I’ve never been less horny in my post-puberty life than I was the week after Donald Trump won the presidency. Like most progressive people, I felt a lot of things that week: sorrow, terror, rage, disbelief, hopelessness. I had so many feelings that it was like I was playing an unwinnable game of Frogger against all the many and varied ways in which a person can feel like total garbage. Amid all those emotions, though, one that’s almost always with me was conspicuously absent: the desire to be in some sort of sexual contact with a human man, or even with myself.
My sudden will toward abstinence was not out of a Lysistrata-style crusade to bend men to my will for the horrors visited on us and those yet to come. It also wasn’t out of principle, or out of some misplaced sense of self-righteous solidarity. (I will not fuck unless and until everyone can fuck safely!) Instead, the very concept of horniness seemed alien and impossible to me, as if creeping fascism had zapped the part of my brain that sometimes thinks sweaty men on the subway smell fantastic. Frankly, I had thought the end of the world would be sexier.
The change was immediate. I called out of work the day after the election, and, while racking my brain for ways I might improve my mood without leaving my apartment, masturbation occurred to me. It’s been my preferred source of quick-fix brain chemicals since the age of 12 because, at the very least, it forces you to think about something you enjoy for a solid five minutes — even if that thing is just, like, getting railed by Joe Manganiello inside your own mind. I peered down at the $200 impulse-purchase vibrator in the top drawer of my bedside table and felt nothing.
Voting rights, reproductive rights, and the various other rights the Trump administration plans to burn to the ground are obviously graver concerns than whether one is more or less horned up than normal. That’s probably why it took a few days for any of my friends to mention their own newly nonexistent sex drives to me. Until then, I gave little thought to whether or not my body’s post-Trump numbness might be a shared reaction. Eventually, though, people started to move from abject horror to abject horror mixed with the occasional dry, grim joke, and that’s when people started admitting (both privately and in the semi-public space of social media) how intimately the election had affected them.
“What are the odds, do you think, that I’ll ever have sex again?” one friend wondered aloud on Twitter. Later, I caught a friend cracking a joke to another about how she and her boyfriend hadn’t both stopped crying and panicking long enough to have sex since the election. So I began asking around, starting with my most libidinous circle of friends — the kinds of people with sex drives I’d expect to survive a nuclear holocaust, along with cockroaches and Keith Richards.
“I’ve had sex once since the election,” said Lauren, 33. “But I kicked the guy out immediately. I just … can’t right now. The election soured men for me more than they already were.” When I asked Jacques, 25 — a gay man and the only person I’ve ever met who seems to genuinely enjoy dating apps — I couldn’t even get the question out before he said, “I don’t want anyone to touch me right now.” His uncharacteristic apprehension was a result of how vulnerable the election results made him feel, he explained: “I think it’s because I tend to be more submissive in bed, and I didn’t want to put myself in a position to be even more defeated, so to speak.”
The post-election cratering didn’t just strike sexually precarious single people, either. Lena, 31, has lived with her long-term boyfriend for almost two years; she describes the frequency of their pre-election sex as “a lot,” but reported that Trump’s win had brought it to an abrupt halt that lasted weeks. “After the election, we went almost a month not just without fucking, but, like, barely touching. Trump and sex (and assault) were so loudly and constantly associated during the election that I couldn’t get the horrible image of him out of my mind and it 100 percent killed my sex drive.” Trump’s relentless denigration of women may not have cost him the presidency, but it was certainly enough to fuck up plenty of women’s relationship to their own sexuality (even if only temporarily). “It felt like the dudes who think the existence of women to whom they’re not attracted should be, like, made illegal had won,” Lena went on. “I barely took off my clothes except to shower for a couple weeks. Just thinking about sex made me really, really angry.”
And then there were the practical concerns involved in sex-having. A few friends reached out to inquire about my experience with my IUD (it’s great) and how much it hurt to get it inserted (a lot). When I asked Nina, 27, if the election had affected her sex life, she said, “It doesn’t help having to reexamine pregnancy. Nothing makes me less horny than abortion access being further restricted.” For Amber, 35, “There was this sense that I had, up until that moment, been living a somewhat frivolous life and that frivolity and its attendant pleasures were almost offensive. I got weirdly puritanical, I suppose.” The election’s grand-scale emotional impact and the awareness of its real-life, everyday consequences were a combination that produced extremely bad circumstances for fucking.
They might be good circumstances, though, for something a bit more tender. Anna, 24, was the only person I spoke with who had had a lot of sex in the election’s immediate aftermath, and she attributed that to the election’s final days coinciding with her falling in love. “We’re long distance, but on Election Night, we were both flipping out and having Skype sex made me feel a lot better. Now he’s visiting me and we’re having tons of sex. It’s a weird juxtaposition — we’re afraid that the world as we know is going to fall apart. But we’re also really into each other, and it’s one of the few things that’s making me feel okay.”
When I set the question to friends at a party last week (I’m great at parties), Nisha, 30, said that the aftermath of the election had helped her see the man she’d been dating for a few weeks as someone she could get serious with. “He knew I was upset and left his office to bring me tea at work and see how I was,” she said. “I’m a woman of color dating a white guy, and him understanding I’d need some support without me having to ask or explain felt big.”
In the weeks since the election, my own revulsion at the idea of sex has also turned into something softer. At first, it felt as if my sex drive was replaced with a deep well of anxiety and dread; like any possibility of goodness or pleasure had been sucked into a vortex of vague, endless peril; like I was suddenly, hopelessly alone. Eventually, the sharpness of those emotions dulled, as though my body was diverting energy away from feeling bad and toward the biological processes required to sustain life. In that space, a desire for personal intimacy crept in — like I could prove the persistence of goodness in the world by identifying it between me and another person.
A disaster of any proportion always helps clarify things in one way or another. If nothing else, one this size gives everyone an opportunity to step up for the people they care about and to be heartened by those who show up for them. My sex drive has returned, but with it has come a specific desire for intimacy with a man who made himself known as a shelter in the storm when I needed one. I’ve never been a person for whom sex and love share an inextricable emotional link, but since my interest in having sex has resurfaced in the past two weeks, even something as simple and fun as sexting feels different — warmer, closer, more valuable. Sex is starting to feel like the antidote to politics, at least in personal spaces, because it’s everything the outside world isn’t right now. Sex is also, thank god, something I can make personally and totally sure a Trump presidency doesn’t take away from me. He already tried his best and failed.