In the moments following an earthquake, the first thing people do is tweet. The second thing they do is DM the person they want to bone.
Mercifully, after last week’s two earthquakes in L.A., nobody was gravely injured. For the most part, all we experienced was some heavy rattling. Still, we were reminded of the fact that at any moment, Momma Nature could suck us into the earth — so we ought to get it on while we still can.
Case in point: Tasbeeh Herwees, an L.A.-based writer, noticed an influx of DMs from past flings after the quakes. “My ex texted me if I was okay after the earthquake, and if I needed him to come over to ‘secure the premises,’” she says.
She’s not alone either:
So what is it about natural disasters and brushes with death, as mild as they may ultimately be, that makes people so horny?
“Heterosexual men will always find different reasons to slip back into your life, and the earthquake was a good one,” Herwees says. “Disaster DMs are fun because the script is already written for you, and the entry is easy.”
Psychoanalysis offers some explanation, too. Sabina Spielrein first connected sex with death in her 1912 essay “Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being,” the theories of which were later adopted by Sigmund Freud in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Freud posited that we had two drives — sex and death — that are mutually opposed, constantly pressing against each other. So perhaps when we experience a rush of the death drive — e.g., the fear in an earthquake — we’re subconsciously wired to respond with the same rush of the sex drive.
Or more simply put, something like a strong but inconsequential earthquake, where no one was seriously hurt and cell towers still functioned, is the perfect impetus for a risky text. It feels like you just cheated the reaper and got away with a life-affirming heist. All at once, you feel invincible and alive, yet incredibly vulnerable. What’s the harm in sending a flirty message when at any given moment we could be crushed by a crumbling wall?
It’s not just major natural disasters that get people’s juices flowing, either. Even terrorist attacks have been cited as reasons men tend to reach out to women. After 9/11, the L.A. Times claimed New Yorkers were reporting heightened libidos, and demographers predicted a population spike to occur 10 months after the attacks. “What’s sick is that on the day that it happened, I watched the towers crumble, and then I’m walking north, really freaked out, but I was noticing more women than I ever do,” one man told the Times. “Usually there are girls where you say ‘she’s not my type.’ But everything was my type all of a sudden. Everyone has been through a shared experience and people’s defenses are down. People are vulnerable and that can be really attractive. It’s biology at work — gotta procreate if the world is coming to an end.”
And if you can’t find a partner for disaster sex, you might as well take matters into your own hands. Alex Hawkins, vice president of porn site xHamster, tells me that in the hour following the first earthquake on July 4th, xHamster’s traffic growth rate dropped by 58 percent. In the second hour, though, “the rate of growth sped up by 70 percent in L.A., hour over hour, even as it fell statewide.” According to Hawkins, this is a common pattern in populations that were near disaster but didn’t experience injuries or downed power lines.
As for why, Hawkins gets existential: “Disaster makes us aware of our mortality, and oddly, the natural reaction is to get off. In addition to the need for companionship, and perhaps the biological imperative to reproduce, events like earthquakes stress us out — and sex, whether with someone else or with yourself, is a natural source of stress relief.”
Stress reliever or not, some women have noticed, though, that men will use any event, from tragic to lousy, much more as an excuse to reach out than anything else. Rebecca Jennings, a culture reporter at The Goods, tells me that men have even reached out to her after a layoff. “Dudes hear about layoffs at your company and then text you out of the blue to see if you still have a job,” she says. “That’s far more insidious. I mean, this doesn’t affect you. Fuck off. Some idiot that I had gone on like five dates with ‘checked in’ on me on the day that everyone at Racked got laid off. I was so mad about it.”
Of course, people make contact out of genuine concern, too. “On Halloween 2017, I had just interviewed my lifelong hero Michelle Kwan and was having possibly the greatest day of my life,” Jennings says. “Then there was this awful terrorist attack on the West Side Highway, sort of near my office. My ex-boyfriend, who I had just found out had started seeing someone else, texted me to ask if I was okay. It was so out of the blue that I started crying on the subway home.”
She adds, “I think there’s this sense of guilt where it’s like, ‘I used to be very close with this person — isn’t it the least I could do to find out if she’s dead or not?’ But then there’s a fine line between that and popping out of nowhere as an excuse to remind her that you exist.”
Last week’s earthquakes presented one of those opportune excuses to crash-land in the DMs and send that reminder.
“It struck me as a creative reason to text someone,” Herwees says of the earthquakes. After all, she adds, “Men don’t know how to say, ‘How are you? How’ve you been?’”