The first thing I did when I opened my tear-puffed eyes on November 9th, 2016 was to delete all the dating apps off my phone. I wouldn’t need those anymore in this new world. I’d never be able to focus on anything again that wasn’t the constant swirl of horror and despair I now felt. How could I think about dating or even just getting laid when we were absolutely all going to die?
Here, months deep into the Trump administration, I haven’t died yet, but I’ve still never been less horny. I’m single, so it’s easy enough to just completely forget I ever had a sex drive at all, until I look at a calendar and realize it’s been three months since I’ve even settled down for an evening with PornHub. Being constantly on alert and overwhelmed by the world around me has made me dead below the waist—and I’m not alone. Around the country, the Trump administration has been terrible for our sex drives.
“My sex drive has tanked,” said Vivica*, 32, who is in a partnered relationship but has only had sex three times since the election. She feels like her sex drive has had the brakes put on it by “a fear of lack of control over my body, my identity, and pregnancy. As a queer person, my identity is under threat from this administration. As a person with a uterus, I fear an unwanted pregnancy. As a femme-identifying person who lives in a conservative state, I fear lack of control over my body.”
Ellen, 34, has felt that fear in the form of sexual assault. Her libido dropped after the notorious “grab ’em by the pussy” comments from Trump, and the thought of having a man accused multiple times of sexual assault in the Oval Office keeps her from being able to enjoy sex like she used to. “I noticed that during sex, I would accidentally think about it—it would be like ‘don’t think of an elephant,’ you know, I’d be like ‘don’t think about how Trump is a [alleged] rapist’ and then I would,” Ellen said. “I’d think about him and all the men like him who would see my body as something to take, something they deserve, even if it’s disgusting to them.”
“I’d think about him and all the men like him who would see my body as something to take, something they deserve, even if it’s disgusting to them.”
Ellen has also felt more aware of how her personal views could make her a target for the kind of men she’s afraid of. “I know I’m too old and fat for Trump and his ilk, but sexual assault is so often about power and shame, and I’m the kind of mouthy feminist who men want to teach a lesson. That scares me.”
Ellen and her husband’s sexual relationship has suffered because of the constant drive of the news cycle. While both of them were politically aware before the election, the daily or even hourly refresh of new bad news and new groups whose rights are being threatened keeps them glued to Twitter—”the fresh horrors device” as Ellen and her husband call it. After a day keeping up with reality, they find themselves too tired or stressed out for sex.
“Overall I think there’s a kind of miasma of anxiety floating around, where even when we don’t realize it, we’re keyed up and distracted,” Ellen said. “It’s hard to truly exist in one place, which is what good romantic sex is all about, for me. I like to be able to forget myself and my anxieties and my self-consciousness and enjoy the moment.”
Karin, 26, works at a nursery and has also felt the weight of the news on her sex drive. “I feel like my whole day gets sucked away spending all my emotional energy on worrying about the infants and families in my care, what will happen if their services get cut, will we all get killed in a nuclear war anyway?” she said. She, like Ellen, also suffers from information overload. “[I’m] constantly refreshing news apps and Twitter and being sickened and terrified by something new and awful every half hour. Then I get home to my husband. It’s fair to say that I’m not even remotely in the mood at that point, and neither is he.”
While Karin and her husband are still having sex, it no longer has the spark it once did. “When we do have sex we usually plan it out in advance, like ‘Hey, wanna have sex tomorrow since you don’t have to work early the next morning?'” she said. “We tend to follow through with those plans, but it isn’t exactly a passionate thing like it used to be. Once we get going it’s fine, but things used to happen a lot more organically before the election.”
Trump-based sexual anxiety has not just struck the partnered of the world, but single people as well. Fatimah, 35, is single, has never had sex and has no interest in having it, but enjoys consuming sexual materials—romance novels, erotic fiction, and porn—and regularly masturbates. But the new regime has cratered her interests in these previously fun solo pursuits. “I went from a pretty okay porn habit to ‘Sex? I don’t know her.'” she said. “It feels like just one more thing this administration and Agent Orange has taken away from me along with my peace of mind.”
