Sex in the Time of COVID-19: Q&A with Jennifer Gunsaullus ’95

The Lehigh alumna, sociologist and author offers suggestions for fostering well-being and safe physical connection with others during the pandemic.

The Office of Gender Violence Education and Support will host an October 22 virtual discussion with Jennifer Gunsaullus ’95 about sex and sexuality in the time of COVID-19.

Gunsaullus says that social, emotional and physical connections with others are important for our overall well-being and development. During the time of COVID-19, making these connections may look different but can still be safe and impactful.

During her talk, Gunsaullus will provide students with concrete suggestions and advice for balancing their needs and the choices they make with safety. Learn more and attend the virtual discussion.

Q:  If there were one piece of wisdom you'd wish to convey about healthy sexuality today, what would it be and why?

Sexual interactions and dating feel really vulnerable…and that is actually a good thing!

I think we’ve developed a belief system in our society that if something feels “bad” or “uncomfortable,” we should change or avoid it. But I teach college students how to develop the courage to move towards these discomforts. Otherwise, we’re always running from our fears or embarrassments. And this means there’s no opportunity for growth, getting to enjoy authentic connections with others, or access to the nuances of pleasure.

There can be anxious feelings around all of these activities because that is part of “caring” when experiencing intimacy with another. It requires courage and strength to open yourself up to others. It’s common to want to numb those kinds of feelings through pot or alcohol, or to avoid intimacy all together. Even though it can be hard, building emotional resilience and choosing to be vulnerable with the right people is the pathway to genuine happiness, healthy relationships, and good sex.

 

It’s a time period where we have to question all our regular social norms for meeting people and having fun and sexual hook-ups. We know that socially, emotionally, and physically connecting with other humans is an important part of overall well-being.

Jennifer Gunsaullus ’95

Q: In the time of COVID-19, what are some healthy ways to express sexuality?

It’s an odd time we’re living in when the things which are usually considered “safest” in the sexual realm in terms of STI and pregnancy prevention—hanging out on a bed, cuddling, kissing—are potentially the most dangerous for spreading COVID-19.

It’s a time period where we have to question all our regular social norms for meeting people and having fun and sexual hook-ups. We know that socially, emotionally, and physically connecting with other humans is an important part of overall well-being. So figuring out how to take calculated risks and which risks are worth it, is important. I’ll actually be sharing a “COVID-19 Checklist for Sex/Dating” during my talk so that students can have some assistance in making the best choices.

It’s a perfect time to be erotically and socially creative, and the younger anyone is when they start to learn to think outside the sexual and dating box, the happier they will be in the long-run in their sexual lives. Gratefully we have many online options for meeting new people or following up with someone you’ve met. I suggest spending more time online getting to know someone new—asking questions to get to know what matters to them, learning their values and sharing yours, laughing and flirting.

Q: Most damaging assumption about sex and sexuality and why?

I think the most dangerous assumption is that there is some “normal” way that you have to “be sexual,” or else there is something wrong with you.

Part of this is the assumption that there’s just one endpoint to reach in a sexual encounter. This causes anxiety, performance concerns, expectations, coercion—and not very creative or pleasurable sex.

Q: Any other words of wisdom/advice?

Know that with anything sexual that you struggle with, are unsure about, confused about, or are fearful of—you are not alone! I guarantee it. Find trustworthy friends, family members, or counselors, who will listen, not judge, and potentially give accurate advice or resources. There is a real power in unburdening yourself to trusted others. And as stated in the first question, vulnerability is a good thing.

Definitely check out my virtual interactive talk for Lehigh students if you have any questions about what I wrote here or how to think outside the box more in sexual play!

Jennifer "Dr. Jenn" Gunsaullus, Ph.D., is a sociologist, intimacy and communication coach, and author of From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. Dr. Jenn is a national speaker on couples’ intimacy, sexual consent, gender communication, women’s empowerment, erotic play, and mindful sex. She got her start in the sex and relationship field 27 years as a sexual health peer educator at Lehigh University in her home state of PA. Dr. Jenn has presented two TEDx Talks, is the co-host of the podcast Sex Talk with Clint & the Doc, and has over 1.6 million hits on her In the Den with Dr. Jenn YouTube video series. She lives and plays in a beach town in San Diego, CA! Visit her website: www.DrJennsDen.com

Learn more about the Office of Gender Violence Education & Support