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Organizers want Olympic athletes to not hook up. Good luck with that

Tokyo organizers are trying to hold a sexless Olympics, but an abstinence-only approach is bound to fail.

TOPSHOT-SWIMMING-OLY-2016-RIO
Olympic athletes are hot and in the prime of their lives. Of course they’re going to hook up, even during a pandemic.
Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

Avoid physical contact. Keep interactions to a minimum. Take our Olympics-branded condoms home and don’t use them in Tokyo. Avoid crowds.

Welcome to the sexless Olympics.

As the coronavirus spreads in Japan, causing Tokyo to be under a state of emergency, athletes are being put under strict protocols, and basically told to not have sex or hang out with their fellow competitors.

It’s a policy that invites failure.

While the protocols are sensible from a public health standpoint, experts warn that an abstinence-only policy is bound to fail.

“We know that abstinence-only strategies have historically not been effective at preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” said Alex Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute, a community health center in Boston where half of the patients are LGBTQ. “It’s really about letting people know what the risks are, and providing a sense of the degree of risk of different types of intimacy and sexual activity.”

Nobody wants the Olympics to be a super-spreader event, especially since only 20% of Japanese people are fully vaccinated. (Though the IOC estimates more than 80% of Olympic and Paralympic athletes are vaccinated, we’ve still seen more than 70 reported positive cases of the coronavirus among those affiliated with the Games.)

With that reality in mind, Olympic organizers are right to implement stringent Covid policies. But the recommendations in Tokyo go beyond that.

They’re downright unrealistic.

Take the Tokyo 2020 playbook of safety measures, for example. The handbook advises athletes to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes.”

In other words, anything involving the human touch.

Alcohol sales are also banned, and athletes are discouraged from using condoms while they’re in the Olympic Village. Organizers will hand out about one-third as many of the record 450,000 condoms they handed out in Rio.

The edicts are so severe, American distance runner Paul Chelimo even theorized athletes are being forced to sleep in “anti-sex” cardboard beds. (His hypothesis has since been debunked.)

Anastasia Buscis, the Canadian speed skater who publicly came out as gay before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, says the fervor about the Olympic Village being a hotbed for sex is overblown — at least from her experience. In fact, she thinks many of the condoms are taken home as souvenirs, anyway.

But there is more to intermingling than sex, believe it or not. At least 163 out LGBTQ athletes will compete in the Tokyo Olympics, and some of them reside in countries where LGBTQ people aren’t protected.

The Olympic Games may be their one opportunity to meet others like them. They’re being robbed of those potentially life-altering experiences.

“Some of the greatest friends I’ve ever made have been from the Olympics, so that makes me sad from a friendship standpoint,” Buscis said. “Knowing that so many athletes are going to have to leave right after they’re done competing, it’s just unfortunate.” (Athletes are required to leave the Olympic Village 48 hours after their event ends or they’re eliminated.)

While social distancing measures are necessary, it still would’ve been nice to see organizers come up with virtual ways to induce camaraderie.

“If it’s really about preventing physical proximity, I would love to see the organizers compensate for the restrictions by having a specific and dedicated way to recognize LGBTQIA+ athletes and let them socialize, even virtually,” said Keuroghlian. “How great would that be for the people participating?”

With spectators and off-campus socializing banned, athletes will pretty much only be able to hang out with themselves — minimizing their exposure to the largely unvaccinated Japanese population.

Human behavior tells us there will be some socializing and sexualizing going on inside of the Olympic Village this year — it will just be done in secret.

Early in the pandemic, the NYC Health Department offered guidelines on safe sex during Covid-19, instructing revelers to “keep it kinky” and “be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face-to-face contact.”

The suggestions were a nod to reality: People will engage in sexual activities amidst a pandemic. It was the perfect example of a risk mitigation approach.

In other words, it’s everything Olympic organizers aren’t doing.

“At a certain point, there’s an element of autonomy and self-determination that you have to afford people,” Keuroghlian said.

Still, Buscis says every athlete probably knew this would be a different kind of Olympic Games. This year, it’s all about the competition.

“If you were to say, ‘Hey, you could compete in the Olympics or have sex,’ I guarantee you every athlete would say they would rather compete.” she said.

While that may be true, the approach doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.