Among the many things Republicans hate — lattes, Drag Queen Story Hours, college dining hall protests — there is perhaps nothing quite as infuriating as the suggestion that someone, somewhere, is having pleasurable sex for non-procreative purposes. At no point has this been more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic, when safe sex guidelines have become a lightning rod for right-wing discourse.
Last week, the University of Georgia posted some guidelines regarding how to have safe sex during Covid-19, suggesting that people wear masks while having sex and consider adopting “creative sex positions” to help reduce the risk of face-to-face contact and contracting the illness. (This was, probably correctly, interpreted as UGA advocating for hitting it from behind, though it theoretically could also refer to 69ing or reverse cowgirl or cobra or the Jamaican cocktail or any number of other sex positions that enterprising women’s magazine copy writers have invented over the years.)
#greenscreen i’m laughing through my tears
The guidelines attracted instantaneous mockery from all corners of the internet, including from UGA students themselves, who found them silly and tone-deaf in the context of what many of them view as UGA’s generally botched reopening plans. But much of the mockery arose from derisive coverage in right-wing outlets like the Daily Caller, pro-Trump pages like Support Donald Trump, and pundits like Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro (who, speaking of conservatives and sex ed, recently went viral for professing ignorance to the concept of vaginal lubrication), with Shapiro’s post in particular racking up more than 30,000 reactions.
It didn’t matter that the advice was fairly aligned with that of the New York City Department of Health’s guidelines on safe sex, as well as that of other public health departments across the country; the idea that a public university would have the gall to advocate for social distancing measures and safer sex practices was simply beyond what many on the right could bear. The mockery was so widespread that it prompted UGA to pull the guidelines from its website. Some students speculated that Gov. Brian Kemp had attempted to force the college to remove the language; a UGA spokesperson told the Athens Banner-Herald, “the information was consistent with language that appears on multiple health and medical sites across the country, including the Mayo Clinic. However, when the information was mocked, ridiculed and criticized on social media, we decided to take it down.”
This is not the first time that COVID-19 safer sex regulations have become fodder for the right-wing media machine. Last month, the Centre for Disease Control in British Columbia, Canada also went viral for suggesting that people “use barriers, like walls (e.g. glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact” to reduce transmission. The post made the rounds on far-right Telegram threads as an example of left-wing sexual permissiveness taken to an extreme, as well as in anti-vaxx groups. One right-wing Canadian meme page posted a caption decrying the “liberal government” suggesting couples use glory holes, paired with a suggestive photo of an open-mouthed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Of course, in the context of the full post, the Centre for Disease Control was not actively advocating for people to use glory holes to have safe sex; rather, it was citing it as an example of one of many ways to reduce risk, including washing your hands before and after sex and using condoms to limit contact with bodily fluids. The same could be said of the UGA guidelines, which advocated for common-sense safe sex practices, such as limiting the number of sexual partners you have to reduce exposure. But the mere suggestion that using a barrier or wearing a mask during sex — things that, considering what we know about COVID-19 transmission and social distancing measures, make an awful lot of sense — appears to have struck conservatives as a prime example of ludicrous liberal overreach.
If UGA’s reaction is any indication, the end result appears to be that this information, when met with such mockery and scorn, will no longer be made available to young people. And this is a problem, because those are the people who arguably need it most. According to Georgia state data, the demographic with the highest Covid infection rate is young adults between the ages of 18 and 29; generally speaking, the infection rate is also exploding, with the state yesterday reporting its single highest death toll since the start of the pandemic despite many institutions like UGA reopening. Obviously, many young people in Georgia are not being as cautious as they could be with respect to transmitting the virus; and some of them may even be — gasp — boinking. Advising that students do it doggy-style to reduce transmission may sound silly, but it’s certainly better than either pretending the virus doesn’t exist, or recommending they abstain from sex altogether.
Of course, some people, like UGA student Caroline A. Smith, who posted a TikTok skewering UGA’s guidelines, did not have a moral objection to them, so much as they were bemused by UGA’s perceived general mishandling of reopening during the pandemic. This criticism has been shared by many students, some of whom staged a campus “die-in” during their first day back.
“The state of Georgia is already handling COVID in a way that is so humiliating to watch,” she says. “UGA is proving that money is more important than the safety of students and staff by still having a first year live-on-campus requirement, not making classes all online, and not lowering tuition or rates at all…it kinda seems to us like the best that they can come up with are some goofy sex guidelines.”