Anthropologists of yore could hardly have predicted that masturbating and bread-baking would serve as summer 2020’s premier pastimes. But in the midst of a global pandemic, while quarantine is simply a mandated way of life, most of us are nothing if not restless and horny.
“There are a lot of reasons masturbating can feel more important than ever right now,” says certified sex and relationship therapist Megan Fleming, PhD. “So many folks are feeling weighted down with all this anxiety and uncertainty, and masturbation can be a really healthy way to calm the nervous system.”
Orgasm — self-induced or otherwise — releases a whole flood of beneficial chemicals in the body. Dopamine levels spike, cortisol levels drop, and endorphins are released alongside oxytocin, a hormone most commonly known for providing feelings of warmth and well-being (folks sometimes call it the “cuddle hormone”). And, as Dr. Fleming sees it, solo sex can offer a welcome (necessary) sense of release as well as a form of escapism. “It’s a really excellent opportunity for you to spend some time exploring yourself sexually. You have time to try new things, delve into new fantasies, flirt with new turn-ons,” she says. “We call it solo play for a reason — we should really treat it like play.”
However, while we may find ourselves with ample time, plenty of us are quarantined in...less-than-sexy scenarios. Whether you’re back in your childhood bedroom, stuck home with your kids, or sardine-packed into an apartment the size of a parking spot with four roommates, “setting the mood” isn’t always easy. So, in the spirit of adventure, catharsis, release, and, well, pleasure, we reached out to women in varying socially distant setups across the country to talk about what solo play looks like for them. From masturbation coffee breaks and art-deco nudes to butt plugs and roommate snafus, here’s a voyeuristic peek at “getting off” in quarantine.
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Laura P., 26, quarantined alone in New York City
“Working from home is driving me insane. I’m so restless. I’m dying to get out of the house. I work in film, so I’m used to spending most of my days out and about, on my feet, interacting with tons of different people. My girlfriend also works on film sets, so I’m used to seeing her every day at work and at home, but we’re quarantined separately.
“Obviously, I know this is something everyone’s been saying in quarantine, but I’m incredibly horny. At the same time, while I’m doing all this remote work (lots of random editing projects that are sort of slow and arduous), I’ve been having trouble staying focused. So I’ve found that masturbating can work as a quick, energizing coffee break for me. It helps get my brain back up to speed when I’ve been staring at a screen for too long. So when I hit a rut, I throw a hold on my calendar so no one will try to schedule a call, then I pull up some of my favorite OnlyFans accounts, and I touch myself. I’ve been using this amazing rounded tool I ordered online against my clit, and I have to say, it feels about as close to oral as anything I’ve ever tried other than...oral.
“Then, once I come, I wash my hands and get back to work, reinvigorated. I swear, it works.”
Ricky M., 31, quarantined with her partner in Chicago
“So I live with my long-term monogamous partner. We've always had a great sex life, and when we found out that we'd be on lockdown, our first response was: We're going to have so much sex! In reality, the opposite has been true. Our once concurrent schedules are now the opposite. He wakes up early and works from home; I sleep in, hang out, then study/attend class at night. He's horny in the mornings; I'm horny at night.
“After the first shelter-in-place weekend passed, we still hadn't had sex. A few days later, I tried to put the moves on, but he said he was too tired. 'Too tired for sex' wasn't a thing in our relationship before quarantine. I fell asleep frustrated and hurt, and I woke up hornier than ever. So I masturbated. While I mostly felt the release, I also felt kind of bad, like I'd taken something from my partner.
“During week three, we finally talked about the elephant in the room, aka the lack of sex. He apologized for his non-existent sex drive, attributing it to the (warranted) stress and anxiety of the present moment. I told him I understood and that I'd been masturbating. Much to my surprise, he was glad: happy that I hadn't lost my sex drive and that I wasn't depriving myself just because he couldn't meet my needs. Instantly, I felt better. It was okay to have my own pleasure routines, separate from my partner.
“So that's what I've been doing for the past ???# of weeks. Sleeping in, then masturbating in the bedroom while my partner works in the next room. It's one of the few ways I can feel 'in control' these days, and it has allowed me to be a better support system to my partner, because I'm taking care of my own needs.”
Mira H., 29, quarantined with her sister in Boston
“Right before the whole pandemic, I had my first threesome with a couple, and I tried using a butt plug for the first time. I really really liked it, so I invested in this silicone one. Since then, I’ve actually had the time to play around with it in quarantine and figure out what I like — I’ve really loved using it.
“When I’m masturbating, I’ll read for a while — something erotic — until I’m super relaxed, which is important for anal stuff (I’ve been reading erotica in an empty bathtub, since it feels like one of the only private spaces available to me right now). Then I’ll coat the plug in lube (you’re supposed to use a water-based lube like K-Y with a silicone sex toy; silicone lubes don’t do well with silicone toys). Once it’s slippery enough, and I’ve inserted it, I’ll finger myself for a while — and you’d be amazed what my orgasms feel like. They’re like tenfold — it’s this crazy blended experience. I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Emily D., 25, quarantined with two roommates in New York City
“Living in an apartment with two roommates, every night, once we all retire from our common space after some evening TV, it’s pretty obvious that we’re all going to masturbate in our respective beds with mere walls separating us. It's simultaneously a solo activity and a community event. If a vibrator buzzes in roommate #1's room and roommate #2 hears it, are we having a sex party?
