Over the past few weeks, I've seen a lot of headlines predicting a massive baby boom caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak -- some making very bold claims. Example: "This is probably the biggest baby boom we've ever seen," Dr. Kevin Katarotia recently told Fox Business.
But is the peak of the coronavirus really coming? Let's see what the research says.
Many of these claims are based on research finding that baby boomers are linked to various disasters and natural disasters. For example, some studies have found a statistical link between hurricane warnings and birth rates in coastal areas. That's probably why Dr. Kathrotia also told fox business, "whenever there's a hurricane threat, there's a baby boom."
However, it's not that simple. In fact, studies have shown that low-level warnings (such as tropical storm warnings) are associated with increased birth rates, while higher-level warnings (such as hurricane warnings) are actually associated with decreased birth rates. In other words, the likelihood of a baby boom actually seems to decline when natural disasters become more severe.
Of course, it's difficult, if not impossible, to extrapolate from hurricane studies the kind of outbreaks we're experiencing. Hurricanes are very timed events that occur in specific areas where people have a chance to escape. Coronavirus is a global problem, and we don't know how long we'll have to fight its effects, and no one can escape it. In other words, these situations are not very comparable, so I'm reluctant to generalize from one to the other.
In addition to natural disaster studies, several studies have found a link between acts of terrorism and baby boomers, including an increase in the birth rate in Oklahoma County after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Still, it's hard to compare this to the coronavirus crisis because it's a completely different situation. Moreover, not all terrorist incidents are linked to baby boomers, which challenges this assumption.
For example, while the media widely predicted a post-9/11 baby boom, it didn't happen.
That said, in theory, there must be some good reasons to predict that the coronavirus pandemic will increase rates of sexual activity. Let's think about it in terms of terrorist management theory, for example. As I describe in the Psychology of Human Sexuality, the basic idea behind this theory is this: "When we think about our own mortality, we subconsciously change our attitudes and behaviors to help ourselves cope with the 'scary' prospect of dying."
Studies have found that when we are faced with the prospect of death, libido and sexual activity are activated as a coping mechanism. In other words, sex is a way for some people to seek to reduce and ease crisis anxiety.
So to the extent that the coronavirus has made our mortality rates more prominent, it's not unreasonable to think that it could trigger more sex, which could have an impact on future birth rates.
Also, from a broader perspective, a lot of people are locked down right now. Businesses were closed and there was no choice but to stay at home. To the extent that work is less stressful and people have more leisure time, it also creates more potential opportunities for physical intimacy, provided of course you have a live-in spouse or partner.
But at the same time, the coronavirus seems likely to tip the economy into recession, which will create a lot of economic uncertainty. If people focus on how to pay their bills and worry about whether their jobs will still be there when all is said and done, it will put a powerful pressure on fertility and promote more consistent contraceptive use. In other words, if people now focus more on basic survival, bringing a new child might be seen as a high risk.
Again, the situation is unique because many schools across the country have closed, meaning parents who work remotely suddenly have to care for their children around the clock. This condition is likely to inhibit physical intimacy. I've heard a lot of parents say similar things on Twitter. They say the current situation poses a powerful barrier to sexual activity, especially to having more children.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that highly effective and reversible contraceptives (not just birth control pills, but iuds and implants) are more readily available today than ever before. This makes the risk of unwanted pregnancy very low when people have sex. Plus, condoms can now be discreetly delivered to your door, even during a pandemic (thank you, Amazon!). ", which removes the barrier of embarrassment. In conclusion, increased access to contraceptives will play a role in limiting the potential baby boom associated with disasters and natural disasters.
Finally, I should also mention that the current lockdown will discourage dating and casual sex, which will further limit the possibility of conception. So even as sexual activity and conception between partners increase, a decline in casual sex may provide some balance.
In short, there are many competing forces at work, so it's hard to say exactly what will happen. Given the severity, widespread impact and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus, I don't see a baby boom in the next nine months as a foregone conclusion, much less "the biggest baby boom we've ever seen."
In fact, we may even see a delayed coronavirus baby boom. If I had to put my money on anything, it would be there. In other words, instead of peaking now, we are likely to see fertility rise when the virus is contained, the economy recovers and the outlook for fertility and life as a whole becomes more optimistic.
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