Love in the time of COVID-19

Philosopher Philip Devine recently wrote about today’s most pervasive ideology: “covidism.” It has two elements: “scientific fundamentalism and a fallacious argument from fear.” The former claims that “those who question the [COVID-19] ‘consensus’ are anti-science or guilty of ‘denial.’” The latter references “an irrational appeal to fear [that] ignores other sources of danger and urges us to take precautions with unexamined costs.”

 This leads us to another term Professor Devine used: “Coronaphobia,” which “has generated a perverse morality, for which staying home and watching Netflix is an act of heroism like that of the soldiers who fought in the invasion on D-Day. Avoiding fellow human beings, even crossing the street to avoid them, and wearing a mask when you cannot avoid them, is an expression of solidarity.”

For how long? “Until it is ‘safe’ — which may mean forever.”

By now, it’s become clear that this pandemic was driven more by fear rather than facts. The irrationality of is such that we’re in perhaps the only pandemic in history where otherwise healthy people are quarantined for a virus that (at least for the Philippines) is less deadly than car crashes, tuberculosis, diabetes, hypertensive diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, pneumonia, cancer, ischemic heart disease, and malnutrition.

And that’s just a partial list.

We actually shut down our economy and schools, perhaps driving up depression and suicides, for that.

The devastation that lockdowns bring were not, understandably, apparent at first. Hence, the semi-humorous contemplation of a surge of “pandemic babies” as a result of this in-house quarantine. That couples, locked together in their homes with nothing else to do, would spend most of their time procreating.

But apparently, 148 days into this lockdown, the opposite might actually be true.

A study published in The Lancet on July 14 found that “that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth.”

Furthermore, it stated that “23 countries in the reference scenario, including Japan, Thailand, and Spain, were forecasted to have population declines greater than 50% from 2017 to 2100; China’s population was forecasted to decline … [and] the USA was forecasted to once again become the largest economy in 2098.”

This is interesting because Philippine fertility rates have continuously fallen (even before the RH Law took into effect). Example: 2017 saw a 3.4% decline from 2016, 2018 fell 3.52% from 2017, 2019 fell .97% from 2018, and 2020 fell .98% from 2019.

Marriage in the Philippines itself is on shaky grounds. Philippine Statistics Authority data indicates a steady decline from 2007 to 2016 (albeit, 2017-2018 showing with relative increases). Annulments meanwhile increasingly rose from 2001 to 2014. 

The entire psychological and social effect of this lockdown, as well as the porn panic that governments and media wrought on the citizenry, remain to be seen. But this early, dating may already have taken a hit.

A Journal of Personality and Social Psychology research study (Miller and Maner, “Overperceiving disease cues: The basic cognition of the behavioral immune system,” 2012, reported in The Conversation) “has shown  that the threat of disease leads us to avoid contact with people who compromise our well-being and pose a risk of infecting us. Yet romantic behaviour is generally characterised by a need for physical intimacy and bodily contact which is very much at odds with behavior motivated to remain free of disease. Dating behavior could clearly be altered while concerns of an infectious disease continue to affect the way we live.”

The point is: in today’s world of virus-induced home isolation, of conscious ultra-hygiene, self-righteous distancing, with everyone’s minds conditioned to believe that merely speaking to or eating a meal with another are lethal, what could possibly be left for the romantic or sexual?

“These are the lips, powerful rudders pushing through groves of kelp, the girl’s terrible, unsweetened taste of the whole ocean, its fathoms: this is that taste,” wrote Adrienne Rich in “That Mouth.”

And yet with every individual hidden behind layers of masks and face shields, and touching is taboo, exposed mouths are now as pornographic as sexual organs and the shaking of hands as scandalous as the most torrid of kisses.

Sex is messy. If it isn’t, you’re probably doing it wrong. Stephen Fry once wrote of “those damp, dark, foul-smelling and revoltingly tufted areas of the body that constitute the main dishes in the banquet of love.”

But it’s there, the fact that such is another human being, is precisely where sex’s repulsion and attraction lies, that make the entire gamut of sexuality a fascinating world unto itself.

Nevertheless, perhaps it’ll be the other way around. Perhaps rather than be disgusted with love and sex, this pandemic may lead people to each other. One Finnish study (Kunal Bhattacharya , et. al., 2016) found evidence through data mining that — indeed, for people — absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Well, at least we know science isn’t useless.

Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.