I couldn’t help but wonder: will quarantine change how we think about sex forever?
It’s May 2020. In the UK, we have been locked down/quarantining/self-isolating for 2 months. Some of us may have crawled inside before then, and with a lift of restrictions last week (go to work, don’t go to work, be safe, go out? Stay alert!?) some may have emerged into the outside again, only to feel slightly downhearted by the ‘new normal’.
This immense social change, with most people inside, either making contact with their households, neighbour/key work niceties, or no one at all, will and has changed the UK’s (and slightly wider spread a.k.a the globe’s) sex lives.
Firstly, a necessary sexual health plug. In most people’s lifetime, including during the initial HIV epidemic, there has never been such a significant break in people being able to engage with new partners (Petter, 2020).
With 26% of 16-24 year olds never having been tested (FPA, 2016), this is the perfect opportunity to diagnose new infections, or just simply definitively know what your sexual health status is. You can do this by ordering STI testing kits online, straight to your home (see the resources section of the Demystifying STIs post).
That way, post quarantine fun, aka when Boris lets us join the Dutch who have been recommended to seek a coronavirus sex buddy, you’ll know your status.
Sexual health isn’t just for the singles – given that you can be asymptomatic for an STI such as chlamydia, it is worth being tested regardless of whether you have a partner or not.
It can also be seen as a great time to renew your sexual wellbeing, given that sexual health is: “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality” (WHO, 2006). This could be for couples together, who might respond differently to the stresses of lockdown, or people who do not currently have access to their/a sexual partner(s); anyone can use this time for reflection, exploration etc. Think of it as a self sexual healing. When I asked on Instagram how lockdown will change sex/dating, an insightful user said ‘I hope people think more about chains of transmission’ (to which I say YASSSS).
New sexual partners during a coronavirus pandemic
As unfair as it might seem, if everyone goes out to meet new people, that means more people out and about, public transport being used unnecessarily (sob). In terms of physical movements, everyone should be staying at home as much as possible or being outdoors 2m away from other people. If you are meeting new people, a distanced park stroll would be your best bet.
COVID-19 (the current form of coronavirus circulating causing a disease) is spread via air droplets, so exchanging saliva, touching infected surfaces means that intimate interpersonal sexual activity can lead to transmission/spread of the virus (Ritschel, 2020). There has been some conflicting research about whether coronavirus tends to be found in semen – one small study found that 16% of participants who had coronavirus had it in their semen, another study not; clearly more research is needed (Reuters, 2020).
Have we been prioritising certain kinds of sex > others?
Many criticise the idea of Penis In Vagina (PIV) sex as being what most people refer to when they are talking about sex. This links to a long history of establishing binaries and sexual norms: people being heterosexual, having sex after marriage, normal (as opposed to ‘perverse’) sexual desires etc. (Barker, 2018). Of course, sexual activity often involves two people engaging in an activity together, but lockdown could serve to revolutionise these age-old ideas.
If solo sex (masturbating woop #MasturbationMay, using sex toys), watching pornography or sexting are our only options, and these are considered sexual activity – we can’t truly say we aren’t having sex (unless of course, you aren’t doing any of these); so what we aren’t doing is having partnered activity, but sexual dimensions still exist outside of these.
Some of us are thinking about partnered activity; others not. Some resentful of those coupled up, high on the dopamine of an unlimited lockdown love fest, others crippled by anxiety maybe less so. Remember the divorce rate in Wuhan went up – lockdown isn’t necessarily ‘amazing’ for your sex or romantic life.
Here’s what you say:
Sex toy popularity
Hurrah, hurrah! Sex toy companies must be absolutely gassed; sales went up by 25% in the first two weeks of lockdown alone in the UK, tripled in New Zealand (just a fun fact) with companies such as Lelo reporting a 40% sales increase. Considering that pre-lockdown, roughly 50% of people used sex toys, I hope this number goes up. There are many out there, and it is definitely time for some me-search. Retailers like Sh!, Unbound, Lelo, Cult Beauty, Naked Grapefruit, Love Honey, etc. are a great place to start. Following some sex educators will also help you do some market research – such as Ruby Rare who often does talks/reviews on sex toys.
Sex toys have been around since supposedly back in the day when Cleopatra allegedly used a vase with bees in to stimulate herself. Ain’t no time like the present to experiment – although people are definitely on this – searches for ‘bullet’ and ‘fleshlight’ have gone up 60% and 50% respectively since the beginning of lockdown (Google Trends, 2020).
Sex and online spaces
As some of you may have seen in the quizzes on the @sexualhealthandthecity Instagram, Pornhub usage has skyrocketed during lockdown, particularly when they made some of their content free; 7,300 quarantine themed videos have also now been uploaded.