“My problem with masturbating in quarantine, though, is that porn hasn’t really been stimulating to me. Normally, your traditional online video will give me the mood boost I need, but I’ve been feeling so down, it just hasn’t been working. Instead, I’ve been trying something new for the first time: sexting. All my exchanges have been with this one guy I met on a dating app. We started with a lot of good banter — PG messages about missing human touch and cuddling. Then, we made a plan to have a "sexting date" a couple nights later. That night, we went back and forth: him telling me how to undress in detail, where to touch myself, what he wanted me to do to him. All the good stuff. I sent some dope nudes. It's been a while since I've sent anyone nudes, and I'm very much enjoying it. While obviously it would be cool if we weren’t quarantined and we could see each other, I’m really liking the solo part of this experience. I’m learning that I love having a real person to think about, original sexts to read, and pics to look at when I masturbate now.”
Emma W., 28, quarantined with her parents in Asheville, North Carolina
“I'm home at my parents' house now and just starting to get comfortable again, but I'm definitely like...lock all the doors, turn on the loud fan, shut off the lights, everything. I keep getting freaked out and thinking they'll walk in or hear me. It's definitely not the relaxing experience it is when I'm in my own apartment. That said, it's kind of sexy to sneak around. Where there's a will, there's a way!
“To get in the mood, I've been taking a lot of nudes, and it's been weirdly therapeutic. I work in fashion, so setting up a shoot is something I really enjoy — making sure the lighting is good, the angles, the pose. It’s like an art project. And appreciating my own body in the way taking nudes requires has really helped to get me off when I’m touching myself or just lying in bed with a vibrator.”
Kiah N., 23, quarantined with three roommates in Burlington, Vermont
“Okay...call me crazy, but I’ve developed this strange penchant in quarantine for masturbating with the door open. I live with three roommates, so it’s a pretty risky move, but something about the added element of danger is honestly a big turn-on for me. It doesn’t take me long to get off. I love my vibrator, and I’m a big believer in the standard quickie. Plus, I’ve been crazy horny. So I’ll just do the deed (quietly) with my door open, anxiously wondering if someone will poke their head in and catch me!”
Shay N., 32, quarantined alone in New York City
“I wouldn’t say I have body dysmorphia, but I will say that masturbating can be hard because I don’t really like to touch myself now that I’ve fully transitioned. Recently, though, I’ve been using this vibrator that’s shaped like two fingers — it almost feels like an extension of a hand, which makes it easier and more fun to pleasure myself without actually having to hold myself.
“In quarantine, specifically, though, I’ve been playing around a lot with flavor. Like, I generally have candy by my bed, and, well, I love food. I’ve noticed that eating something sweet right before I play with myself can change the whole experience. It’s like there’s pleasure coming at me from all these different ends, and I love that. Makes me wish I had a fridge right next to my bed.”
Casey R., 42, quarantined with her two teenage daughters in Westchester, New York
“I work as a therapist, which is already tough when you’ve got two teenage girls running around the house. For the most part, I use a noise machine to make sure my conversations with my clients remain private. But even knowing I’m in sessions, sometimes my kids will still call asking for some streaming password, or for a ride, or where the coffee is.
“As a single mom, I’ve always felt like finding time to masturbate is important — but I usually need total peace and quiet to get in the zone. I rarely feel like it’s safe to retreat to my bedroom without the expectation that someone will burst in. So, for now, when I really think it’ll help me de-stress, I’ve been putting a sign on the door of my office (and warning my kids preemptively) that I’ll be in a long, important session, and that anything they might need to ask MUST wait.
“Then, I turn the noise machine to full volume, lock the door, and bust out my favorite tool: a beautiful glass dildo one of my girlfriends gave me when I got divorced. I’ve never been one for porn — I tend to be very cerebral about the whole business. I’m pretty good at visualizing scenarios that will turn me on. So I get comfortable, lie down on a yoga mat I keep tucked in the back corner of my office, and do my thing.”
Jess T., 31, quarantined with her partner in New York City
“I've found myself hard-pressed to get alone time without alerting my boyfriend that I want to jerk off. If I tell him I'm going into the bedroom to masturbate, he assumes that means I want to have sex. Until now, I never realized how much I would miss masturbating — I’ve never found myself without any alone time before.
“But FINALLY this past week, I told my boyfriend I needed to rest and that he should read on the couch. And boy, it was everything I wanted and more. I'm talking symphony sounds in the background of my mind and a total feeling of relaxation afterwards. This time in quarantine has taught me that I shouldn't feel guilty about having a partner and wanting some time for self-love. My own hand, and my own vibrator, can bring a different kind of pleasure than my partner can, and that’s okay.”
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