If you thought dating was stressful before the virus, try being single now.
Not only is it almost impossible to meet someone organically – lots of us are still working from home, wearing masks when out and about and avoiding bars, clubs and pubs – now you have to worry about the virus as well as STIs.
Covid-19 has made us rethink everything – especially sex.
The sexual freedom many previously enjoyed – having commitment-free sex that is no longer frowned upon – is no longer just a swipe away.
Has Covid rung the death knell for casual sex? Could this be the end of ‘Netflix and chill’?
The sexual freedom many previously enjoyed – having commitment-free sex that is no longer frowned upon – is no longer just a swipe away. Tracey Cox asks: Has Covid rung the death knell for casual sex? Picture: Stock
We’re having way less casual sex post virus
Numerous dating studies say lots of people, particularly women, stopped looking for a prospective partner once it became clear the virus was dangerous.
They stopped dating and having sex.
The Kinsey Institute in America launched an ongoing sex and relationships study in March and found about half of those involved are less sexually active than before.
Research indicates the same is happening in the UK and Australia.
As with anything Covid-19, the younger you are, the less likely you are to change your habits (because you’re less likely to die from it or have symptoms).
But plenty of younger people on social media also answered my question ‘Are you still having casual sex?’ with a quick and vehement ‘No!’.
‘I’ve said no to every guy on Tinder since the lockdown started. No way am I risking my health just to get sex,’ a 22-year-old student said.
‘I have a bubble with a trusted friend-with-benefits,’ one gay man in his 20s told me. ‘I don’t feel comfortable having casual sex like I used to. I can’t see myself meeting ‘strangers’ for a while yet.’
Women over 35 are the least likely to be indulging in casual sex post virus.
‘I coped perfectly well on my own self-isolating. It taught me that I don’t need a relationship to be happy and that I can satisfy myself sexually solo as well,’ one 48-year-old friend confessed.
Sales of sex toys soared during the lockdown and continue to be strong.
Tracey Cox, pictured, says plenty of younger people on social media replied to her question ‘Are you still having casual sex?’ with a quick and vehement ‘No!’
If you can have a satisfying orgasm, risk free, with your vibrator, why would you risk your life by sleeping with a stranger – especially when, for women, orgasm isn’t guaranteed?
It’s not just singles that are having less sex: couples are as well. Desire levels have plummeted worldwide.
Stress and depression are notorious libido dampeners – and both are in good supply right now.
The desire to get out there and have sex has lessened for everyone…or has it?
Or are we?
A few days into the lockdown in the UK, Tinder had a record day of swipes – three billion globally. The most since its launch in 2012.
‘I’m worried at the number of people on hook up apps still being so evidently careless,’ one woman told me.
‘Even in the middle of lockdown, men were suggesting we met up. They’d offer to cycle over or drive over so they wouldn’t be using public transport to be ‘safe’. I couldn’t believe it.’
Another man told me he hooked up with a woman through an app at the peak of the first wave because ‘I needed a treat’.
‘People are still having one-night-stands. You know it’s wrong but you exercise judgement on what you think you can get away with.’
Instead of the conventional hook ups people enjoyed before the coronavirus pandemic, Tracey suggests there are alternative ways to get your fix virtually (stock image)
Not everyone has the same level of concern about catching coronavirus through sex.
Just as some of us are masking up, applying hand sanitiser every five minutes and keeping a careful distance, the anti-maskers and others are preferring to take their chances.
Some people don’t believe the virus is real. Others believe it won’t affect them or assume we’re all going to get it at some point, so why put off the inevitable.
Some of the people who did ‘behave’ during lockdown are now making up for lost time.
‘I’m a member of one of the UK’s biggest swinger’s clubs,’ one man tweeted me. ‘I’ve been invited quite a few times to ‘parties’ both during lockdown and afterwards. I declined but lots of others went regardless.’
Who’s lying? Who’s telling the truth? Sex is something we do in private, so it’s almost impossible to know.
