Arts & Entertainment

Love And Mental Health In Isolation

Photo: Jackson Grant Photography

By Madison Behringer

As a community, all Australians have taken a hit as a result of COVID-19. Some of us have lost jobs, been separated from our family and loved ones, and almost all of us have been forced out of our usual routine. The pubs have been closed for over a month, we can’t head to the gym for a workout and we’ve all been advised to stay at home unless we have somewhere essential we need to be. It’s no surprise that for a lot of us our mental health hasn’t been all that crash hot and being stuck in our own houses can become extremely lonely very quickly. COVID-19 has also disrupted a lot of people’s intimate relationships, with casual sex being strongly advised against and many couples and partnerships going weeks without physical contact.

ACON is an Australian health organisation that looks after the health and life of people of diverse sexualities and genders, or LGBTQI people. ACON’s Associate Director Matthew Vaughan spoke with City Hub about how communities are coping during the pandemic and how they can access support.

“I think one of the things that we’re very aware of is that COVID-19 has changed a lot of things,” Matthew said, going on to say, “from very early on, ACON has, following the advice of leading health experts, released a statement that urged people in our communities to avoid casual sex during this period… Avoiding casual sex is a way that helps to keep both yourself and our community safe at large. What we were encouraging though are ways to connect more with yourself and others that don’t involve a physical meet-up.”

For those of us out there who weren’t necessarily in relationships prior to social distancing restrictions being in put in place, Matthew suggests that isolation may be a good time to get to know yourself and your body a little better saying, “it may be a really good time to find out what you enjoy or what you don’t like so that you can then communicate that to your partners once the restrictions are lifted. This could definitely be a very positive and healthy habit to take into the future.”

Two City Hub readers who prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns were using the Grindr app to arrange casual threesomes spoke to us about what’s changed in the world of casual sex over the last month.

“Prior to the pandemic, we used Grindr mostly when we were feeling frisky, arranging threesomes and the like,” they said. “Things have definitely slowed down [since the restrictions], however threesomes still get organised with our regular hook-ups.”

Despite enforcement of social distancing restrictions, the couple say that within reason they’ve still been meeting up with partners they trust for casual sex saying, “There’s never really any fear of being pulled up as to why we weren’t at home. And even if we were, it’s easy to think of a legitimate excuse that can’t really be followed up.” They went on to say, “It’s all within reason though, we’ve only met up with people we trust to be open about COVID exposures. In saying that however, there have definitely been people we’ve spoken to that weren’t comfortable with meeting up during the pandemic.”

During each stage of the social distancing restrictions, people who were in pre-existing relationships or partnerships before COVID-19 have been left confused as to whether it’s okay to see their partners. To clear things up, Matthew says, “ACON have advised since the beginning that even if you don’t live with your partner or partners you can still continue to have sex as long as you’re continuing to practice social distancing in other areas of your life.”

Feeling physically and emotionally disconnected from others can become quite distressing and for many people their mental health and wellbeing has taken a beating during this period of anxiety and uncertainty.

“For a lot of people routine is a big part of their life… not being able to do your normal activities can have a huge impact on your mental health. Not being able to access your usual social connections will also make a big impact,” said Matthew.

“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we wanted to make sure that all of our services, particularly counselling, was available throughout this period. It was one of the areas that we transitioned first so that we still had our counsellors available to people,” Matthew went on to say. “We’ve been very aware of the community’s mental health during this time and have made sure people are aware that we have counsellors available to talk to.”

For those struggling with their mental health while isolating, ACON have a huge range of support services accessible to everyone in the community. As of last Friday’s announcement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, it does appear that, pending any future outbreaks, Australia is stepping forward onto the path out of lockdown however. We may not know how soon everything will open up again, but for now we’ve been given the all-clear to have an increasing number of visitors in our home and from Friday we can meet with a few friends or our partners for a coffee or at the park. It’s not over yet, but things are certainly looking up.