“I WENT FROM A PRETTY OKAY PORN HABIT TO ‘SEX? I DON’T KNOW HER.'”
But not everyone has been tormented by Trump enough to even lose interest in porn. For some, like Maggie, 36, the world’s stresses have driven her to read and write more pornographic fiction as a form of release. “It just seemed… essential and necessary to build time for joy, to just pick the most self-indulgent possible thing and roll around in it,” she said. “If it was harmless and made me happy, why not? What possible reason could I have for denying myself a respite from anxiety and dread?”
Celebrating sex in fictional worlds had its benefit in the real world for Maggie. “One side-effect of massively upping my overall porn interaction is that I spend more time thinking about sex,” she said. “And for me personally, that means I also spend more time in a headspace where I’m interested in having sex.” Maggie still describes herself as anxious and afraid of today’s political climate, but her choice of escapism has lead her to have more and less inhibited sex. What’s there to lose in being a little kinky when the world is on fire?
These different responses to global anxiety are entirely normal, according to NYC-based therapist Abigail Zackin. “Some people are psychologically organized that sex is the furthest thing from their minds during a crisis because they’re too busy regulating their emotions through other means, either internal or external, but some people’s go-to coping tool is sex and sexual pleasure.”
Richard, 26, has felt a sort of liberation and release from shame in the face of so many people in power now emboldened to speak and take action against his way of life. “I’m a gay man in a long-term relationship in the conservative part of my state,” he said. “I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that most of my elected officials and fellow constituents don’t like me, even as a concept. While the thought of our current administration makes my skin crawl, why should I be self-conscious about my horny feelings when literally everything else on a national level is terrible?”
When everything is terrible and the national fear level is high, for some, like Violet, 27, sex serves as a release valve on the horrors of the world. “Basically my sex drive has been kicked into overdrive since the election,” she said. “My partner and I tend to use sex—and talking about sex, and sexting each other, and making sexy art—to get our minds off of our various anxieties.” And in the world that feels confusing and illogical, sex can make sense. “It’s a situation where you can be entirely in control—or entirely out of control—while still spending quality time with someone you care about and trust. And it makes people feel good! It gives you a chance to breathe candid emotions into others that the trappings of casual society are ill-equipped to express.”
And for some queer people, sex is a way of affirming their existence. Ryan, 34, is trans, and for him, sex “is a nice way to feel something good and personal that no one’s about to take away from me. I know this administration doesn’t give a fuck about my rights or personal safety. So much feels out of my control right now, but what I know I can do for myself is get myself off and feel release or relaxation or just something intense. And maybe it’s a bit of a psychic middle finger to people who would be (or publicly pretend to be) shocked or disapproving of what queer/trans/poly people do in the bedroom.”
“There’s a big difference between sex as a means of physical pleasure and sex as a means of forming or strengthening our relational bonds,” says Zackin. “Sometimes we need to soothe ourselves and sometimes we need someone else to soothe us. Both are valid and necessary parts of the sexual experience and one is not more important than the other by any means, but I think a big difference here would be that the former provides immediate cessation of pain and the latter provides a sense of hope.”
Violet, who is genderqueer, finds this kind of hope through sex in a nation that is ever more trying to legislate her existence and that of those she loves. “My life expectancy right now is totally uncertain, but inside I feel like a fountain of love that can’t stop flowing,” she said. “It sounds stupid, but I want to make sure I can share as much of that as I can before I go—platonically, romantically, physically, whatever.”
“If I die because some rich white folks can’t stand that I exist,” Violet said, “I want to make sure the people close to me in my life know how important they are to me.” For many of us in the post-Trump world, expressing that love—even self-love—through sex isn’t possible yet. But four years isn’t forever, and there is some spark of hope in the world that yes, we will be horny again.