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Sex is an act of vulnerability. It is a sharing of the body that requires you to take a risk. Every time you engage in sexual activity with another person, you are sharing yourself and risking rejection in the search for some form of intimacy. That intimacy can manifest itself in many ways, whether through having a working knowledge of how your partner finds pleasure from your touch or through finding your voice in a difficult conversation about consent, respect, and mutual concern. Even if you are engaging in masturbation, you are embarking on a journey to understand your own body in a deeper way and find self-love by offering yourself the privilege of your own pleasure.

I enjoy sex. I enjoy masturbation. I have no shame in saying that because, as a woman, I have fought against myself to have the autonomy to explore sex. I know what gives me pleasure, and I am not ashamed to voice that to my partners. At this point in my life, I am not afraid to say how I like to be touched, how I like to be respected.

One thing that is important to me is the ability to physically touch partners. I like sharing a bed with them, hugging and laying on their body. I like when someone reaches out for me from across the room, and I can see that my presence is comforting to them, that it makes them feel safe. I am physically affectionate, even with myself. When I masturbate, I spend time rubbing my body and getting to know it for its own uniqueness.

But with restrictions on physical contact due to the pandemic, we have to find new ways to enjoy sex. There has to be some adjustment and compromise with sex in the same way there have been in all the other areas of our lives. I’m not quarantined with a sexual partner, which means that sexually engaging with a new person would put us both at risk for transmitting COVID-19. But still, I find myself missing physical touch and affection.

This has led me to try new things and spend more time trying to fulfill my need for intimacy with masturbation. I masturbate a lot more now that I am sequestered in my room than I did before the pandemic started. I also have more time to really enjoy myself; to get to know what my pleasure looks like and where my mind goes to when I have the time to imagine. I try my best to be kind to my sexual interests and give myself permission to explore without self-judgment, which allows me to be a better sexual partner to myself and others.

I also am exploring other ways to connect sexually with others. Toward the beginning of the quarantine on campus, I started having cybersex with my Portuguese language-practice partner, and it was surprisingly good. Not being physically present with each other made us rely more on sharing our likes and dislikes to compensate. Although the sex was separated by an ocean (from their quarantine in Portugal to my quarantine in East Campus), it was mutually fulfilling and satisfying.

Even if you’re not comfortable with the idea of cybersex, or you feel that you have tired yourself out with masturbation, there are still options. Phone sex, sexting, or even just remembering good, past sexual experiences can help with imagining ourselves in sexual community with each other. I see no issue with sending a text to a former, respectful sexual partner with an established previous interest just to let them know the avenues in which you are comfortable exploring your sexuality during this pandemic.

For the people quarantined with a sexual partner, remember that you might experience changes with the amount of sex that you may or may not want to have. That’s okay: Respect yourself, and also respect your partner enough to tell them the truth. If that respect is mutual, they will work with you during this tough time to come to a mutual understanding in regard to sexual activity. This is yet another exercise of trust that will help you become a better sexual partner by understanding how to explore pleasure with others while safeguarding your own.

There are so many ways to cum during COVID-19. Take this time to get to know what you like and don’t like, and to establish boundaries with yourself and others. Find some type of pleasure. Even if that pleasure isn’t an orgasm, give yourself the kindness of time to explore. You deserve it. Your body is beautiful. Your sex is normal. Your fantasies excite you for a reason. Give yourself the privilege to truly believe all of these things, and extend this privilege to all of your partners during this tough time.

Sabina Jones is a senior at Columbia College majoring in English and Hispanic studies. Her column, Transatlantic Trade, runs alternate Fridays.

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