Coping During COVID-19
Just like we do when there's not a global pandemic, all of us here at Scarleteen have been thinking a whole lot about all of you.
My own childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in the 70s into the early 90s involved a constant threat of nuclear war, the first two decades of HIV/AIDS, and a lot of taking care of myself by myself, so I have some sense of what something like this can feel like as a young person. I remember it all as a weird mix of a constant cultural and community fearfulness, including some of our own fears, but then also all of us trying to still just live and experience our lives and ourselves, something that often caused a good deal of discord and conflict between us and older people. It's hard to explain that because you still want to be a young person living your life and cultivating life experiences doesn't mean you don't take what's going on seriously.
It's also hard, of course, if you're already struggling with depression or anxiety to have more because of something like this (and everything else that was already going on!). It's hard if you were already feeling afraid a lot of the time to feel even more afraid, and to have even more people around you also feeling afraid. It's hard if you were already living with racism or xenophobia to have to live with more. It's hard if you're already living with ableism to have to deal with more of that. It's hard if you've already had or are already dealing with loss or grief. Even if you already were often homebound for any number of reasons, it's hard when that becomes a mandate instead of something you can choose to do, or only have to do sometimes or in some ways. If you already felt or were isolated, it's hard to feel or become even more isolated. It's hard to go without things that provide you comfort you, or even things you absolutely need; harder still if you already were going without either or both.
Everything about this is just so hard. As if growing up and starting your adult life isn't hard enough! I'm so sorry that this kind of event, and everything that happens or can happen within, with and around it, is a part of your life.
We want to do our best to be here for you to help get you through the tough stuff, as always. We also want to change things up here a little bit, and give you some extra things, to try and help cover some additional needs you might have right now.
First of all: it's okay right now for anyone to use our direct services -- that's primarily our message boards, our text/SMS line at (206) 866-2279, and our live chat, all of which are virtual -- even if you are not asking about sex, sexuality, sexual health or relationships. In other words, if you just want or need to talk with another human, for any reason, you are welcome to talk to us and to use our services to do that.
We still need people to stay within our general guidelines, including allowing us to have and maintain healthy interpersonal boundaries, but we're not asking people to stay within or around the sex ed scope we usually ask people to. As usual, you can also ask us for help finding other resources through those services, whether that's about healthcare, shelter, mental health services or something else; whether that's for you or for another family member, friend or someone else. We're glad to do what we can to help you find what you need. (Extra cool bit: some of our volunteer alums are even coming back for a couple of months to help us with any extra volume we might have in our services!)
Relatedly, our live chat schedule had been on hiatus, but we're taking it out of its time out and bringing it back. Live chat will be available as noted on the main page about direct services here. As of right now, that's Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 2PM to 5 PM PST, and Sunday, from 7 AM - 10 AM PST.
SUPER IMPORTANT: As noted in this very helpful memo from the health department in New York City, it is NOT a good idea to have sexual or other physically intimate contact with anyone besides yourself right now or anyone who you don't already live with (like a live-in partner) unless that contact is virtual (like via your phone), not in-person. New sexual or otherwise physically intimate partners and/or those outside your home create big COVID-19/coronavirus risks for you, them and other people. For the time being, please do your best to socially distance yourself physically from those outside your current living situation, including with physical intimacy.
From that memo:
- You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.
- The next safest partner is someone you live with. Having close contact — including sex — with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading COVID-19.
- You should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside your household. If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible.
- Kissing can easily pass COVID-19. Avoid kissing anyone who is not part of your small circle of close contacts.
- Rimming (mouth on anus) might spread COVID-19. Virus in feces may enter your mouth.
- Condoms and dental dams can reduce contact with saliva or feces, especially during oral or anal sex.
- Washing up before and after sex is more important than ever. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Some of our staff and volunteers also wanted to offer you some advice for a range of things you may be dealing with or may need throughout all of this:
If you've got the privacy for it, masturbation is a great way to release tension, create pleasure, and get to know your own body (just be sure you're washing your hands before).
There are lots of ways to foster intimacy and connection with partners and loved ones that don't require being physically around each other.
Being around friends and partners more may also increase the chances of small arguments or fights (especially since a lot of people are stressed or on edge). So having tools for conflict resolution can be helpful.
Where health services are stretched, it may become (even) harder than usual to access reproductive and sexual health care such as STI testing and treatment or abortion services so taking extra care around safer sex is a good idea.
Unfortunately, there's a higher risk of abuse or abuse escalating from partners or parents when you’re all stuck inside together. You can use our direct services to ask for support or get help finding resources, or use one of the international resources the Pixel Project always keeps a current, expansive list of by country here.
Have a plan if you or someone you love gets sick. Check out the CDC.gov website for more information to help you make your plan. Even though testing seems pretty scarce and it feels like there's not a lot of guidance out there, it's helped calm my nerves to make a plan that's as simple as, "If I feel sick, I'm going to call my doctor's office and ask them what I should do next."
Take a break from social media and COVID-19 news coverage! Being informed about what's happening and staying connected to others is really important, and it's just as important to take a break from all of it. Go for a walk, play a video game, read a book, cook up something tasty, write a letter to a friend, journal! Whatever you decide to do, your body, mind, and heart will all thank you.
You can use the time in quarantine or isolation to think about what you believe.
