Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Rania Kahn, OBGYN at a local women’s health practice in Denver Colorado, not far from the Center for Shared Insight therapy practice. During our conversation, Dr. Kahn shared some startling news. She has never diagnosed so many positive cases of sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes several in a single visit, than she has since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
As I sat with this news and did a little research around it, I learned a few things. First, the rates of three STDs caused by bacteria, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, all increased between 2014 and 2018, reportedly due to a lack of awareness among Americans, a lack of screening and diagnosis by healthcare providers, and a lack of funding for prevention and contract tracing. I also learned that during the pandemic, resources had been redirected from the fight against STDs to help with contact tracing of COVID-19, needed to slow the coronavirus pandemic. To top it off, almost all sexual health clinics and medical offices in general were forced to shut down or limit hours due to the pandemic, limiting testing and treatment, and therefore, increasing the chance the STIs (sexually transmitted infections) would be spread to others.
Given this information, it makes sense that STIs like these and others would be on the rise. However, digging a little deeper, I also observed many dating and relationship behaviors that arose during the pandemic because of the nature of how people have dealt with social isolation, fear, and difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. These facts and dynamics led me to three insights that I’ll share in this blog post.
COVID-19 Has Created Desperation for Connection
Never have people been so lonely and desperate for connection as during this pandemic. With limited social opportunities, no sense of physical connection with others, and messages that being close to others is dangerous, humans have been hungrier for connection and community than ever before. Whether that is the need for companionship, physical touch, or sexual pleasure, COVID-19 has made people desperate for “love” so much so that it’s hard to say no to sexual advances and harder to have a conversation about sexual health. Those who are feeling disconnected will be hesitant to have conversations that could lead to even more loneliness or separation - if that dialogue isn’t well-received. Not to mention, too many relationships went straight to “Netflix and chill” (with the eventual expectation of sexual activity) because other dating options, like dinner and a movie, weren’t available as stepping stones.
Risk Takers are at Great Risk
People who have contracted an STD during COVID are possibly risk-takers in more than one way. Likely they are willing to risk their health to some degree, and maybe even the health of others, by socializing outside their core group of friends during a global pandemic, contrary to guidance from the CDC and other health organizations.
Before the behaviors that led them to a new STD diagnosis, these people were brave enough to be intimate with someone new, and likely not concerned about the sexual health of new partners to the degree that they might have been during non-pandemic times. Or, maybe they even knew about the risks but had “Corona Goggles” that caused them to accept things they normally wouldn’t. The people with these new sexually transmitted diseases are likely more comprehensive risk takers and may be more defiant of the rules and boundaries that keep us safe on every level. While that could be a plus in other situations, taking risks during the pandemic could lead to many negative consequences.
Boundaries are More Blurred than Ever
To put it bluntly, if it’s hard to hold boundaries around planning COVID-friendly date ideas during a pandemic, you likely aren’t going to have a safe sex talk. One follows another and if initial boundaries aren’t strong or you don’t know the person well because you recently met, more vulnerable conversations, like talking about your sexual health, won’t flow easily. Since partners who exhibit codependent traits or have a difficult time speaking up for one’s needs might have rotated strongly toward that tendency during this time of stress and change, boundaries were more difficult than ever to uphold. Not to mention, many people didn’t want to be alone during months of quarantine and they may have used sex as a way to keep the relationship “strong” or connected during a time when they didn’t want to be left alone with limited social contact.
At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we work with clients on defining and maintaining healthy boundaries as well as taking things slowly as relationships unfold. We also help clients navigate difficult conversations, such as talking about safe sex and sexual health with greater comfort, awareness, and confidence. These practices help clients have stronger and more fulfilling relationships. If you feel that a yearning for connection or other dynamics created by the pandemic has you off track, we can help.