There is a renewed interest in navigating through intimacy right now owing to the challenges thrown by this pandemic that has turned our lives upside down. Earlier, modern urban dating life seemed to be something like you meet people over dating site, plan a physical meeting, initiate a touch, get intimate, either continue with the person if you like them, or move on to the next, if you don’t. But with regular directories on how to avoid touching things, on how to isolate yourself, on how to be socially distant, our interest in intimacy has shrunk massively. We are apprehensive of touching another person, because that could bring the pandemic over us. Intimacy, touch, feeling each others’ bodies have become an object of ‘phobia’, but no one perhaps thought about the long-term affect that it would have on the mental and physical health of some. The ‘erotic’ has become the ‘phobic’ and our desires are continually oscillating between these two, unable to decide whether to act on it, or to suppress.
Governments are also stepping up to provide help for people seeking intimacy during this pandemic. The Dutch government went to the extent of suggesting singletons to find ‘sex buddy’ to ensure intimacy persists in their lives. But in societies like India, it is perhaps not something that the government gets involved in, because ‘culture’. Ironically, India is the land of Kamasutra and temples with carvings of sexual acts. India is also one of the most populous countries, where population keeps growing but the conversation around sex and intimacy is still a taboo. The fact that the government fails to recognize intimacy and touch as a major factor impacting the health and lives of its citizen shows how ‘modern-day morality’ has restricted expressions of erotics in the society. It shows how we are trying to bind society into external factors, moralities and cultures while ignoring internal needs and necessities.
Experts believe that avoiding touch, sex, intimacy with strangers right now is beneficial for the well-being, and suggests ways including masturbation, self-pleasure, digital sex to ensure that the desires are fulfilled. While touching other surfaces and people are advised against, touching yourself is strongly advised to keep yourself healthy and safe.
Isolation, detachment has now become a part of our everyday life. We are asked not to touch surfaces, we are asked to cover our faces, we are asked to distance ourselves from people. A Canadian doctor went to the extent of asking people to wear masks while having sexual intercourse. All this so that we can save ourselves from a pandemic, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that after this is over, a mental health pandemic is near us because of the consequences of this isolation, both physical and mental. Casual dating, sleepovers, one-night stands are some words that people might be afraid of right now, after all, every official directive is focusing on how physical distancing and isolation will help us defeat a pandemic that has turn our lives upside down. We are afraid of touch, we are afraid of meeting someone, we are afraid of sitting close, we are afraid of kissing. But, like every pandemic before this, this too shall end. What will intimacy feel like after all this is over and you start getting back to the ‘normal’? Will we still feel the warmth of a touch, or will it be a cautious navigation through ‘directives’?
We imagine that things will be just the way they are after this ends; we would like to strongly believe that it would be the case, but I doubt it will ever be the same. Months of loneliness, months of physical and mental isolation will take its toll on our everyday behavior, on the way we interact, on the way we date or socialize. It might be especially difficult for young queer people, for whom, dating was perhaps a way of reassuring that they aren’t alone, they aren’t the only ones going through the universe of thoughts that do not fit in. It must be difficult to be okay with your own body, considering you wouldn’t be seeing anyone else’s for month. It must be difficult to imagine a touch which you felt months ago, and keep it as a safe-keep for the months to come. In our culture, we trivialize the issues of young people, we do not consider their needs seriously. We don’t bother about the needs and necessities of the bodies of young folx, and that has impacted the younger generations for ages, but it is impacting more so now than ever. When we say, “It is just sex”, we are trivializing needs. When we say, “You are too sexual”, we are trivializing needs. When we say, “Stop obsessing over sex, it’s overrated”, you are trivializing needs. And we trivialize without even understanding that we are doing it, and that’s where the problem arises.
At a time, when you are not even allowed human touch, whether it be of your parents, friends or partners, it must be really difficult to imagine a world where you would be allowed to touch again. It might be difficult struggling through emotional and mental roller-coaster imagining things that you had dreamt of achieving in the past few months, and now that they are gone, leaving you blank, it is important that you reassure yourself that things will be better, you will be better. It is proven that touch has a massive positive impact on mental and physical health, and now that there is an absence of touch, it might be equally affecting those aspects. Touch, here, does not necessarily mean sexual in nature, it is simply human touch. Hugging your friends, getting that affection from family, receiving that bare-chested hug from your partner, these all matter in equal terms. Any of these touches when removed from reality has a deep impact, and it creates a trauma for ages to come. Our generation is marred by a reality where proximity is danger and distance is safety.
So, after all this is over, remind yourself that it is okay to touch and take it slow. Do not jump into the sphere without navigating the process and outcome. Touch has to come back; it has to exist, for it is not just for sexual gratification, but also a reassurance of human connectivity. Sexual desires often emerge out of sexual motivation, triggered by some sort of fantasy, spontaneous feelings, craving for intimacy etc, and while that motivation might be lacking right now, after everything is over, that motivation will resurface. We just need to be careful on how we navigate through that motivation and bring real-time changes on ways of socialization to ensure that we are practicing safe intimacy. Love has to emerge again, perhaps in a renewed way, perhaps more digital than physical, but it will. Sex and intimacy has to live on, even as the pandemics keep coming.
Photography, Art Direction and Written by Raqeeb (@daintystrangerphotos)
Models: Arun (@arun_dancerdude88) & Subhankar (@tarafdersubhankar)