way to feel close,” comments Santiago.
“For me, it’s a private thing that I share only with him,” says Nairobi. “Obviously, I would prefer to be physically together, but it’s no better, no worse, just totally different.”
Virtual sex has also become a safe and necessary alternative for Vicky, who is dealing with separation from her partner in Buenos Aires amid a strict quarantine, now exceeding seven months.
“It increases the trust in my relationship,” says Vicky. “It definitely helps our sexual connection, which is a fundamental part of the relationship for me.”
Although not ideal, virtual sex can bring out new aspects of a relationship, comments Vicky. “It’s a way to get creative in your relationship and to get to know yourself better, what you like and what you don’t, by exploring your own body,” she says.
With couples (and singles) around the world bringing about a new sexual renaissance via the internet, there’s no doubt virtual sex is en vogue. Nudes-sharing and virtual sex groups across the internet have also shown huge increases in activity over quarantine periods. But does the practice have a tangible benefit?
Intimacy and sex coach Pauline Ryeland assures me that, yes, “without a doubt”, virtual sex can improve the quality and increase the longevity of a long-distance relationship.
“The key factors of any relationship are communication, intimacy, and sex,” she says. “If you’re apart for a long time, it’s really important to be able to do those things, because otherwise that side of the relationship is not being nurtured.”
For sex therapist Marcela Collia, virtual sex not only benefits long-distance relationships, but also serves as a powerful tool for sexual empowerment.
“Whether it’s writing, sending nudes, or video calling, I think [virtual sex] is a very good exercise for people who have insecurities or lack assertiveness,” comments Collia. “You have to think about what you want, put that into words and become more confident about your body in terms of sending a picture. Maybe when you have sex with your partner, you do it with the lights off. But when you take a picture of yourself, you have to look at that picture and actually press send.”
Although a great alternative for the real thing, there’s no avoiding the fact that virtual sex can be, well, awkward.
“I remember I was living at my aunt’s house [the first time I tried it], so it wasn’t easy to find a good time to do it,” recalls Nairobi. “At the beginning, I was a little ashamed, because I wasn’t used to it; seeing yourself in the camera is also different. But in the end, it felt natural.”
For Santiago, the key to getting over the awkwardness of virtual sex is confidence. “You need a little bit of imagination and trust in your partner,” he says. “In just the same way as normal sex, if you don’t have imagination, sex becomes routine. But with virtual sex, you might need a little more confidence because you can feel quite exposed.”
According to Ryeland, mindfulness is the key to good virtual sex. “The standard virtual sex is people just masturbating and observing each other,” she says. “That’s a bit of fun but it’s not a true connection. When we’re masturbating, we’re usually doing it really fast and hard to get to that goddam orgasm. But, there’s a journey to get there, and this is the journey.”
While it may be a foreign concept for some, Ryeland suggests that bringing more awareness to virtual sex can increase enjoyment.
But what exactly does that look like? Start by spending a few mindful moments with your partner before getting down to business, Ryeland recommends. “When we do a couple of breaths together with eye-contact, that’s going to connect us more,” she says.
If you’re comfortable taking it a step further, trying a “hand on heart, hand on groin” practice might be up your street, says Ryeland. Spending a few minutes with your partner, breathing and sending awareness into the heart and groin area before virtual sex can help increase arousal and reduce nerves.
Just as we must all learn self-love before we can love another person, we need to explore our own bodies to fully enjoy sex – virtual or otherwise, Collia emphasises. “Before you share it with someone else, you need to know about your own pattern of sexual arousal and orgasm. Please get to know your body!” she advises. “Then you will be able to manage the [sexual] experience as much as you want.”
Lastly, don’t feel any pressure to get to the grand finale on camera, adds Collia. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that you won’t/can’t cum during virtual sex. Take some time afterward to finish the experience in a way that’s comfortable for you. In the end, it’s all about enjoying yourself, always checking in with your partner and making it a pleasurable experience for you both.
When you’re in the middle of having a great time sharing your body online with your SO, the last thing you want is a feeling that you’re being watched. With personal data becoming less and less private over the internet, virtual sex can carry with it a sense of danger. And not the sexy kind.
Good news is, you can put those worries to rest by using a secure video calling service. For private calls, Facetime and Whatsapp are the best options as they are secured with end-to-end encryption, whereas popular choices Zoom and Facebook Messenger are not.
Although not everyone’s cup of tea, virtual sex is allowing our sex lives to live on across countries and through screens. “This is something we should be celebrating,” observes Collia, “that even in times of such emotional distress, we can adapt to the extent that we still seek out new ways of finding joy, pleasure, and excitement.”
I guess that’s the beauty of virtual sex. It’s a rebellion against the fear and discord that has characterised so much of the last year. It is an opportunity for unity and comfort in the midst of a pandemic. And amid cancelled flights and denied travel requests, it is my personal rebellion against the horribly uncertain future of my relationship. Because just for a moment, ten thousand kilometres doesn’t feel so far away.