How to have safe casual sex
What we know
The virus spreads through respiratory droplets and close contact. Virus particles are in saliva, mucus or the breath of those who have it.
You can catch it from someone who has the virus but doesn’t have symptoms.
What still isn’t clear
Covid-19 has been found in semen and faeces but it’s still unclear whether it’s sexually transmitted.
At this stage, it seems more likely you’ll catch it during sex simply because you’re physically close.
Keep the risk as low as possible
Now, more than ever, behaving decently and always getting enthusiastic consent is important.
Masturbate solo: This is zero risk. Wash your hands first (for 20 seconds or more) and do the same with sex toys.
Sext or have phone sex: Talking dirty just got a promotion and it’s risk free.
Have virtual sex: Both masturbating together via video is also completely risk free. Ditto web cam sex.
Masturbate in the same room at a distance: Again, if you’re both observing all the recommendations when not together (hands, space, facemask), it’s virtually risk free.
Choose positions that aren’t face to face: Doggie style, where you’re both facing the same way, is much less risky than missionary.
Wear a mask during sex: You could reduce the risks of either of you infecting each other by 80 per cent.
Don’t kiss: It’s high risk.
Wash your hands: Clean them thoroughly before and after sex. Or use a hand sanitiser that’s 60 per cent alcohol.
Have one consistent partner and agree to be monogamous: If you intend having sex with more than one person, consider having ‘in person’ sex with one person and virtual sex with others. Make sure you both observe the general accepted advice for protecting yourselves (mask, distance etc).
Ask any partners to report any symptoms immediately: Ditto having mixed with anyone who has tested positive. Not just them but anyone in the household they live in.
Use condoms or dental dams during oral sex
Get tested for STIs: Lots of clinics offer a postal test that you can do at home.
One thing is certain though: if you are still having casual sex, you’re doing it differently than you did.
What hook-up sex looks like post virus
Pre-virus, if you fancied no-strings sex you’d probably ‘Netflix and chill’: meet at someone’s house, watch telly (or pretend to) and have sex.
Only the extremely keen or virus deniers did the same in the middle of the lockdown. Instead, people went virtual.
We weren’t just having Zoom meetings, we were having Zoom sex – lots of it.
Couples who were isolating separately were at it but even more so were people wanting to indulge in no-strings sexual encounters.
Sexting and mutual masturbation sessions via video weren’t anything new pre-virus but they’ve become the norm among singles (and those wanting sex outside their primary relationships) since then.
Casual sex now requires a risk-benefit analysis.
You want to make sure the person you want to have sex with is going to be worth the risk to your health.
Most people will, sensibly, be more cautious, take things slowly. Casual sex might mean you don’t want a commitment but it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the other person at all. Or yourself.
Having Covid-safe sex within a relationship is manageable. You both self-isolate if needed, get tested if needed, then become a bubble and manage your risks as a couple.
It could be that we kiss goodbye to the spontaneous, impromptu hook ups of old and instead opt for ‘managed’ casual sex.
You meet online or through an app, ask about symptoms and have mutual masturbation sessions on video in the meantime.
Will it take the fun out of it? Isn’t the thrill of casual sex all about instant gratification?
But the alternative – both getting sick, dying or killing off your ‘granny’ – isn’t too appealing either.
We all need intimacy. We need human touch and sexual fulfillment and connection. There are ways to balance the need for sex and protect our health as well.
Some sex educators say there might even be an upside to sex post-Covid.
It forces us to talk about sex with potential partners rather than just have it. It also makes us think outside the square and realise there isn’t just one way to have sex.
Intercourse – what lots of people think of as ‘sex’ – is risky because you have to get physically close to do it. It also happens to be the least effective way to make a woman orgasm.
Covid has forced us to get creative in all other areas of our lives, why not in the bedroom? Or – more pertinently – out of it.
Is casual sex over forever?
That all depends on how the virus mutates.
After all, HIV and AIDS altered our behaviour for a while but we soon returned to our old, wicked ways.
An increased responsibility toward sex would be very welcome, but don’t hold your breath.