For instance, the outbreak and the pandemic remind me how important community is. It can be just as scary to see mistrust and lack of care from our neighbours and leaders highlighted in the news, as it is to read about the threat of an infection which targets and kills the vulnerable and spreads better when we are uncaring.
That's why it is as important to me to practise showing compassion, to give material support and to fight the oppression and disregard we are seeing, as it is to wash our hands and reduce personal contact and subsequent virus spread to a minimum.
The virus will peak. We can fight to make that peak as small as possible, but we will also remember the meanness that made it worse than it needed to be. When we are healthy, we will be doubly inspired to replace it with a better society who knows how to care for each other in a crisis AND outside/beyond crisis.
This is a time when we're going to have a lot of access to sitting with uncomfortable feelings. The ones on the surface for me are fear and frustration at how helpless I've been feeling, but underneath, I'm feeling real grief and loss, and maybe you are, too. It totally makes sense to mourn the life we had before all this happened, especially because this is all happening so fast, we haven't had any time to transition. Making decisions is hard enough in the first place, especially under this kind of pressure. If you're feeling like you need to grieve and mourn who you were 2 weeks or a month ago, the plans you had, and the people you were around, even if they're all still alive (and hopefully practicing social distancing so none of this gets worse), do it!
The best way I know to cope with grief is to talk about it. First, we have to admit that it's happening. Then we can journal and write about our own pain, and recognize we aren't alone. There are online support groups for managing this experience, grief workbooks -- including the message boards here -- and it can do wonders to choose one person in your life and just ask them how they're doing. Be honest when they ask you how you're doing, and soon enough people will understand that this is hard for most everyone.
After you feel like you've validated and self-soothed to a place of feeling a little bit okay, get curious about what could come of this. One of my coping mechanisms is deciding that there must be something very important about this - when I tell myself that it's not an accident that we're living through a pandemic, and that if we're here we must have the tools to deal with every part of it, I feel more curious and interested in the outcome than full of dread and resistance. We can lean into this. In fact, it helps our nervous system if we can. But we can't lean into it until we access and accept the depth of our hard feelings like grief, fear, anger etc. We can still find joy here. It's good for us! (and remember - all of these feelings come in waves. If we feel okay one minute and horrible the next, that makes sense. There's no right way to do this. Be proud of yourself for trying at all!)
Prescription refills may take longer, so if you're still engaging in the kinds of sex that can create a pregnancy or might if and when it's okay for all of us to have more contact again, being mindful of that around birth control is important. Request refills earlier (perhaps ask if you can get more at once if your prescription allows only a month at a time) and make sure to have condoms as a backup method in case of delays.
While it's totally understandable to want more physical contact during a time like this, now isn't a good time to start any new physically intimate relationships. We want to do our best not to expose ourselves or others to any new germs or bacteria we can avoid.
If you don't already live with someone you're in a pre-existing sexual or other physically intimate relationship with, it also really is best when it comes to your and everyone else's physical health not to try and get together right now. COVID-19/coronavirus isn't an STI, but is an illness that can transmitted during sex in the same way colds or the flu can be: just via being in close physical contact with each other, and doing common sexual things like kissing and touching each others faces and other body parts.
That doesn't mean you can't still be intimate or sexual, though, or can't still keep up a sexual or otherwise intimate relationship. Like Sam said, there are lots of ways to be intimate, and only some require physical contact.
Now is a good time to get creative about ways you can be sexual long-distance if you still want to be, like by writing each other songs or sexy letters -- it's a long historical tradition you can now be part of! -- or sexting. Just remember that non-physical ways of being sexual don't present physical health risks, but do still come with some emotional risks. Be sure and talk about respecting each other's privacy first, for example, and set and discuss any other limits or boundaries you and others need. Too, don't forget that if you're a minor, sharing photos or other images of yourselves may not only not be lawful in your state or area, it could be as unlawful as being a felony that can result in pretty severe legal consequences. Now seems like a weird time for someone to care about that, of all things, but my feeling on taking big risks like this tends to land in the better safe than sorry department. At the very least, look up the laws for your area first.
Now can also be a good time to work on your sexual communication, and to revisit and talk about what each of you wants or has been thinking about. You might each take turns doing, sharing and talking about a Yes/No/Maybe list, for instance, or using our new zine as a tool for that kind of evaluation and sharing. Or, if you want to think and talk more about your relationship as a whole, now could also be a good time for a checkup.
It's also okay -- just like it is any other time -- to take a break from being sexual or close right now if you want to. Not everyone reacts to times like these by wanting to stay or get close: some people feel better by turning inward alone. Don't feel like you have to be sexual if you aren't feeling it to try and sustain a relationship. You don't.
Like Mo, Sam and Siân mentioned, do be sure if you are physically sexual with partners you don't forget about safer sex and birth control. It's common during big crises for people to either stop doing long-term life planning, or to space safety out. But getting an STI right now could be more dangerous because getting testing and treatment is more difficult right now. Becoming pregnant right now not only increases health risks for the pregnant person, access to both abortion or pre-natal care will be much, much more difficult to get a hold of right now.
Also, no one is kidding when we keep saying to wash your hands, even if it sounds obvious or stupid. It's alwayts been important, but it is extra important right now. There's lots of good instructions that have been floating around about handwashing over the last few weeks, but here's our piece on how to do it from way back. Not everyone has learned how to wash our hands properly, and there's no shame in that! But it is important to do it often and correctly right now, so read up if you need it and pass it on if you don't, but someone else does. <3