Coronavirus has created a sex toy boom. A baby boom may not follow

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The clubs are shut. The pubs are shut. Tinder dates are cancelled. One-night stands are literally illegal. But, despite these obvious hurdles, coronavirus has still created a sex industry sales boom.

Lelo, a Swedish luxury sex toy brand says it has seen sales increase by 40 per cent. Ann Summers, a sex toy and lingerie retailer, has seen a 27 per cent increase in sales of sex toys compared to this time last year, and condom sales have doubled in the space of just a week. UK Meds, an online pharmacy based in Nottingham, reported a spike in Viagra sales and a 23 per cent increase in orders of the morning after pill.

With the extra time during the day saved by not commuting or working, it’s only natural that couples are using it to have sex says Helen Fisher, senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, a research centre focussed on sex, gender and reproduction. And having sex causes hormonal changes in the body that are welcome in these austere times – dopamine is released, which causes a feeling of pleasure and happiness. Testosterone levels are raised in both men and women, which raises libido, making you want even more sex. “I do think that the one of the reasons that so many people are turning to sex is not only they’ve got the time, but it’s actually very good for you,” says Fisher.

Those who aren’t happy at home are finding other ways to get frisky. Illicit Encounters, a dating website for those seeking extra-marital affairs, has experienced a 15 per cent increase in activity based on this time last year. In a survey from the website, 54 per cent of men said they had started affairs in the last four weeks, with 74 per cent of these men saying their reason for doing so was boredom.

Tinder has seen a 12 per cent increase in daily conversations in the UK, which on average in March were lasting eight per cent longer compared to February. In Italy, which is said to be around two to three weeks ahead of the UK in terms of the spread of the virus, conversations are lasting 29 per cent longer than they did a month ago.

“People still might get some degree of connection and some degree of arousal virtually,” says Murray Blacket, a relationship counsellor. He believes that being on dating websites and apps could provide some degree of self-soothing during the pandemic as people distract themselves by making these connections with other people.

In the past, enforced lockdowns have meant an increase in the birth rate nine months down the line. So could we be facing a coronavirus baby boom at the end of the year? An oft-quoted piece of research from London School of Economics shows that a nationwide blackout in Colombia in the early 1990s led to a slew of unplanned births – if people being stuck at home in the dark caused more pregnancies, then being stuck at home in a lockdown could have a similar effect.

David Reher, professor emeritus at Complutense University of Madrid, is sceptical. He has studied the effects of seasons on birth rates and the causes of the original baby boom, and believes that it would be an ambitious leap to assume there would be an uptick in fertility because of how these events played out in the past. “Just having downtime due to the Covid-19 business will not necessarily show up in nine months time,” he says. During this lockdown, theoretically the only people who will be having sex are the ones who are isolating with their long-term partners, so there may be fewer people having sex overall. And the increase in number of sex toys being sold could simply be due to people buying them to use on themselves.

“Times of crisis in historical contexts have always been times where the incidence of conceptions has fallen,” says Reher. He adds that once the exceptional times of crisis have passed, there is a spurt in conceptions thanks to remarriages, rejoined families or people who just resumed sexual activity.

But as the Covid-19 crisis continues, the world may face a bigger issue when it comes to sex. Karex, the world’s largest producer of condoms, recently had to shut down its three factories in Malaysia for ten days while waiting for government approval to continue running as an essential service. Even after it was allowed to continue operating, factories were only able to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

“The places that we are most worried about are the places where condoms are provided by humanitarian aid who don’t have any other options,” says Ian Leong, head of investor relations at Karex in Malaysia. In the developed world there are many different options for birth control, so there may not be a noticeable change in birth rate, but in developing countries there may be issues caused by a lack of condom supply, from an increase in births to the spread of HIV. For now Karex’s factory in Thailand is able to keep up with demand, so it hopes that there won’t be any knock-on effects.

Like much of life at the moment, it’s a matter of waiting to see whether or not a baby boom happens. Fisher believes that even if we don’t see a spike in births, the lockdown could have wider effects on relationships, with a rush of people getting married or divorced in the near future. “Any kind of catastrophe pushes us to the next stage in our relationship,” she says. “There are breaking points and there are escalation points. This is one of them.”

Maria Mellor is a writer for WIRED. She tweets from @Maria_mellor

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