Let’s not consider some more innovative options – She might start an OnlyFans (who have 5X the amount of content creators sign up during lockdowns). Given that mainstream pornographic production has been temporarily shut down, DIY creators are shifting the power from producer to performer by making pornographic content for a subscribers fee (Lee, 2020).
With increased ‘intimate-image’ sharing, it is also important to stay uber safe online.
‘Revenge porn’ (I’ve said this already but intimate image abuse is more accurate) has increased across the whole world – a form of sexual assault – where someone is unconcensually sharing an image that was consented to for private viewing. See the resources for the best ways to stay safe online: my personal recommendations would be (for > 18s, it is illegal for < 18s to possess pictures of even themselves that are considered intimate or pornographic) don’t include your face, identifying features like a tattoo, birthmark and no family pictures, notable paintings in the background etc.
It is also important to make sure you have consent to whom you want to send them to. If someone demands nudes from you and you feel uncomfortable, feel free to ditch them. You don’t owe any partner/potential interest any intimate images of yourself.
Sexting (discussing sexual activity via text) can be a nice alternative to ‘normal’ sexual activity – discussing what you might like to try can be really healthy and instil a deeper sense of partner communication.
People are having longer and more interactions with dating apps like Tinder (Mellor, 2020). Given that in the UK, it’s ambiguous to say the very least when dating might be considered allowed/socially acceptable again, many are turning to online dating apps: Tinder, Bumble, Hinge etc. Online Zoom dates, quizzes, sharing meals etc, are a sweet and potentially Black Mirror-esque alternative. But we love to see it. In fact – many of you are doing it!
People already in relationships must be struggling, particularly quarantining separately. However, I’m hearing many tales of ‘virtual dates (and sexy time) to stay involved’. People might also be using social media more in order to meet new people, or shoot their shot…
Unfortunately, spending so much time inside could be affecting the success or outcomes of online dating. Some of you shared some negative experiences via Instagram: ‘I was on Tinder, and it disgusted me of most guys I’ve talked to. I ended up deleting my account’ and my personal favourite: ‘bun these men. Wedding day is the next time I’m having sex’ (slightly tongue in cheek).
Another follower said ‘more people will have social anxieties triggered making it potentially harder to connect’. I was always wondering about ‘ghosting’ – where people cut off communication with someone they may have been dating/having sexual activity with. Based on the below, lockdown ghosting appears to be higher than normal.
Luckily, some of you had cute/spicy quarantine stories. The two most commendable:
‘Started sleeping with a guy 2 weeks before lockdown – he’s still here and we also got a pup’
‘Have been sent £350 pounds worth of sex toys by a hot lecturer I’ve never met’
Equal sentiments of ‘people will rush into it post lockdown as they may have been lonely’ and ‘people may wait more, not jumping in the sack so quickly’ were expressed to me; we can only wait and see.
Some of us are manifesting post-lockdown dreams: ‘everyone will be fucking everyone (hopefully)’. All in all, I can’t WAIT to review sex AFTER lockdowns.
- Sexual healing: using lockdown to ignite desire | Life and style
- Sexual healing reading that I have personally done during lockdown (see insta for book reviews): The Wonder Down Under, Attached, Come As You Are, (re-reading) Sex Education: Behind Closed Doors, The Psychology of Sex, Slutever
- How Sex Toys Became A Lockdown Essential
- How to Store Your Nudes & Other Advice from a Cyber Security Expert
- Revenge porn is on the rise during lockdown
Barker, M-J. (2018). The Psychology Of Sex. Oxon: Routledge.
Google Trends. (2020). Sex Toy Search. (Accessed online: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?geo=GB-ENG&q=%2Fm%2F012pld 21/05/20)
FPA. (2016). Sexually Transmitted Infections Factsheet. Factsheets Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/sexually-transmitted-infections 21/05/2020)
Lee, A. (2020). Coronavirus is bad news for Big Porn but great news for OnlyFans. Article Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coronavirus-porn-industry-onlyfans 20/05/2020)
Mellor, M. (2020). Coronavirus has created a sex toy boom. A baby boom may not follow. Article Webpage. (Accessed online:
Petter, O. (2020). Lockdown could be ‘gamechanger’ for STIs as people unable to have sex with new partners. Lifestyle Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/lockdown-sti-sexual-health-sex-benefits-a9501246.html 18/05/2020)
Reuters. (2020). Covid-19 found in semen of infected men, say Chinese doctors. World Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/07/covid-19-found-in-semen-of-infected-men-say-chinese-doctors 18/05/2020)
Ritschel, C. Five Things You Should Know About Coronavirus And Sex. Lifestyle Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/coronavirus-sex-spread-kissing-safe-std-masturbation-a9489111.html 21/05/2020)
WHO. (2006). Sexual and Reproductive Health. Topics Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/ 21/05/2020)