Has Coronavirus Exposed a Horniness Gap Between Men and Women?
Suzane Hanover/Universal Pictures
By Caroline Reilly / April 13, 2020 8:55 am

If there’s one constant in my life among my female friends who date or are partnered with men, it’s that not only are we horny — it’s that we are almost all hornier than the men in our lives. And it’s an odd realization after being socialized from childhood to see men as the universal sexual aggressors, to recognize and understand all of their motivations and goals as either overtly or covertly sexual in nature. My friends and I bounce these experiences off one another. We ask each other if we’re normal, we sheepishly admit how many times we masturbate each week only to find out that we’re all basically orgasming as much as humanly possible.

This horniness gap, as I call it, is the source of much frustration — it leaves women feeling oversexed and men feeling as though they’re not living up to the standards imposed upon them. And it’s exacerbated and made more apparent in times of crisis.

Trauma and coping are funny things. They draw out of us unusual or seemingly untimely instincts and needs. The last few years have been harrowing for me: I was diagnosed with endometriosis in my first year of law school and what followed was some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life, as well as three major surgeries. I coped in a lot of different ways. I watched quite a bit of TV — all 400+ episodes of SVU, for starters. I also shopped — a lot. After my last surgery, I impulse-bought a Vuitton bag and had it overnighted to my house. I also sexted like my life depended on it, and when I was physically up to the task I dated and had sex like never before in my life, sending more nude photos and giving more backseat blowjobs than I could keep track of. It was cathartic to feel human when everything else felt so surreal, not to mention the innate physical gratification of sex and pleasure that comes as a singular comfort when things are dark.

But I noticed something over the years: the men I turned to in times of chaos to validate me sexually and distract me from whatever trauma I was going through were often too overwhelmed to do so when things in their lives had gone awry. And it’s a pattern that I’ve seen pan out tenfold in the wake of COVID-19 and the ensuing and eventual horniness of self-quarantine. While most of my female friends are rabidly horny, our male peers are largely too mentally or emotionally overwhelmed to engage.

“I have always had a high sex drive, but whatever the fuck is happening now is making me feel like I should be locked in a cage. Oh wait, I already am!” says Fran* 35, who also tells me she’s been sexting and texting and phone sex-ing people from her past and present without abandon to get through this quarantine. “Apparently, being inside my apartment for days on end while a pandemic ravages the world around me is the most erotically inspiring predicament of all time … the premise that these things won’t ever happen is the force that has impelled them.”

Fran says that right now she’s doing most of the initiating, though her partners don’t seem mad about it; still, she notes that in general most of the men she’s been with have been “more or less sexually deactivated by stress.”

Reina, 24, dates mostly men, and says her arousal levels have not waned amid this pandemic, but she cannot say the same of her partners. She says men who would typically slide into her DMs have stopped. “I have TRIED to sext,” she tells me. “But no one that I have engaged can focus on that during the pandemic, apparently. I assume they’re masturbating, but they do not seem anywhere near as horny as I am.”

Personally, I’m a straight woman and a lot of my “regulars” are slow to reply or not in the mood. They’re stressed out about being stuck in their apartments or having to cook their own meals and generally too preoccupied to engage in sexual behavior, even remotely. Any other time I’d be swatting men out of my DMs like fruit flies, but lately I find myself asking, “Please, won’t someone — anyone — look at my boobs?” And this ability to disconnect and engage in something sexual is not out of callousness or a dearth of concern about the world’s ills; it’s because sex and pleasure can be such a productive distraction from it all.

S., 35, is married to a man who works in healthcare and is in a similar predicament. They say that while their husband’s job has exacerbated the stress of things, he seems unphased by the lack of sex, while S. is frustrated by it.

“I specifically said, ‘I am very stressed and fucking would help this situation!’ But sometimes you use your words and your partner is still not on the same page. And that sucks. I am annoyingly straight and need an IRL cock in my life right now, but oh well.”

Cheryl, 29, is a bisexual woman who is currently in a relationship with a man. She says she finds herself hornier since quarantining but cannot say the same for her partner, even thoguh in general sex helps to alleviate her anxiety.  

“Mostly my partner has been less horny than me,” she says. “It seems like things are affecting him in a way that brings his libido down. Meanwhile one of the first things I did when I realized I was going to be stuck inside for weeks was charge my vibrators.” I also talked to her partner, who tells me that “sex is so hard right now … That kind of unbridled enjoyment just feels wrong.”

To be fair, this essentially all makes sense; there really are no rules or true lines or definitions to any of this in reality. There’s no right or wrong way to be horny as long as you’re respecting your own and others’ boundaries, and to suggest that one gender expresses their sexuality universally is trope-y and unfounded in reality. Still, this dissonance between what we’re socialized to expect from each other and what actually transpires can be frustrating.

I think all this comes down to essentially two phenomena: First, the actual dearth of well-matched horny energy among us, which is only being made more excruciating since we’re all locked away in our houses with literally nothing to do but masturbate. But more than that, there’s a lot of confusion and shame that goes into realizing, as a woman, that you’ve basically been lied to your whole life about what to expect from your own sexuality, as well as that of others. It’s a long and chaotic unlearning process to stop judging yourself every time you send a nude photo (or video!), or to feel that carnal need to be — for lack of a better phrase — dicked down.

Personally, I am taking this time in isolation to continue that unlearning process — to think about all the things I’ve denied myself in the past or wanted to try, and going for it as best I can with the resources available to me.

And I look forward to emerging from my quarantine hornier than ever.

*Real name has been changed